- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2009

Since being named coach of the U.S. women’s national team, Geno Auriemma has had to deal with a deluge of formalities.

So he couldn’t help but smile as he walked off the court Wednesday after concluding his first official practice.

“It seems like, in the position that I’m in, there’s so much nonbasketball stuff that goes on a lot of times - who’s invited, who’s not; who’s coming, who’s not; who has to leave,” said Auriemma, who was named coach in April. “So to actually be on the floor, to be running drills, to do the things that we as coaches enjoy doing, yeah, we’ve waited a long time for this. I wish we could practice again tonight, but I don’t think they would go for that.”

The six-day training camp at American’s Bender Arena is the start of the national team’s preparations for the 2010 FIBA World Championships and ultimately, if it qualifies, the 2012 London Olympics. The United States has won the past four Olympic gold medals and is ranked No. 1 in the world.

The U.S. roster includes 23 players from the WNBA and college who are vying for one of 12 spots on the national team. But the first step for Auriemma’s staff is to start molding the country’s best talent into playing a style to their liking.

“I think our job is to just try to get them to get a feel for each other, get a feel for how we want to play as a team and get them in the spots on the floor where they’re normally comfortable,” said Auriemma, an assistant on the 2000 U.S. Olympic team that won gold in Sydney. “It’s our job just to point them in the right direction. They understand what we’re trying to accomplish.”

For most, this and subsequent training camps are essentially tryouts. But eight returning players from the team that won gold in Beijing are guaranteed a spot in the final pool, so the start of practice gives them a chance to relive their experience and work toward furthering their legacy.

“Some of us went to college together. Some of us play in the WNBA together. Some of us played for USA Basketball together at some point. So when we all come together, it’s like a reunion of sorts,” said point guard Sue Bird, a member of the past two gold medal-winning teams. “It’s great to be around. We work hard on the court and have fun off of it.”

Auriemma spent most of the morning session teaching the system he uses at Connecticut. With six current or former Huskies players at practice, the rest of the group initially looked to them for an example of how to run certain drills.

But it didn’t take long for the others to catch on. In a five-on-five offensive drill to close practice, an all-Connecticut group lost - and had to run sprints as a result.

“The players that are here are all smart enough and are experienced enough that they only have to see things one time and they get it,” Auriemma said. “I think the group that’s here is really suited to the stuff that I like, and I think they’ll enjoy it.”

Note - Several players didn’t practice Wednesday. Seimone Augustus, Alana Beard, Jayne Appel, Kara Lawson, and Lindsay Whalen were at practice but unavailable because of injury. Candace Parker is scheduled to be at practice Friday. Tamika Catchings, Ebony Hoffman, Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter are playing in the WNBA Finals.

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