Series of semi-rambling thoughts after a trip up and down part of the East Coast …
In Connecticut, the media that covers UConn’s women admits they are “jaded.” That’s their word, not mine. They watch the Huskies all the time. And now for the second consecutive season, they are witnessing one blowout after another. The two latest, of course, being Saturday’s 70-46 demolishing of Notre Dame followed by Monday’s 81-48 clubbing of Duke.
Thus, understandably, they tend to think all the rest of women’s basketball is once again just not very good. And I have admit, I feel lucky I’m not them.
Because I’m not jaded about the rest of the sport, nor am I tired of watching how good UConn is. That’s partly because I don’t watch the Huskies all the time. I didn’t sit through the dissection of Seton Hall or the demolition of Iona or the pounding of North Carolina the way they did.
I watch the whole country, and I enjoy the heck out of it. It’s not that I think I’ve seen any team that will beat UConn this season, although I think a couple of teams – if they play very well – could give the Huskies a challenge on a neutral court.
But I don’t look at the season as only being about who’s going to win it all, and nothing else matters. That would be like only tuning into the World Series or the Super Bowl or the final of a Grand Slam tournament. You can know one team (or, in the case of tennis, one player) is totally awesome and an overwhelming favorite, yet still enjoy all the other competition.
Last Saturday, I spend much of the day at Gampel Pavilion working, after arriving around 9:30 a.m. to watch the ESPN GameDay show. I listened over the Internet to Texas escape from Lubbock with a double-overtime win over Texas Tech. I watched on ESPN 360 as Georgetown held off Louisville after the teams had had their bizarre scuffle before the game. I checked scores all day and night.
I wasn’t thinking, “Gosh, none of this matters because I doubt any of these teams can beat UConn.”
That said, I do understand the frustration that neutral observers and non-UConn fans feel about what’s going on with the Huskies. People think it makes women’s basketball, as a whole, look bad, as if there just isn’t much parity or competition. Which is, of course, ludicrous: There’s LOTS of parity and good competition. Just not for the No. 1 spot.
We’ve been through these periods before, like when Tennessee was perfect in 1998 and UConn was perfect in 2002. But the idea now of back-to-back seasons of not just perfection but no team really seriously coming that close to beating UConn … that, frankly, has a lot of people dismayed.
What has caused it? The term “perfect storm” has become tediously overused, but you know, it fits. You have someone as talented and competitive as Geno Auriemma is, and you give him fuel for his fire at a time when he’s already achieved a lot … look what you get.
From 2000-2004, UConn was one bad second half against Notre Dame away from winning five titles in a row. (Yes, I’m predicting that if UConn had gotten past the Irish in the 2001 national semifinals, the Huskies would have beaten Purdue in the title game.) As it is, UConn got four of those titles.
But then … no Final Four for 2005, ’06 and ’07, and then a loss in the national semifinals in ’08. When you’re at the tip-top of the game like Auriemma, that period probably seemed like an eternity. Add to it that Tennessee won two more championships during that time, and Auriemma got all the “extra” motivation he could have needed. I’m not saying he did need it. Just that I think it’s likely that the fire with which he’s motivated his team last season and this season really grew from the so-called “disappointments” of 2005-08.
Add in that he has the likes of Tina Charles and Maya Moore at the same time, and that this year they are 1-2 in the race for national player of the year. And they’re complemented by people like Kalana Greene and Tiffany Hayes, who, absurdly, are called “role” players at UConn but would be superstars almost any place else.
Plus, sometimes when a team gets as confident as UConn is, other teams really stop believing they can beat them.
So if that’s all “depressing” to those who are not fans of UConn, at least try to think of it like this. UConn is showing just how well women can play the sport at the collegiate level, and that should inspire other teams. The Huskies aren’t aliens from another planet. They don’t have some secret powers no one else has. They don’t have some magical practice methods that nobody else can replicate.
