Has it really been thirteen years?
Geno Auriemma was wrapping up his milestone 450th victory in 2002. His players - Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Tamika Williams, Asjha Jones, and Diana Taurasi - were sitting on the bench after another Husky rout took out pictures of Geno's face and covered their faces with it when the final buzzer sounded. They crowded around their coach and congratulated him on a major coaching milestone.
That evening Auriemma went into the press conference talking about his high school coach. He spoke highly of the man and said that his coach never won that many games. In typical Auriemma fashion, he made a few wise cracks but praised his players' role in the accomplishment.
During the same season, Auriemma talked about not coaching for very long. He said he didn't like the direction recruiting was heading. He mentioned what other schools did to recruit players and he tried to just be honest to the recruits about what their experience would be at UConn. He talked about wanting to be an assistant in the NBA and had no interested in coaching women professionally. Auriemma got to learn coaching pros as the women's assistant coach during the 2000 Olympics and said he had fun hanging out with the NBA Olympians in Sydney, Australia.
A season later, the storyline heading into the 2003 National Semifinal game against Texas would be if Geno would get his 500th win or his 100th loss? His Huskies would win a hard fought battle in Atlanta for the program's fourth national title appearance. A night later, it was the Huskies who defeated Tennessee for their second straight national title and fourth overall.
Flash forward to Tuesday night, as Auriemma reached another major milestone - his 900th win. UConn defeated Cincinnati at the XL Center, 96-36.
He became the sixth Division 1 women's coach to accomplish that feat, and 10th coach overall. Auriemma, who has the highest winning-percentage among those six at 87%, was also the fastest to reach 900 wins. His career record is 900-134 including nine national titles. Since the 2003 Final Four win against Texas, UConn has a record of 400-35.
When Auriemma started his UConn career, many did not think he could do anything in Storrs. He arrived in 1985 after a stint as an assistant at Virginia. There was hardly a program to takeover and the facilities were subpar. It was beaten up by the likes of Villanova and Providence and was in the bottom half the league.
No one could envision the success Auriemma would have - let alone at Connecticut.
However, many saw greatness. During the late 1990s, Jay Bilas of ESPN called Geno Auriemma the "Sorcerer of Storrs." Former UCLA men's coach John Wooden wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated saying that he enjoyed watching the UConn women's basketball team.
There was a time when Auriemma inquired about a vacant job at Duke in the 1990s, but was told not to look into it. Things changed when he started winning and bringing in top recruits. After the many championships, teams started coming after him. One school asked him to take over their men's program, rumored to be Penn State. Recently, Ohio State offered him a ton of money to coach the women's team there. He declined.
Auriemma has built something special in Storrs. His teams had two major winning streaks of 70 and 91 - both NCAA records. His teams have been dominant in the Big East Conference and American Athletic Conference since the early 1990s with 39 championships. Then, there are the unprecedented performances in March with 15 Final Four and 20 regional final appearances.
He has also worked with great players. He coached multiple national players of the year - Rebecca Lobo, Jennifer Rizzoti, Kara Wolters, Bird, Taurasi, Maya Moore, Tina Charles, and Breanna Stewart. Other greats of the game he coached were Kerry Bascom, Nykesha Sales, Shea Ralph, Svetlana Abrosimova, Cash, Williams, Jones, Renee Montgomery, Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis.
Whether you are a UConn fan or not, or even if you are and don't follow the women's team very much, Geno Auriemma has accomplished unprecedented greatness at UConn and that success has translated into success for the university as a whole.
Now Geno is chasing greatness if he wants to keep it up. He is only 199 more wins away from breaking Pat Summit's NCAA win record of 1,098 and two more national championships away from breaking Wooden's NCAA men's record of 10. Onward and upward.