During Team USA practice Sunday, forward Lindsay Whalen got a little mixed up on the play they were running. So she elicited some help from teammate and University of Connecticut alumna Sue Bird.
After all, Bird — one of six former Huskies on a Olympic basketball team coached by UConn coach Geno Auriemma — knows the system like the back of her hand.
“I’m always talking to Sue all the time,” Whalen said. “I know she’s played for [Coach A] for so many years. So I’m like, ‘If this happens, when should I do this?’ or ‘What’s this one called?’ I’m always in her ear asking her questions.”
Having coached the Huskies to seven NCAA championships during his 26-year career at Connecticut, Auriemma is quite familiar with the view from the top.
It’s a quality that will come in handy as he’ll try to lead Team USA to its fifth straight gold medal.
Helping him and the team in that quest is a comfort level that only familiarity with one another can bring.
“It helps me, but more importantly, it also helps the other six players on the team,” Auriemma said. “When they’re out on the floor and there’s a question, it doesn’t always come back to me. They can answer those questions in the huddle right away.”
Unlike the men’s team, the women’s team is limited in the amount of time it can spend together preparing for the games because the WNBA season is in full swing during the summer months.
The team had a three-day training session in May but practiced for the first time since then Saturday at American University. Monday, it will take on Brazil in an exhibition game. The short amount of practice time isn’t a ideal for players who, for the most part, are professional rivals attempting to become teammates. But with half the roster having played for Auriemma, the team is one step ahead of the game.
“[It’s helpful], especially with the limited amount of time that you have to work with these players,” Auriemma said. “Having six players that played for me makes it easier for me because they know exactly what I want, and I know exactly what they’re going to do.”
Bird is joined on Team USA by former Huskies Swin Cash, Tina Charles, Asjha Jones, Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore. There are enough Connecticut alumnae on the team to supply a starting five — and then some.
The Connecticut vibe on the team provides ammunition for a playful rivalry between the Huskies and non-Huskies.
“I’ve had to wear my orange a couple times,” former Tennessee Volunteer Candace Parker said with a laugh. “I have to remind coach Auriemma he didn’t win while we were there. He can’t really talk all that stuff.”
Connecticut players know how to win championships. That kind of experience no doubt will aid the team when it competes in London.
Auriemma knows half of his team through and through. But much to his delight, they aren’t the same players he coached long ago in Storrs.
“It’s got more to do with what they’ve done since they’ve left UConn than what they did at UConn,” he said. “They’ve changed a lot as players in the time that they’ve been gone. They were pretty good then, but they’ve gotten so much better.”