HARTFORD, Conn. -- Geno Auriemma allowed himself to get a bit nostalgic after becoming just the third coach in Division I basketball history to reach 1,200 wins.
With UConn’s 67-34 rout of Seton Hall Wednesday Auriemma joined former Duke men’s coach Mike Krzyzewski (1,202 wins) and Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer (1,206) as the only ones to reach that milestone.
After breaking open a pinata with his team and being showered with confetti and balloons in the locker room, Auriemma’s thoughts went back to a 1987 doubleheader in Hartford with the UConn men’s team, when about 50 people showed up early to watch the women beat Central Connecticut.
Wednesday night, there were more than 14,000 fans on hand in the same building, including thousands of little girls, dozens of whom waited by the the tunnel for a photo or autograph with one of their heroes.
“We created a subculture that didn’t exist,” Auriemma said. “It wasn’t there. And through a lot of hard work and a lot of people putting a lot of hard work into it, a culture was born out of nothing.”
Though he remains third on the wins list, Auriemma’s accomplishment is unprecedented in several ways.
He reached 1,200 wins faster than anyone else, reaching the milestone in his 39th season. Krzyzewski coached for 47 years and VanDerveer is in her 45th season as a head coach.
And unlike Krzyzewski, who also coached at Army, and VanDerveer, who was at Idaho and Ohio State before Stanford, Auriemma has done it all at a single school.
He turned UConn from a program that had just one winning season before he arrived in 1985 to perennial title contender. In addition to the 11 titles, the Huskies have also been to 22 Final Fours and recorded six perfect seasons. His teams haven’t won fewer than 25 games in a season since 1992-93.
“What stands out to me is the totality of what he has built in Storrs,” said Rebecca Lobo, who led UConn to its first title in 1995 and now serves as an ESPN analyst. “The national championships, league championships, the consecutive win streaks, the teams that seem to yearly get inducted into the Huskies of Honor, the sure-fire Hall of Fame players. Twelve-hundred is amazing on its own, but when you look at it intertwined with everything else, it’s mind boggling.”
And DePaul coach Doug Bruno, a longtime friend and assistant coach on the 2012 and 2016 Olympic team, said Auriemma’s impact goes far beyond the numbers because he has widened the audience for the sport.
“I’ll argue with anybody in any bar in any town in the world and the United States of America about which college program has done the most (for the game),” he said. “And it’s UConn.”
The women’s game began to grow, Auriemma said, when fathers began seeing their little girls watch players such as Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore and began understanding the power of women’s sports in creating role models.
Current star Paige Bueckers, the 2021 National Player of the Year, said she was one of those little girls.
“Just coming here, being a part of this legacy being a part of the program that he and (associate head coach Chris Dailey) have built and all the alums, “It’s just a blessing,” she said. “It’s amazing. It’s what you dreamt of as a kid is coming to be part of this amazing program.”
Auriemma was quick to point out Dailey, has been with him for all 1,200 wins and is a big reason for the program’s success.
But he was again cryptic when asked how long he might continue to coach, saying he won’t be adding hundreds of more wins, but “more along the line of single digits” and that there isn’t any number or “whale,” that he’s chasing.
“I could probably say, with a great deal of certainty, that I’ll never be number one in wins, I don’t think that will happen,” he said. “And I’m still going to enjoy my wine and I’m going to sleep good tonight.”