I’m a Husky, baby. I just want you to know.
OK, so I’m not a Husky. That was merely an excuse for me to morph a Jay-Z line into an intro that segues into a column about the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team — the Huskies, a team I’ve written about numerous times.
I’ve written about their streak to 100 straight wins — improbable but not really. Prior to that, I wrote how a streak to 100, or even 70 or 60 or 50, meant positivity in the world of women’s basketball and brought to the forefront what that kind of unmatched basketball talent can do for the game, even if it embarrasses a whole bunch of other teams along the way.
Now, though, I shift the focus to the head coach, who last night won his 1,000th game.
First, consider this: Only two other women’s basketball coaches have amassed 1,000 or more wins (Pat Summit and Tara VanDerveer). Only 65 coaches have more than 600 wins.
Along those same lines, because we like to compare and contrast, only two men’s college basketball coaches have more than 1,000 wins (Mike Kryzewski and Jim Boeheim). In fact, those same fellas are the only coaches above 900 wins, as Bob Knight stopped at 899 — for some unknown reason.
The point is, winning games as a head basketball coach is hard. Like, really hard. Going off of zero statistical backing, I’d say no other occupation has the turnover rate that coaching does.
If you don’t win, you’re out.
On the other end, win, and win a lot, and you’re locked in.
Geno Auriemma has won all 1,000 games at UConn. Summit? All 1,098 came at Tennessee. Of the 65 coaches above 600 wins in NCAA women’s hoops, 31 are still coaching. Of those, 21 have been at their current schools more than 15 years.
This all brings me back to my point about the Huskies and all their trophies — 11 of them — and all their wins and how, no matter how lopsided many of them were, they were important to women’s basketball.
Auriemma, who holds a .881 win percentage, didn’t win a national championship until 1995, his 11th year at the school. The program was only 12 years old when he took over, and he held a combined 43-39 record in his first three seasons — no tournament appearances. Until that 1995 title? Just 192-81. Impressive, but human.
You know what happened in the 12 seasons before Auriemma came to town? The Huskies had one winning season, a 16-14 year in 1980-81. No coach lasted more than five seasons.
Success takes time. It took Auriemma more than a decade. It took him even more time and effort to maintain that success and even raise the bar to measure new successes that came along the long journey, a journey that just hit 1,000 wins.
To make the argument even sweeter, on the same night as Auriemma’s 1,000th win, North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell also hit win 1K. ESPN reported you’re more likely to win the Powerball than two coaches becoming 1,000-game winners on the same night.
You’re also way more likely to be drafted into the WNBA. Well, unless you played for Auriemma. Of the past 15 WNBA champions, 11 have had at least one Husky on the roster. No women’s Olympic team has been without one of Auriemma’s players since 1992.
Auriemma is recruiting the best basketball players in the world — his job. He’s also maximizing the potential of those players and sending many of them on to the greatest stage in the world — also his job, in a sense. But he’s doing it better than anybody else.
Maybe jealousy leads many to sour taste buds in regards to Auriemma and the Huskies. Maybe the dominance has become boring.
Maybe you’re not wrong for having those feelings.
But neither coach’s milestone landed in the top seven headlines on ESPN.com today. Instead, we were warned of Marlins Man’s concern with Derek Jeter.
Auriemma — and Hatchell — are tickling uncharted territory. Respect, and appreciation, are long overdue.