SAITAMA – There is definitely a UConn flavor to the women’s basketball being played in the Tokyo Games.
The school that has dominated women's college hoops for the past two decades has branched out internationally with former players not only representing the U.S., but France and Canada as well.
It's not a coincidence.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma has been recruiting more internationally.
“There’s a culture of basketball in some of these other countries, their style of play is more the style I like to coach,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “There’s a discipline about them that I like.”
There are 10 current or former Huskies at the Tokyo Games as either players or coaches in both 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 basketball. No other college has come close to having that many players in Olympic basketball history. There would have been an 11th, but Katie Lou Samuelson came down with COVID right before the teams left for the Olympics from Las Vegas.
“It’s gratifying in a lot of ways and humbling in a lot of ways to see them,” said Auriemma, who coached the U.S. Olympic team in 2012 and 2016. “We’ve had someone on Olympic teams in every year since 1996. I like to think that’s not an accident that just happens because of circumstance.”
The impressive run includes Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart, Rebecca Lobo and Maya Moore. With Stefanie Dolson helping the 3-on-3 team win the inaugural tournament, 10 different Huskies have now earned gold medals in the Olympics.
“It feels like I’m seeing history in the making. From it being Sue and Dee’s last year to see the people who came after me,” first-time Olympian Napheesa Collier said. “I don’t feel like I’ve been out of college that long and to see people who are in college right now playing in the Olympics is cool. It’s a step back and observe kind of moment.
“I grew up watching Sue and Dee. Feels like a full circle kind of moment.”
U.S. assistant coach Jen Rizzotti was part of the Huskies' first title in 1995. She helped the 2016 Rio Games team as a scout and now is on the bench assisting Dawn Staley.
“The 24-25 years that we have represented here, that’s a pretty significant stretch,” she said. ‘I don’t know that we would have anticipated this when it started many years ago. It’s cool to see other countries now picking up Connecticut players. Back when I played we didn’t have international players, Svetlana (Abrosimova) was the first one and she was quite a bit after me."
It was a Huskies reunion on Monday when the Americans beat France 93-82. Gabby Williams, who played with Breanna Stewart and Collier at Connecticut, was on the French team as her mother is from that country.
“I mean that’s UConn. We have great players everywhere,” she said. "UConn produces great athletes.”
It's not just past Huskies that are playing in the Olympics.
Aaliyah Edwards is the youngest of the UConn group, playing for Canada, joining Kia Nurse who played in the 2016 Olympics. She only played 31 seconds for Canada, which was eliminated in pool play. She will be starting her sophomore season at the school this year.
“UConn is a great program and coach really prides himself on training and developing you into a pro,” Edwards said. “It speaks for itself. There are a lot of great Huskies here. I’m honored to be on this stage representing my country, Canada, and also show a little love to Husky nation.”
Edwards said she didn't get a chance to watch much of the Huskies growing up in Canada, but Nurse was someone she looked up to.
“She's Canadian and grew up near my hometown,” Edwards said.
Auriemma plans to watch the rest of the Olympics with pride despite the late east coast start times for the games.
“It’s hard to put into words," the coach said. “I don’t have the right way to express how incredibly proud we are here of them."
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