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It's hard sometimes not to get a little teary. No, really. Spend enough time around these kids and you start becoming a de facto fan, too. You like them. Appreciate them. And then when it's time to say goodbye, it's a bit of a Hallmark Moment, even for us dopes in the media.
And then along comes Stefanie Dolson, whose movement to midcourt Saturday, Senior Day, came to the music of Katy Perry. "Baby, you're a firework," the lyric goes. No arguments from this corner. Dolson is an M-80 with a lit fuse.
Turns out, though, that Dolson could have chosen Lee Ann Womack, too: "I Hope You Dance."
Stef Dolson danced.
This is called staying true to your character.
She danced to midcourt before she embraced coach Geno Auriemma and raised her framed jersey to the roars of a sellout crowd.
Even some of us media types applauded.
No cheering in the press box?
Yeah, sure. Humanity steps in now and then.
But then, Stef may be a colleague one day.
That's right. The next in the long line of UConn women's players with the charisma, character and humor for the cameras. Dolson thinks she might want to do this when basketball is over.
"Everyone tells me I should," Dolson was saying later.
Actually, she has. She's already experienced an internship at SNY last summer. She even guest-hosted a state sports talk show on CPTV Sports in September. And required one take for the whole thing.
She's a five-tool threat to morph into a media star: looks, humor, smarts, personality … and did we mention personality?
"She's one of the smartest players I've ever coached," assistant coach Marisa Moseley said. "From the standpoint of knowledge, she'll be fine. She can talk about it and she knows what she's talking about."
It was indicated to Moseley here that the concepts of "knows what you're talking about" and "media member" are often mutually exclusive.
Moseley liked that one.
Then she got back to her protégé.
"Her charisma, on or off camera, she exudes that no matter what," Moseley said. "She's a natural. A natural coach, too. I told her if I ever have my own program, I'd hire her as a coach."
Dolson would become another program graduate in the media business, joining Rebecca Lobo, Kara Wolters, Meg Culmo, Debbie Fiske and others. Maybe this program breeds something else other than winning.
"Women's basketball players at UConn probably have more exposure to media, both print and broadcast, than anywhere else in the country," said Lobo, a prominent analyst on ESPN. "This helps players become more comfortable in front of the camera. It also may pique their interest and make them want to pursue it as a career.
"However," Lobo said, "you should probably note that not a single player has gone on to be a sportswriter. Not sure what that says about their exposure to you knuckleheads."
(This is why we love Rebecca).
Auriemma: "One advantage we have over an awful lot of other programs is the unbelievable amount of media exposure these kids are subjected to. It's good and bad. If you decide to come to Connecticut, you re putting yourself in the crosshairs. If you are really bad, the whole country knows you are a bad player. If you are really good, the whole country knows you're good."
So maybe all our dumb questions have a purpose after all.
"They end up learning how to handle themselves, be quick on their feet and how to say things in a way that make sense," Auriemma said. "Listen to them when they are freshmen in the locker room and they are scared to death they'll be called to the media. As they get older, they appreciate it. I can see why so many of them want to be part of it."
Then Auriemma paused and cracked, '(Imagine) if Kelly Faris said, 'Coach, I want to be on television?' Maybe on CSI, but not as a sportscaster."
Our time around Dolson recalls the old Red Smith line about sportswriters: He called us "underpaid and overprivileged." How fortunate, indeed, that we get to watch the subjects we cover grow up and into vibrant young adults. Stef Dolson arrived here as a funny, outgoing kid, no doubt. Now four years later, the whole package has been cultivated and is on display for all to see.
"What better way to go out than the way I came in," Stef Dolson said. "Dancing."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.