An Interview With:
COACH GENO AURIEMMA
A. Sherri Coale told us about the loafers and no socks in the snowstorm, just wanted to get your take on that?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Huh? What are you talking about? Refresh my memory.
Q. Maybe we can move on to the recruiting visit?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: I don't know what you're talking about.
Q. She told us you you showed up in a snowstorm wearing loafers with no socks to recruit. She was impressed you were in Norman, and you she was also impressed by your attire?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: I was trying to be like the locals in Norman, no socks, you know. I wasn't wearing shoes, either but -- (laughter.) I'm from Philadelphia, going down to Norman. She remembered that, huh? That's just like a woman, the first thing they look at is your shoes. Come on, give me a break.
Q. Coach, there seems to be this impression that all season your team has been playing a game that everybody else is unfamiliar with. Is it really that complicated what you do?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: I don't think it's that complicated at all. I think the cliche is we have really good players, everybody knows that. But there's a lot of really good players out there playing college basketball. We have a unique group of kids whose talents mesh together very nicely. I bet other teams have the ability to do those same things. Maybe those players don't necessarily know or want to mesh those talents as nicely as ours mesh.
In terms of what we do, there are some things that we do offensively that are complicated, that's why you have to have a certain kind of kid play for us. We do things offensively, when I've tried to do it on the international level with college kids on other teams, they have a hard time picking it up, but that's because they haven't been exposed to it like my kids have. The only thing we do complicated is some schemes offensively, a couple of things defensively that take a while to pick up. But the stuff that makes us successful is very basic. I think when you watch us play we play really, really, really hard, we're very competitive, very unselfish, and I think that's why Oklahoma is in the Championship Game. I think they're a lot like us.
Q. Geno, what's Oklahoma done differently since you met them, December 22nd, to get to this point? How are they better?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: I think they've learned how to overcome in a big game, if Stacey Dales doesn't have her A game. I think at some point they were really relying on her an awful lot. She had to have a big game in order for them to win. And they've matured to the point where -- look at yesterday's game. Stacey Dales wasn't the dominant player in the game. But Rosalind Ross steps up and -- bang. They're so well-balanced and so confident in each other and in their abilities. They play loosey-goosey, carefee basketball. I don't think they're affected by much, that's why they're here.
Q. When you went to bat for Sherri and she got the job, did you envision seeing her quite this soon?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: No, no. And if she told you she did, she's lying (laughter.) Nobody can predict that. All you can do, I think, is take a calculated risk and say this is the right person to take us in the direction we want to go. And let's say it had been a different school somewhere else and she said, look, I want to apply for the head coaching job at Nebraska or UCLA, I don't know, I wouldn't have made that phone call. But her being at Norman High, and loving the area, and knowing the kids and having a passion like she does, I thought it was a natural. Because that program didn't just need a good coach, they needed somebody who was a member of the community that was going to bring some respect to the program and she did that immediately.
Q. Coach, I asked Sherri this same question. With you and Sherri in there, people are talking about how the attractiveness meter is somewhat high, plus you have some good looking teams. Is sex appeal good for the sport?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: You know, that kind of stuff does sell on television, doesn't it? It does in tennis, doesn't it? I don't know where it translates in basketball. I hope that it's bigger than that. I hope it's the quality of the play. I hope it's the level of execution on the teams. I hope it's the passion and intensity level that comes off the sidelines. Do those other things add to it? I'm sure for the casual fan or for the person tuning in for the first time, they say, oh, that looks cute. I think cute and perky only get you so far, you know? At some point you're going to have to have some substance to you.
Q. You've got two All-American guards in Swin Cash, and they've got two All-American guards in Rosalind Ross, could this be one of the premiere matchups ever, a championship game in front of 29,000 people. Guard play, could this be one of the best?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Yeah, I don't know all the combinations that have been here in the past. But let's put it this way: Going into the season anybody who wrote any preseason stuff said the two best back courts are Oklahoma and Connecticut. So the two best back courts this year are playing for the Championship game. Whether they're the best ever, I don't know, that's for somebody else to decide. For this season certainly going in and coming out, the two best back courts are playing against each other. And that's neat, because it doesn't always work out that way. So it's fitting that it's come down to this. Hopefully all four of those kids will play their A games, then it will be really fun to watch. Then it will be really fun to watch. 30,000 people, the game of basketball being played at a pretty high level by four kids that are pretty skilled with the ball, it could be pretty entertaining. Maybe that's what the next step for the game is, entertaining-type play, fun play, play that people will get excited about. There's not a lot of that these days, so hopefully we'll have some of that Sunday night.
