Chris Dailey is someone who should inspire us all

UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey talks with senior Saniya Chong on the bench during the closing minutes against Syracuse in the second round of NCAA women's college basketball tournament Monday, March 20, 2017 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey talks with senior Saniya Chong on the bench during the closing minutes against Syracuse in the second round of NCAA women's college basketball tournament Monday, March 20, 2017 at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Mohegan — Such awards are often dismissed with golf claps and cursory niceties. But this one? It demands further examination.

Chris Dailey, the conscience of the nation's model college athletic program — UConn women's basketball — will accept the Margo Dydek Award on Tuesday night at Mohegan Sun Arena, when the Sun play old friends Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Seattle. The award, named after the former Sun center and gentle soul who died at 37, is given to an "outstanding woman who has distinguished herself while positively impacting the local community."

Dailey is the Sun's "2017 Woman of Inspiration."

Which prompts the question: Has there ever been another woman in the history of our state who has provided its citizens with greater inspiration? Maybe there's Ella Grasso or M. Jodi Rell. Maybe some others unintentionally omitted here. Maybe. Or maybe not.

Because maybe there's never been another woman of prominence who has — ever — stood for more decent, wholesome and honorable principles. All while winning a conga line of national championships.

"The biggest impact she makes is that you hold yourself accountable because she holds you accountable about everything," Sun forward and UConn grad Morgan Tuck was saying. "She makes you become more of an adult. Her focus isn't just basketball, even though she is a really sharp basketball person. It's also about building you as a person and preparing yourself for when you leave school.

"It's about little things. How to carry yourself in public. When you're in it (the public eye), you don't realize people are always watching you. Even a little thing like being in the lobby of a hotel waiting for the bus to go to practice. Do you have ear buds on? CD teaches you to always be ready to engage with people and be a people person."

Dailey has been doing this at UConn for as long as Geno Auriemma. Thirty-two years. So maybe it's time to ask the question of the teacher: Who taught you?

"My parents (Bob and Mary) taught me there's a certain way to handle yourself and a certain level of effort required every day," Dailey said Saturday in a phone conversation. "That really helped me in college (Rutgers), because I wasn't the best player. I began to think about how to be a good teammate without being the one who scores all the points."

Thou Shalt Be A Good Teammate is the No. 1 commandment of the nation's greatest program.

"I'm unwilling to budge on certain things," Dailey said. "Working hard. Working to the highest level in everything you do. Being a good teammate. Preparing yourself to be successful. And part of my job is preparing them to be successful when they leave us."

"In the real world," Dailey was saying, "I don't think there are a whole lot of successful people to take shortcuts. If you commit yourself to being great, there are things you have to do. If you are unwilling, change your goals."

And that's CD. The blunt little voice inside the heads of her players, even after they leave.

"I think they probably find me annoying when they're here," she said. "But I remind them they can find inspiration anywhere if they want to look hard enough. The guy at McDonald's who has to take the bus to work. But still remembers my order. Or reminds me if I'm late one day. Always with a smile. Look how he embraces his job. That's inspiration."

And now the Sun reward among the most important sports figures in state history. Who she is and what she stands for should inspire us all.

"I was a very young assistant in the Big East (at Syracuse, age 25) and I really appreciated the veteran assistance, people taking me under their wing," Sun coach Curt Miller said. "CD was one of those people that I looked to for guidance. Asked her questions. Watched her. She was gracious enough with her time to speak with me."

Then Miller paused, grinned and said, "I think the relationship flourished because I typically asked her about her fashion. Where she was shopping while on the road. I built a relationship because I was very complimentary of her fashion. Then we started to talk basketball. I have great respect for the UConn program. The little things, how they conduct themselves on and off the court. Lots of things I talked to CD about are things I have incorporated into my own philosophy as a head coach."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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