One thing continues to be a lingering topic – not surprisingly – in regard to last weekend’s Stars at the Sun game and the U.S. national team in general.
And that is the “UConnization” of the group, as six current or former Huskies were on the 11-player team coached by Geno Auriemma that competed Saturday against a hodge-podge group of WNBA all-stars. It has prompted a lot of questions to me from readers, either through e-mail or in the weekly ESPN.com chat.
It’s not that people have been critical, really. More that they’ve wondered how this affects UConn’s future recruiting, and whether any players who might deserve more of an opportunity to make the squad for the World Championship will not get it because of coach Geno Auriemma’s comfort level with former Huskies.
The Hartford Courant’s John Altavilla asked me at the 2009 All-Star Game if I thought this whole issue would mushroom into any type of “controversy” for the team or women’s basketball in general. At the time, I said I didn’t see how there could be debate about any of the UConn players being talented enough to be on the team. I still feel the same way.
You go with a team that has the best chance of winning. Auriemma does not “pick”the team, although his input is considered. In the past, in regard to World Championship and Olympic teams, there have been times when I thought maybe head coaches didn’t get enough input in terms of what they most wanted on the squad.
There are a few players in the last 20 years or so that I think were certainly more than good enough to make the national team just in terms of talent. But their commitment to the process was lacking.
Other times, there have been players I think deserved more of a fair shot, but for whatever reasons – the program they went to, at what age they blossomed, having a player at their same position already established with national-team credentials ahead of them – they did not get a realistic opportunity.
But, in general, I do think the vast majority of the time, the best group has emerged from the players really committed to competing for the United States. And that’s been proven with the success of the American squad.
That doesn’t mean that nobody “deserving” gets left out. Sometimes that does happen. But the process of picking the team helps address all the potential issues that come up.
Now … as for this question … does UConn having such an overwhelming presence on the national team impact the school’s ability to recruit? I’d say UConn long ago established it was atop the recruiting totem. It’s not like the program needed any more success or visibility to climb higher in terms of recruits’ esteem. Does Meryl Streep need any more Oscar nominations for people to think she’s one of the greatest performers who ever lived? Don’t think so.
So while the Huskies’ presence on the national team obviously doesn’t hurt recruiting … it’s not as if UConn needed any help in that department. The program’s magnetic appeal comes from the success it’s had, period.
I understand, and expect, that perfectly reasonable fans might have some discomfort with the “UConn factor” on the national team just because that’s normal. And it would be the case if any program had a particularly large representation on the squad.
But, ultimately, it’s important to remember that Auriemma didn’t get the coaching job and none of the Huskies are on the team because they won some kind of popularity contest or are part of the “in crowd.” They’re there because the program has been enormously successful at the college level and in producing players who’ve gone on to be both talented and reliable in the professional ranks.
They all earned the right to represent the United States.