SAITAMA, Japan (AP) – The women’s basketball played at the Tokyo Games definitely has a UConn flavor to it.
The school, which has dominated women’s college for the past two decades, has expanded internationally with former players representing not only the US but France and Canada as well.
It is not a coincidence.
UConn trainer Geno Auriemma is increasingly recruiting internationally.
“Some of these other countries have a basketball culture and their style of play is more like the style I like to train,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “You have a discipline that I like.”
At the games in Tokyo, 10 current or former huskies will take part as players or coaches in 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 basketball. No other college in Olympic basketball history has had nearly as many players. There would have been an 11th, but Katie Lou Samuelson contracted COVID shortly before the teams left Las Vegas for the Olympics.
“It is gratifying in many ways and humiliating in many ways to see her,” said Auriemma, who coached the US Olympic team in 2012 and 2016. “We have had someone on Olympic teams every year since 1996. I like to think that this is not a coincidence that just happens because of the circumstances.”
The impressive run includes Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart, Rebecca Lobo and Maya Moore. With Stefanie Dolson helping the 3v3 team win the opening tournament, 10 different huskies have now won gold medals at the Olympics.
“It feels like I see history in the making. From Sue and Dees on last year to see the people who came after me, ”said first-time Olympian Napheesa Collier. “I feel like I haven’t been out of college that long and it’s cool to see people who are in college playing in the Olympics. It’s a step back and a kind of moment to watch.
“I grew up with Sue and Dee. Feels like a moment in which a circle is coming full circle. “
US assistant coach Jen Rizzotti was part of the Huskies’ first title in 1995. She helped scout the Rio Games team in 2016 and is now on the bench assisting Dawn Staley.
“The 24-25 years we’ve represented here is a pretty significant stretch,” she said. “I don’t know if we would have expected it when it started many years ago. It’s cool to see other countries accept Connecticut players now. When I was playing we didn’t have any national players, Svetlana (Abrosimova) was the first and she was pretty much after me. “
It was a huskies reunion on Monday when the Americans beat France 93:82. Gabby Williams, who played with Breanna Stewart and Collier in Connecticut, was on the French team as her mother is from that country.
“I mean, this is UConn. We have great players everywhere, ”she said. “UConn produces great athletes.”
The Olympic Games are not just about past huskies.
Aaliyah Edwards is the youngest of the UConn group to play for Canada, joining Kia Nurse who played in the 2016 Olympics. She only played 31 seconds for Canada, who was eliminated in the pool game. She will start her sophomore year at the school this year.
“UConn is a great program and the trainer really takes pride in training you and developing you into a professional,” said Edwards. “It speaks for itself. There are a lot of great huskies here. I am honored to be on this stage and to represent my country, Canada, and also to show a little love for the husky nation.”
Edwards said she couldn’t see much of the huskies growing up in Canada, but Sister was someone she looked up to.
“She is Canadian and grew up near my hometown,” said Edwards.
Auriemma plans to watch the rest of the Olympics with pride, despite the late start times for the East Coast Games.
“It’s hard to put into words,” said the coach. “I can’t really express how incredibly proud we are of her here.”
More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports