The Texas of women's basketball meets ... Texas
Albany, N.Y. - The absurdity of it all.
Connecticut versus … Texas.
Texas, with its roughly $160 million athletic budget, only $100 million more than UConn’s.
Texas, from the Indian word “tejas,” meaning “friends” or “allies.” Connecticut, loosely translated from its Algonquian origin, must mean “uptight.”
Texas, famed in slogans, like “Don’t Mess With Texas” and “Remember the Alamo.” All we have is Alamo Rent a Car at Bradley Airport.
Texas, feted in song: “All My Exes Live in Texas,” the “Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Galveston.” After the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, what do we have, really, besides traffic and people who like to complain a lot?
Texas, whose King Ranch between Corpus Christi and Brownsville is 825,000 acres and bigger than Rhode Island, has beautiful horses and livestock. All we have are Yard Goats.
And yet here we are in airy, alluring Albany, awaiting Connecticut vs. Texas. Who knew, really, we could ever do anything bigger and better?
Surely not Geno Auriemma, the Texas of women’s basketball coaches, who recalled Friday the 1985 Final Four in Austin, his first season at UConn, the year before Texas went undefeated.
“I remember going to their campus and I mean, they have buildings bigger than our campus down there,” he said. “A whole other world. Then I went inside the on-campus arena that was like the Spectrum in Philly.
“They have Jody (Hall of Famer Jody Conradt) coaching there. Bigger than life. Everything there was bigger than life. I don’t remember leaving there going, ‘someday we’re going to be this.’”
And yet they are.
“I was sick for two days when I was down there. I ate so much barbecue,” Auriemma said. “I’m just always worried that our school couldn’t compete at that level. Not just basketball-wise. We didn’t have Gampel. Playing in a high school gym pretty much. Our school wasn’t competing on that level. … I was hoping I’d get the Texas job someday.”
Turns out he has created a better one.
And maybe that’s the point of this weekend, aside from reaching the Final Four, of course. To fully appreciate the breadth and scope of the UConn athletic program. Not just women’s basketball. UConn’s athletic budget is $100 million less than Texas. One-hundred million. Do you have any idea what you can buy with $100 million? Put it this way: Bet there aren’t so many contradictory voices from the wilderness down there when they need their version of a new XL Center.
Sure seems, based on UConn’s comparative athletic success, there ought to be less griping in our state about UConn and more appreciating what it has done, given its resources, location, history and, well, that it’s not Texas.
“You know what?” athletic director Warde Manuel said Friday. “I never focus on what others have. I always focus, and everyone around me does, too, what we bring to the table. From a success standpoint, we don’t take a backseat to anybody. It comes from my parents, particularly my father, teaching me to love where you are. Don’t worry about people in bigger houses. Everybody’s got problems, no natter how big their wallet. Find happiness and success in what you have. What we have is great people, great programs. I’ll put us up against anybody.”
Imagine: Geno and Jim built superior programs, superior to Texas and many others, despite beginning with the old Fieldhouse and then window-less offices at Gampel. Field hockey is a national champion. So is soccer. Hockey is emerging under home run hire Mike Cavanaugh. Nobody (and I mean nobody) in the country does more with less than baseball coach Jim Penders, whose major leaguers are more widespread than the snow still covering his home field.
Even football, recent struggles notwithstanding, has a BCS appearance in its 15 years of big-time existence. Consider: UConn football generated $11.1 million in revenue in 2012-2013, according to the U.S. Office of Postsecondary Education. Texas made $109.4 million.
They play today at the Times Union Center at high noon. The leviathans of women’s basketball vs. the place that is permanently leviathan. It should be noted that the Connecticut point guard, Mo Jefferson, hails from Glenn Heights, Texas.
“If you’re from the state of Texas,” Texas coach Karen Aston said, “I don’t understand why you’d ever leave Texas. I really don’t.”
And Jefferson left Texas for the stately streets of Storrs, where everyone is excited because they just put a Price Chopper on Route 195.
You can’t make it up.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.