Q. Coach, kind of a follow-up to that, the focus, a lot of it is going to be on the guards, but in particular Stacey Dales and Sue Bird are seemingly somewhat similar in that they have a great amount of flare for the game and court vision. Can you talk a little bit about those two players?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Stacey Dales is very, very difficult to guard. Players that are really good with the ball and move a lot are really tough, tough, tough matchups. And she has the size that can get away with some of the things she wants to do. And I think Sue may be -- I think Sue may be a better shooter in certain situations than Stacey, Stacey may be able to see things Sue can't see because of her size or go in the lane and score in ways that Sue can't. But there are a lot more similarities, you're right, the way they see the game and how they set up their teammates and how you constantly have to defend them, because every time they have the ball something good is going to happen.
Q. Coach, your team is obviously very athletic. Can you talk about how their intelligence has played out in their overall success?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: You know, maybe when it's all said and done, this thing about great teams and not so great teams, and win or lose tomorrow night, I think there has to be a certain appreciation for the way these kids have handled playing the game. Now, you can win by just running out there and being more talented and just brutally dismantling somebody because of size or strength or pure athletic ability. But I would hope when people watch us play there's a little more than that. There's a certain style that these kids have; there's a certain flare that they play the game with, a certain knowledge of when to back cut, when to rotate over, which pass to make when; that's the kind of stuff I like. It's fun. I think that's the best way I can describe it. They are pretty smart. They are pretty smart and I like the way they play.
Q. Coach, you talked a lot about wanting to build women's basketball around recruiting and scholarships, around where championships can be played. Looking at Oklahoma there's a lot of parallels to the growth between UConn and they got a coach that was right for the team, you had a key player going to a team that she wanted to make a difference in. Coach Coale talked about media coverage, and spoke specifically about ESPN. In Connecticut you have great media coverage, what does the media need to do to support the growth of teams other than Tennessee, UConn? And what does Coach Coale need to do to get the word out so more players will come to Oklahoma to replace the seniors who are moving on and build that team?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Make sure everybody has shoes when they visit. If all your kids are wearing nice shoes, I think that's very impressive. She could take them all to her hairstylist and get them some of the gel that she uses on her hair. Sherri Coale won't have to worry about anything. Sherri Coale won't have to worry about a single thing. And the media doesn't have to do anything to help Sherri Coale. I think Sherri Coale is in the absolute perfect situation to build at Oklahoma exactly what Tennessee and Connecticut have done.
There's no doubt in my mind, for all the reasons you just said. She's the right Coach. She's at a big time University. They're in the newspaper. They're in the media 12 months out of the year because of their football program and their men's basketball program is top four in the country. They've got a great academic institution. They have a huge recruiting base in the southwest. The media will follow teams that are fun to watch, that are consistently good. I'm convinced of that. And if her teams continue to be like they are today, fun to watch, really good, shoot the three, run up and down, play with the passion and intensity that they play with, the media will be there. Because if 11,000 people are in the stands every night at her games, the media can't pretend that it's not happening. And they will get on ESPN more often. They will get on national television more often, they will get more media coverage, people will talk about them. Sherri is just in a hurry. She's really, really impatient. Tell her to cool her jets a little bit. Six years ago she was hoping somebody would do a car wash, so she would have enough money to go on her next road trip (laughter.)
Q. Can you talk a little bit about when you brought your team into Norman, I realize that was probably -- Oklahoma was looking at that as a measure to measure an up and coming program. Can you talk about then, how you've seen that increase in the next two or three meetings since then, how they're different?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: I mentioned this the other day, you've got to understand you have a tendency to repeat yourself in these things, because you never know who is asking the questions. So if I'm repeating myself I apologize. I do think that when -- when we went down to Norman to play Oklahoma the first time obviously it was a homecoming for Stacy Hansmeyer, and we try to do that for every one of our players. Some teams won't accommodate us. When we call up and we say we'd like to play at your place, they say no, because they don't want whatever. So the fact that Sherri Coale wanted to, number one, says a lot about her because I think in her heart she knew they were going to get beat. They weren't ready to beat us. They were just excited that we were there.
