It’s Final Four weekend and, once again, Geno Auriemma is in the news. Not so much for his 78.3% winning percentage in Final Fours or his 100% winning percentage in championship games, but for his opinions – again. Geno has a history of stealing the spotlight before big games. Remember the to-do with Muffet McGraw before last year’s Final Four or the Duke waiters comment in 2003? Who can forget Geno calling the Rutgers fans “miserable and ignorant“? I can’t even recall all the specifics of the pot-shots taken at Tennessee.
Right after the “miserable and ignorant” comment, UConn went down to Piscataway New Jersey to play in front of a sold-out Rutgers Athletic Center. Any UConn fan that’s tried to buy a ticket to the RAC knows that Rutgers refused to sell tickets to people that lived in Connecticut so that the crowd was guaranteed to be mostly RU fans. So, what does Geno do? He insults the crowd. Not surprisingly, the RAC fans took out their anger on Geno, booing and mocking him during the game. Not the players, Geno. This was by design and the crowd was played by a master.
(As a side note, the post-game presser for this game produced one of my favorite Geno quotes: On being asked about the booing directed his way, Geno responded, “My wife was at the game, it might have been her”.)
Likewise, the Cameron Crazies, known for their brutally humorous antics towards visiting teams, focused on Geno in the aftermath of the “waiters” comment, which was made months before the road game at Duke, after Brittany Hunter signed with the Blue Devils, but resurrected before the game. There were numerous Luigi jokes (Geno’s birth name is Luigi, Geno is a nickname), pizza boxes with his picture on them, etc. Unknown to them, Geno loves this stuff and ate it up. I think Geno and the Crazies ended up in a mutual admiration society but by then it was too late – Geno had take the pressure off his team. The Dukies are smart folks, but they, too, got played.
Once again, Geno is making waves in the news with his recent comments about Indiana and the “religious crap” and men’s basketball. There are tons of articles arguing about Geno’s opinion of the latter, with high profile coaches and sportscasters weighing in. Why would Geno do this, why cause a ruckus before the Final Four?
The incomparable John Wooden won ten national championships at UCLA years ago, an amazing and impressive feat. This year, the UConn women will try to win their tenth national championship – cue all the know-it-alls who want to debate whether of not women’s basketball is real basketball, you know, like mens’ hoops, so does it really compare to UCLA’s accomplishments? There are bound to be some eager-beaver defenders of men’s basketball who want to ask Geno’s players if they think they deserve to be mentioned alongside UCLA should they win the title. Or maybe they can think up something more insulting that might not occur to me.
So, Geno is once again the lightning rod for his team. Sure, he can be outspoken and brash but he also knows how to play nicely, if he chooses. Using the word “joke” to describe men’s basketball was deliberate and it has produced the desired outcome. Pages and pages of articles are written on Geno and people are now debating whether he’s right so the eager-beavers all over Geno rather than his players. The fact that UConn could possibly tie John Wooden’s record of ten national championships? Well, I’m sure someone’s mentioned it but the word JOKE is in capital letters and overshadows the petty details of the women’s game.
Played by a master, all of them.