UConn women's basketball players embrace ownership role

Philadelphia — Geno Auriemma took a new approach during the offseason.

He basically handed over the ownership of the UConn women's basketball team to his players.

No more daily schedule handed out to them. No pushing his players to work out.

It was all up to them.

"He wanted to make it personal for us and put it on ourselves to make us better," junior Crystal Dangerfield at American Athletic Conference basketball media day on Monday. "We know if we're not doing something right or not doing something as well, it's because we didn't work on it."

The Huskies fully bought in.

Senior Katie Lou Samuelson helped organize the team schedule. Dangerfield and senior Napheesa Collier chipped in.

Good things happened when they were forced to take charge. Players stepped out of their comfort zones and took leadership roles.

"He said that giving us a routine, it kind of makes you lose love for the game because you're just doing what you're being told," Collier said. "We were in the gym playing pickup and all that stuff way more than we were last year because we were held more responsible for it. I think it did bring it did bring a little more love, what he was talking about, because we wanted to be in there, we wanted to get work in.

"I think it was really good for us."

Once upon a time, college basketball coaches had to wait until mid-October to run practices. No on-the-court instruction was allowed.

And the Huskies won national championships back then, too.

"We had some pretty good teams when we weren't allowed to do anything until Oct. 15," Auriemma said last Friday during UConn's First Night celebration. "And players appreciated it. You were a new voice Oct. 15. Kids were excited. Rebecca Lobo coming in my office (saying) Coach, I can't wait for practice to start. I'm sick of pick up games. I want real practices to start.'

"Last time somebody said that to me, Rebecca Lobo."

Times have changed. Now, they can work with their players on a limited basis during the offseason and practices start in full force in late September. Every minute is mapped out for them.

That's not a good thing, according to Auriemma.

So he decided to hand the responsibility for a schedule back over to his team.

"It's almost too easy," Auriemma said. "Here's what time I get up. Here's what time my class is. This is what time we have lunch and what time we have practice. This is when I meet with my tutors, this is when I have study hall. And repeat for five months. Every day.

"So when do you get to decide anything? You don't. So what we did, we didn't do any of that this spring and the whole summer and almost all of September. We said, 'Listen, you guys are in charge. Whatever you guys want to do, it's on you.' "

Now that school in back in session, the Huskies are back to dealing with more of a set schedule with regular practice times. Once again, they'll contend for a national championship.

But that doesn't mean they've stopped taking responsibility.

"We all grew up a little bit," Samuelson said. "But we have a few young players that are going to play big roles for us. So it's mine and Napheesa's job that we make sure that everything, day in and day out, is where it needs to be."

g.keefe@theday.com

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