And then the same year we played them in the Sweet 16 game, and Stacey Dales wasn't ready for that. She wasn't ready for that. And last year they made it to the Sweet 16 again, I believe, and that disappointment, I think, has made them the team that they are today. When they came to Hartford this year, they were a different team than the team I saw last year, much, much different. And I'm sure that's going to have a big effect on the way they play tomorrow night. They've grown, they've matured and I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised one bit.
Q. Coach, being from Oklahoma I want you to know, shoes or no shoes, you're welcome any time, believe me.
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: I appreciate that.
Q. We've covered the guard play. Would you talk a little bit about the inside play that you're going to be looking for tomorrow night and kind of what you're expecting, not only from your young ladies but from the young ladies from Oklahoma?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Well, first of all sometimes when people talk about inside play, they automatically assume that it's our big guys versus their big guys and oh, you know, they don't have as many big guys as you do. Big deal. They haven't had as many big guys as a lot of teams they've played against all year and they've beaten them. Why? They do a pretty good job of posting of their guards. They have an inside game. It's just done differently than we've done it. Yeah, Caton Hill is known for shooting as she is for inside play. And Talbert is the same thing. Talbert is a lot better than people give her credit for around the basket. So they find a way to get done what they need to get done.
I just hope that tomorrow night what they have to deal with our inside game is something new for them that they haven't had to deal with for a while. And hopefully it will be enough to get us over the hump, because I think the guard play might be a wash.
Q. Sherri Coale was talking about how excited she was about this Final Four. She doesn't want to go to sleep because she wants to absorb all the atmosphere. Can you look back to '91 and compare to now how you reacted to the Final Four. Were you like that, you wanted to be here for every single second and not let it pass?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: No, and that's one of the problems with Sherri Coale. She's way, way, way entirely too happy (laughter.) And that's obvious she's only been coaching for 6 years. Give her another 10 -12 years and she'll be a miserable wretch like the rest of us. I went to the Final Four in '91, until we were down 10 at halftime against Virginia at halftime, and then we lost, and wanted to kill myself. I didn't care if I was in New Orleans at the Final Four. I wasn't running around going what a great experience; man, I tell you what, this is really neat. I just wanted to jump into one of those streets and have everybody trample me on the way out of the bars.
That's why Sherri is so good, though. She's the most positive person I've ever met. She's got a positive outlook on everything. She's excited about everything. One of her kids get their shoes on the right foot every day and she's excited about it. She gives out little pins every time they put their jerseys on the right way. I've never met anybody like her. So I'm not surprised that's how she feels. Me, I guess I'm spoiled, you know. I reached the point where it's winning or it's complete misery. Sometimes even winning is just less misery because -- And she'll find that out five years from now when there's 11,000 people at the Lloyd Noble Center, and it's a tight score between them and Kansas State with two minutes to go, and all the pacemakers start going off, people have heart attacks (laughter), she'll call me up and go, man, you know, we're 25-2 and people are having heart attacks, and I'll say ha, ha, ha, ha, how do you like that now. So let her enjoy it while she can.
Q. Coach, what do you see as your team's greatest weaknesses, and do you think you'll ever put together another team this good?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Our team's greatest weaknesses? I see them every day in practice. And if you guys were at every one of our practices you would see them, too. Since you're not, you're never going to know what they are. And would I ever -- do I think I could ever put together a team like this ever again? If I said no, then I should get out of coaching. The goal of every coach is every year to try to put together a team like this. And as soon as these guys leave and I get back from doing what I have to do I'm going to start trying to put together another team that's better than this one. That's why I get the big bucks, man, you know that.
Q. If I can go back to that recruiting visit of Stacey Hansmeyer, Sherri talked about you guys going off campus to that bad gym and afterwards you had some nice compliments for her and you actually wanted to address her team. What was it that day about her that struck you?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: I think it was how organized and how detailed her teaching was. And it's unusual, because I think a lot of high school girls get the short end of the coaching. Somebody just -- some football coach that doesn't have anything to do in the wintertime gets assigned to coach the girls or somebody that's a teacher. Yeah, I played summer league one time, I can coach girls basketball. And that's a lot of times the way it's treated.
For her to do it the way she did, I was like, man, if every high school kid was coached like this, there would be a lot better players out there. And that's how rare it was, what I saw. And I just kind of found out a way and thought some way if I'm ever in a position where either I need somebody or somebody asks me, hey, -- because people ask you all the time. Don't get me wrong, I don't get as many phone calls as some other coaches about recommendations.
