He won't back down
Philadelphia — They talked about it across the country last week, on ESPN and the Washington Post, on blogs and web sites, in tweets, on streets. Subject: women's basketball. Subject: Geno Auriemma. Yes. Geno did it again. Just a few volts this time. But enough to do the job.
One line on the podium about the "spoiled" fans of Huskymania and women's basketball went national, beyond reporting scores, all the way to generating a healthy anger among assorted blatherers. It's only the greatest news possible for anybody interested in the game's slow, steady growth into the mainstream.
Maybe the mainstream is still a halfcourt hook shot for women's basketball. Better than the fullcourt heave it used to be. But if it ever gets there, the guy to deliver it, the halfcourt hook shot maker, is Geno, whose perceived magnetic and repellent qualities just get people talking. And talking. And talking.
Vegas might make it a pick 'em as to whether the women's basketball establishment accepts that Auriemma has become the game's go-to guy, the primary - and perhaps only - true vehicle to America's living room.
"At this point, he's the face of women's basketball. I say that with an awareness of greatly accomplished people in this sport," said Mel Greenberg, the most influential media personality in the history of women's basketball, the man who began the top 25 women's poll at the Philadelphia Inquirer three decades ago. "Without naming names, people that run women's basketball, like in politics, know their little precincts, but can't drive the national road map. One of Geno's greatest strengths is that he is worldly and very media savvy."
Any prolonged experience around the women's game reveals the following: The Establishment wants its game to emerge from the shadows, but would prefer it to happen on its own merits. Frankly, you have a better chance of Geno singing a "That's What Friends Are For" duet with Pat Summitt. You want attention? You need an attention getter.
"There are segments of the women's basketball community who probably appreciate his tactics to drive attention to the women's game," ESPN analyst Doris Burke said Saturday at Liacouras Center, where she'll call today's UConn-Georgetown game with Dave O'Brien. "There's also a faction who would be annoyed or envious. The percentages of those factions would be fascinating.
"Geno is great TV. When you watch him, he comes across as a guy you'd like to have a cocktail with or get to know in a social setting. Until he came along, there was a lack of personality to latch on to, love or hate."
Burke has the hardest job among anyone else in the basketball media. She must know the nuances and rhythms of women's basketball, men's college basketball and the NBA. Sometimes all in the same week. She talks to everyone. She knows that Geno as the game's face means a happier face for the game.
"The people I've seen most aware of the newfound awareness for women's basketball are NBA players," Burke said. "It's beyond Ray Allen because of his relationship with Connecticut. Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum. They're intrigued by what they see. 'I saw this game, I saw that game.' 'She can play.' The first player I heard them talk about that way was Diana Taurasi."
Auriemma was on his game again Saturday, just before preparing the Huskies for today's game. He was back on the podium, irreverent and unapologetic. Someone asked him if he's ever amazed that his comments go national so frequently and so quickly. His answer:
"That's the world we live in. With all the media out there; everyone has a Twitter account or this, that or another thing. Everyone wants to say something. But no one gives a damn what they (the commentators) think, what they say, how they feel," the coach said. "But they feel compelled to say it, especially when the subject is a guy who they think is a little bit of an (expletive) like me. Why would they weigh in on it? But they have no idea what they are talking about, but they have to weigh in on something.
"When I tell the truth, whether I express it in the right way or not, people want to make a big deal out of it because it's another opportunity to slap me around. But I lose no sleep over it. The only thing I lose sleep over is whether Chase Utley will be ready on Opening Day or whether Brad Lidge will get anyone out."
Sure hope nobody in the UConn fandom was expecting an apology for the other night's missive about being "spoiled." Auriemma answered a question about whether coaches use success in the NCAA tournament to pursue other jobs with a classic:
"A lot of people in Connecticut hope I'll be involved in one of those jobs," he said. "Unfortunately, I'll probably be back next year."
Giggles all around.
By the time you read this, Geno might have made SportsCenter again. Good chance he'll make sports radio in Philadelphia, 610-AM WIP.
"Those guys on 610 hope I get hit by a bus on Broad St.," he said, "so they don't have to read any more about women's basketball."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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