Published January 28. 2014 4:00AM
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
The question isn't even a question. Spend your college years in Boston or Storrs, Conn.? Please. It's like asking, "would you rather the Crown Roast of Pork or the ham sandwich?"
Ah, but what if the equation considers women's basketball? Storrs is the game's Broadway. Boston … isn't. Storrs is the Land of Make Believe, where the players are rock stars and victory is perpetual. Boston is like everywhere else. Where not everybody knows your name (even if the city is home to Cheers) and you might have to, you know, cope with losing.
So now you know the story of Lauren Engeln, the kid from sunny Laguna Hills, Calif., who made her way east to basketball Broadway for two years. Two years of mostly sitting. Eventually, the clash of ideas came upon her, echoed perfectly by The Clash: Should she stay or should she go?
Stay at UConn and be a backup Rockette or venture to stately Chestnut Hill and a program starting over?
"I loved, loved, loved UConn," Engeln was saying Sunday from the media room at Boston College, where she is a starter. "But at the end of sophomore year I just wanted more. I love basketball. I worked so hard my whole life. I wanted more. I needed to find my way."
Which, you figure, is only the entire point of college. Finding your way. And Engeln is doing so now 80 miles north of UConn geographically, but on the other side of the world by any hoop-o-logical measure.
The good news: She's plays regularly and averages nearly eight points per game. The Eagles are 11-10, one win away from matching last year's win total. The bad news: This is a program still digging its way from the roof collapse caused by SCAM: Sylvia Crawley's Absolute Mess. Crawley is the former coach who ruined everything Cathy Inglese and her three trips to the Sweet 16 built, leaving new coach Erik Johnson to emerge from the rubble.
Days like Sunday, for instance, never happen at Connecticut. BC had a nine-point lead over Wake Forest with eight minutes left. The last 14 possessions featured nine missed shots and four turnovers. Loss.
"I don't regret my decision. This is an amazing place," Engeln said. "It's not realistic to win every game. This is more like reality. And I love it."
And they love her. Johnson, who does upbeat and positive as habit and not affectation, asks Engeln to play some point guard, not her natural position. He says Engeln has some "UConn toughness."
"It's a Godsend having her," he said. "I put her in so many tough situations. She always comes back ready to learn. She oozes basketball. I know she agonized over the decision to leave UConn. But now she's part of building something special."
Engeln's story, especially in a world of burgeoning cynicism, would contribute to it. C'mon. You don't leave Connecticut without a reason. Personality conflict? Hates Geno? Must be something. Except that there's not. They all parted friends.
"I still talk to Stef (Dolson), Kaleena (Mosqueda-Lewis) and Kiah (Stokes). I still talk to Michala (Johnson, who transferred to Wisconsin) and Samarie (Walker, who transferred to Kentucky)," Engeln said. "It's almost like I get to have two college experiences because of my friends I made from UConn. People say there's not as much to do in Storrs. But we made fun out of nothing. You get super close to people when there's not as much to do."
Engeln also holds unique insight into UConn's abject dominance of the game.
"They have a lot of talent, no question. But a lot of teams have talent," she said. "Honestly, it's the way coach Auriemma coaches them. The way he pushes each player. It's a whole other world."
Engeln made sure to sing a few hosannas to Johnson, her new coach, who has his ways of motivating, she said, "but with a lot less cussing."
And with that, Engeln grinned and finished the interview, walking into a cold afternoon in Boston. Finding her way.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.