Q. Both you and Sherri will lose a lot of talent this year. Will next year be like starting over? How tough will it be for you?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: I don't think it will be starting over. I don't think anybody is going to feel sorry for us. All these seniors they're laughing every day because they know somebody is going to pay for all the stuff that they're doing. So I don't think anybody is going to feel sorry for us. And I wouldn't exactly call it starting over. I think Jessica Moore is a really good player. She proved it yesterday. She's got some skills that we'll be able to use. We have three more years with her. Ashley Battle is going to be terrific. I think Maria Conlon, I think Ashley Valley is going to contribute a lot.
We've got four really good players coming in who are going to grow into being really, really good college players. And I think we've got the best guard, the best player in America as a junior next year, Diana Taurasi. It's not like we're starting over, it's just from where we are this year to where we're going it is a big, big, big, big, big difference. And there's going to be times next year where it's going to feel like I don't know where to go with these guys. But in some ways I'm kind of looking forward to that. I really am, I'm looking forward to that.
Q. What about for Sherri?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: I think for Sherri it's a little tougher. Losing Stacey Dales and a LaNeishea Caufield, she hasn't been where we've been and had the opportunity to recruit the kind of players we've recruited to have them as freshmen, sophomores in the program right now. So it will be a little harder for her initially, but I think the exposure that her program got for being where they are now, and should they win tomorrow, that will never happen again. They'll never be in a position where they're going to have to start over, so to speak.
Q. One last thought your Fab Four. Can you go back to the first practice with them as starters and maybe the last practice, what it will be like today?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: The first practice this year or when they were freshmen?
Q. When they were freshmen, when you saw them as a starting unit, and what the last practice might be like today.
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: I left the gym at one point because I saw all these great players, all this great talent, and I remember walking off and going, these are the five -- these are five of the top 15 players in America and they stink. What are the other kids doing in college that are freshmen today? Because the hype was these are the best players ever to go to college, and they're going to walk right in and automatically they're going to win a National Championship. And that first week of practice they couldn't do anything right, compared to the college kids we already had. And they looked awful.
And it was a reminder to them that guess what, those newspaper clippings and all those awards you've got, they don't mean diddly here. When I go out there today, the first hour of practice -- we're going to go about an hour and 15 minutes, the first half hour or 40 minutes of practice, I probably won't have to say a word and we'll get more done in that 40 minutes than we got done the first week I was there with them, that's the difference.
Q. Do you see any comparisons in Diana's game to Magic Johnson? People said she has that kind of flare and presence on the court.
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Yes, I do. Yes, I do. I wonder what it would have been like to Judd Heathcote to Coach Magic Johnson two more years after his sophomore year. Because I'm walking a fine line, here. I've got a kid who I think has a chance to be maybe the best guard, maybe the best player ever in college. Yet there's so much that I want to teach her; there's so much that she has to learn; and I don't want to take away any of her exuberance or flare or any spirit. So I'm walking a real fine line, here. And I think if I do it right and if she does it right, she's going to be the best player ever. And if it doesn't happen it's because she did it wrong (laughter.)
Q. Could you compare this going to the National Championship game undefeated to what it was like in '95? Is it the same? Are you more comfortable with this or how different does this feel compared to then?
COACH GENO AURIEMMA: Well, since you asked, in 1995 we came in as the team that got no respect. We were 34-0 and nobody but nobody thought we were going to win that Championship Game. As matter of fact, let me tell you how bad it is. We beat Stanford by 27 in the semifinal game. And they said no way Connecticut beats Tennessee tomorrow, which I thought was a great comment, because that's all my kids needed to hear. So even after that we weren't expected to win, because Pat had said at that point that was the best team she'd ever had, that '95 team.
So we were going in with, yeah, all right, we'll see. I don't think that exists right now. I think we're on the other end of that story right now. I think Oklahoma is where we were in '95, and we're where probably Tennessee was in '95 in terms of where we are stationed right now going into Sunday night. But in terms of how do I feel? I feel probably exactly like I did in '95, exactly how I did in '97 -- I mean 2000, and nothing's changed for me. Nothing has changed for me. I've got -- I had tremendous confidence in the '95 team, but I was worried. And I had great confidence in that 2000 team, and I was a little bit worried. And I've got tremendous confidence in this team, and I'm a little worried.
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