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Geno Auriemma, UConn adjusting to new normal during COVID-19 pandemic

Auriemma talked about how he’s handling isolation and why he’s looking forward to next season already.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

This weekend, the entire women’s basketball world was supposed to descend on New Orleans for the Final Four. And if this NCAA Tournament went like the previous 12, UConn would’ve been in the Big Easy playing in the national semifinals.

Instead, Auriemma was back home in Connecticut on Friday talking on Instagram Live with Rebecca Lobo after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the NCAA Tournament and turned everyone’s lives upside down.

So how is UConn’s head coach handling self-isolation?

“I’m really, really good at doing nothing. Like, I’m expert at it. I really am,” he said with a smile on the stream.

While nothing about what’s happening right now is “normal,” Auriemma still maintains a routine that often involves going to his office in Storrs to get out of the house.

“So I can get up in the morning, have some coffee, read the paper, do the crossword puzzle and get on the phone, do what I gotta do, blah, blah, blah, blah and then work out,” he said of a typical day. “Sometimes I get in my car and drive. That’s not talking to anybody, seeing anybody. I get in my car, I’ll drive up to school. Go in the building, there’s nobody in the building. It’s completely empty. I’ll walk into my office, sit at my desk and stare, there’s nobody around. It makes me feel like ‘Hey, I went into work today. I’m doing my job.’”

As for the players, they’ve all returned home with the exception of Evina Westbrook, who is still on campus to receive treatment as she recovers from left knee surgery. Although the timeline is different, it’s not uncommon for players to go home after the spring semester before returning for the summer. However, coronavirus makes it a particularly tricky situation since non-essential buildings — such as gyms — are shut down throughout most of the country, which makes it difficult for players to keep their skills sharp.

Auriemma said the team had a Zoom meeting last Saturday and the coaches have been giving the players assignments to complete but the onus is on the players themselves to stay in shape.

“What are you going to do? You try to go for a run. You try to do some indoor stuff. Try to get some bands and work, go jump rope. I don’t know. It’s a weird time for them,” he said.

While Auriemma hopes to have everyone back on campus for the start of the summer session on May 29, that’s wishful thinking on his part. Connecticut governor Ned Lamont said the pandemic is expected to peak in April and May in the state. Even after the number of cases starts to drop, everyone will still be asked to remain at home for weeks after.

With a large freshman class coming in, Auriemma is anxious to finally get everyone together and begin laying the foundations for next season.

“I hope we get everybody back for that so at least we can get started but we have 10 players as of right now. We haven’t added anybody so we have 10 players,” he said. “Of those 10, five are freshmen, two are going to be sophomores and one, Evina, has never played for us. So it’s a lot of unknowns”

While that much uncertainty going into a new season would make some coaches nervous, Auriemma is looking forward to the challenge — once his team is finally back together, of course.

“To be honest, I’m excited as hell. I can’t wait. I really am,” he said. “I think this is going to be a pretty interesting group. I’m really, really looking forward to it. There’s a lot of interesting personalities in this group that I really like.”