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Geno Auriemma talks UConn in the WNBA, Olympics

The Huskies’ head coach broke down his former players’ moves in WNBA free agency while discussing the program’s impact on the Olympics.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

WNBA free agency began this week and it’s been a busy few days for former UConn women’s basketball players in the league. As the first open market under the new CBA, Geno Auriemma likes seeing so many players switching teams.

“All this movement is good for the league,” he said. “Up to this point, the only way you can get better is through the draft for the most part. In order to get better through the draft, you have to semi, sort of, kind of, on purpose, not really tank it. And then you get lucky. That’s not a good way to go, so the fact that players can actually move makes the league better for everybody.”

Auriemma also took the time to break down some of the transactions involving a few of his players. During UConn’s practice on Friday, news broke that the Chicago Sky and Dallas Wings swapped Katie Lou Samuelson and Azura Stevens, respectively. After a trying rookie season for Samuelson, Auriemma thinks the deal will end up being a win-win for both players.

“I don’t know if (Sky head coach James) Wade had that in mind when he first drafted her but it turns out it’s a great move for [Samuelson]. Great move for Azura,” he said. “There’s some trades that work out really, really good for both people and that was probably a pretty good move for Lou. And it’s fortuitous that Skylar (Diggins-Smith) decided to leave Dallas and go to Phoenix so there is an opening in the backcourt, somehow, some way.”

Because Diggins-Smith left and headed to Phoenix, that opens up an opportunity for former UConn point guard Moriah Jefferson in the backcourt in Dallas as well.

“Hopefully Moriah will be healthy, she’ll be 100 percent,” Auriemma said, before pausing to think of the rest of Dallas’ roster. “Moriah, Arike (Ogunbowale) and Lou? Interesting. That’s interesting. Interesting group.”

However, Auriemma sounded happiest for Bria Hartley, who left the New York Liberty to sign with the Phoenix Suns for a starting salary of $185 thousand in the first year, according to Howard Megdal.

“I think Bria hit the lottery though. Living in Phoenix, she’s getting paid, she’s got D (Diana Taurasi), she’s got Brittney Griner, Skylar,” Auriemma said. “I always knew it was destined for all those UConn guys and all those Notre Dame guys to eventually become best buds. Go try to win one together. They can argue all they want.”

Speaking of Hartley, the point guard recently helped France qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. While she’s American-born, Hartley is a French citizen through her mother’s side of the family. Since she likely wouldn’t have gotten an opportunity to play for the US national team, Auriemma is thrilled Hartley will have the chance to compete in the Olympics.

“I’m really happy for her, that’s the coolest thing,” he said. “It’s like when Sveta (Abrosimova) made the Russia Olympic team. It’s everybody’s dream to play in the Olympics.”

As he was talking about Hartley and the Olympics, Auriemma turned to look at the wall of Olympic gold medalists in the Werth Champions Center gym. The names of 18 former Huskies hang from winning with Team USA but the coach realized he needed a place to honor the players that competed in the Olympics but didn’t win a medal: Abrosimova with Russia in 2000, Kia Nurse with Canada in 2016 and now 2020 along with Hartley and France in 2020.

“I gotta find a place to put them. There’s some place here. I gotta put them in the foreign corner. I gotta put them in the ‘others,’” he said with a laugh.

Auriemma then continued to admire the wall, counting the number of players who won gold medals.

“Every one of them won a gold medal. None of them were on the (US Olympic) team that lost last in 1992,” he said. “18 gold medals, that about right? Since 1996, 18 gold medals. Pretty damn good.”

But then the coach returned to the present and wrapped it up in classic Auriemma fashion.

“None of those guys are playing this weekend,” he joked. “They may be playing this weekend but not in Tampa.”