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UConn WBB Weekly: What it takes to play for the Huskies

Geno Auriemma explained what the team looks for in its players.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

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What it takes to play at UConn

When Geno Auriemma and his staff set out to build a recruiting class, their initial goal isn’t to land the best basketball players. First, they have to find the right people who fit the program. After they’ve done that, they’ll start looking at each prospect’s basketball abilities.

Of the entire pool of high school players, Auriemma estimates they whittle the list down to 10 or so recruits that are not only good enough to play at UConn but also check all the boxes off the court.

“By the time they get to be seniors, 10 of them can play for you after you strip away all the knuckleheads you don’t want on your team, or the selfish kids you don’t want on your team, or the kids that think going to classes is optional, so you don’t want them on your team,” Auriemma said at the UConn Coaches Show on Monday.

Geno also doesn’t want kids who just play basketball. He wants basketball players, through and through.

“If you just play because you like to play, that’s a bad sign for me,” he said. “What do you love about the game? If the game was taken away from you, what do you love? What would you miss?”

The best example is Paige Bueckers. The rising junior was once asked what she likes to do in her free time and the rising junior responded that she likes to watch basketball and doesn’t get sick of it. When Bueckers hurt her knee this past season, Auriemma mentioned that he was especially devastated because he knew how much she loved to play.

Of course, UConn isn’t alone in wanting great basketball players who are also great people. The prospects they tab for their shortlist are the same ones their competition is vying for as well.

“Everybody in America wants those same 10. I mean, why would a kid go to Stanford instead of UConn. What the hell do they have that we don’t have?” Auriemma sarcastically quipped. “So we recruit against some really, really tough schools.”

The Huskies’ standards don’t restrict them too much — illustrated by the fact that they’ve landed the No. 1 prospect in five of the last seven classes. But they also don’t make exceptions simply to fill their roster, which will occasionally result in lighter hauls such as 2016 (Crystal Dangerfield, Molly Bent, Kyla Irwin) or 2019 (Aubrey Griffin, Anna Makurat). Still, the results speak for themselves — both in terms of basketball success and otherwise.

“I run my basketball program like it’s a high school program. So when I coached in high school, if you didn’t go to class, you don’t practice. You don’t go to study hall, you don’t practice. You miss practice, you don’t play,” Auriemma said. “In 37 years, I’ve never had a kid be late or miss practice. That’s not because I go check, it’s because the kids on the team won’t let you be late and miss practice. So that’s kind of where it goes.”

While Auriemma and his staff have expectations and demands for their players, they know a lot is also expected of themselves. UConn’s unprecedented success over the last 30 years has become one of the staff’s biggest chips on the recruiting trail. But that also means the coaches need to maintain that standard as well.

“You hold your players accountable because you hold yourself accountable,” he said. “Because you promised them that, ‘Hey, I’ll give you a chance to go to Final Four.’ Or ‘Hey, we’ll have a chance to win a national championship.’ And now if you don’t do that, it’s like you didn’t live up to your obligation.”

But as long as the Huskies keep winning, Auriemma will remain unapologetic about his ways.

“If I’m having a party right now, I’m inviting you to a party and you say, ‘Hey, could you meet me halfway and bring the party to me? Hell no,” he said. “You want what we have, you come here. We ain’t coming halfway to meet you. It doesn’t work that way.”

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