They are college-aged women who are are very good at what they do, who are being trained/directed by a staff that follows a system that’s proven again and again to be successful, and their head coach is excellent strategist, tactician and motivator. The fact that UConn can compete the way it does and look so wonderfully skilled, prepared and athletic doing so should make other competitive coaches/players say, “Hey, if they can do it, we can do it.”
*-DELLE DONNE’S DECISION: Seeing Elena Delle Donne play at Delaware sort of reiterated something that I learned a while back: It’s really easy for some people to make decisions about other people’s lives.
There will always be those who question why she decided UConn wasn’t for her. They’ll say now she’s not going to be as good as she could have been, that she should have forced herself to stick it out longer in Storrs, that she’ll regret not playing for a national-championship team.
I say that there are different paths for people to achieve happiness and success, and we should respect people who don’t necessarily choose what would seem the “popular’ or expected path.
I was never in any kind of situation like Delle Donne was during the recruiting process – a superior talent being pulled in different directions about what to do _ but I can still relate to part of what she might have felt.
Many years ago, I was at a medium-sized newspaper and got a call to interview someplace much larger. I felt I “had” to go on the interview … after all, this paper was much bigger. So that meant better, right? During the interview process, several people kept saying things like, “You’ll love it here! I do!” and “If you want to move up the ladder, you need to go to a larger paper” and “Don’t be one of those people who’s afraid to leave where they are comfortable.”
Then I was sitting alone in a meeting room waiting for the next person I was scheduled to talk to. I was sick to my stomach. I didn’t want to move to this place. I felt I would grow more, learn more, and be happier in the job I already had. And that when it was time to move, I’d know it and be ready. Yet everyone was so insistent about what a big opportunity this job was, I started to feel like I was going to have no choice if it were offered to me. Everyone would think I was a total idiot and failure if I didn’t take it.
Then, the next person came in to talk to me. Unlike everybody else, he didn’t tell me how great it was there. He asked me about what I enjoyed most in journalism, what my future goals were, what mattered to me outside of work, what I found the most joy in doing.
And after listening to me, he said, very kindly, “You like where you are. You have supportive friends there. It’s a good paper. It’s a better area of the country for you to follow women’s basketball. You’ll have more of a chance to do that there. So why on earth would you want to come here?”
I said, “Well … I don’t. But everybody is telling me that I should want to.”
He said, “Don’t listen to them. They don’t know what’s going to make you happy. They don’t know what’s important to you. If you decide to come here because you really want to come, that’s great. I’ll be glad to have you as a co-worker. But if you don’t want to, don’t force yourself to do something because other people say it’s what you’re supposed to want.”
I’m sure that guy doesn’t know how grateful I felt then and still do that he actually listened to what I was saying and then reassured me that it was OK to follow the path I wanted and trust my instincts. He wasn’t concerned about “filling the job.” He was concerned about me, even though I was really just a random stranger.
In Delle Donne’s case, she seems to have followed the path that she thinks will allow her to be happy. Making a good decision doesn’t mean you never, ever second-guess yourself or don’t wonder about a few what-ifs? But it means, in the end, that you believe you did what was right for you.
MY BALLOT: OK, remember, I did this way back on Sunday night (actually early Monday morning) after a day of driving from Connecticut to Virginia, with the stop at Delaware in between. So this week if it’s a bad poll by me, I plead exhaustion. Talking to some other voters Monday night at the Duke-UConn game, we commiserated about how it was hard to fill in the final five, and how so many ranked teams had lost the previous week, etc.
Anyway, offer your thoughts on things like who should be No. 3 … or anything else.
1.Connecticut, 2. Stanford, 3. Tennessee, 4. Duke, 5 Nebraska, 6. Notre Dame, 7. Ohio State, 8. Baylor, 9. Texas A&M, 10. Georgia, 11. Oklahoma State, 12. Oklahoma, 13. Florida State, 14. Xavier, 15. LSU, 16. West Virginia, 17. Texas, 18. Georgetown, 19. Wisconsin-Green Bay, 20. Georgia Tech, 21. Vanderbilt, 22. Penn State, 23. Virginia, 24. Southern Cal, 25. South Carolina