Six ex-Huskies players, Auriemma lead American powerhouse

Maya Moore needed a moment. Turning away, biting her fist and clenching her eyes, she feigned disbelief that Geno Auriemma, her former coach at Connecticut, would say that she actually had gotten better since becoming a pro.

"He said that?" Moore asked longingly.

After a pause for effect, she seriously contemplated her improved decision-making and better use of mixing up the pace as a member of the Minnesota Lynx, with whom she won the WNBA title and was named WNBA rookie of the year last season. 

Olympic schedule
July 28 vs. Croatia, 11:45 a.m.*
July 30 vs. Angola, 5:15 p.m.
Aug. 1 vs. Turkey, 5:15 p.m.
Aug. 3 vs. Czech Rep., 5:15 p.m.
Aug. 5 vs. China, 11:45 a.m.*
*NBC; NBCSN

On the U.S. team, Moore is still a youngster and one of Auriemma's first options off the bench. Her playful yet serious relationship with the coach is one that is shared in various capacities across the U.S. women's national team that will vie for its fifth straight gold medal at the Summer Olympics. Five of Moore's teammates are fellow Huskies.

Roster
Player Pos NBA
S. Augustus F Lynx
Sue Bird G Storm
Swin Cash F Sky
T. Catchings F Fever
Tina Charles C Sun
Sylvia Fowles C Sky
Asjha Jones F Sun
A. McCoughtry F Dream
Maya Moore F Lynx
Candace Parker G/F Sparks
Diana Taurasi G/F Mercury
Lindsey Whalen G Lynx

"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," Auriemma said.

He can also joke and criticize with equal freedom, such as when he talked about Moore at the FIBA World Championships in 2010.

"Every time she turned her head the wrong way, somebody scored," Auriemma said. "Every time she didn't get through a screen, somebody scored. I think she learned a real valuable lesson [about the international game]."

U.S. Olympic History
Year Location Medal
2008 Beijing Gold
2004 Athens Gold
2000 Sydney Gold
1996 Atlanta Gold
1992 Barcelona Bronze
1988 Seol Gold
1984 Los Angeles Gold
1980 Moscow N/A*
1976 Montreal Silver
*The U.S. chose not to participate in the 1980 Moscow Olympics

Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, the U.S. team's starting backcourt, both are UConn alums. Auriemma got grief from Taurasi -- "Don't call me Sue" -- after he mixed up their names following the U.S. team's 99-67 win over Brazil at Verizon Center.

In contrast, he was genuine in his praise for backup point guard Lindsay Whalen, a Minnesota product who had a team-high 21 points against the Brazilians after Bird missed the game because of a death in her family.

This is where the familiarity finds its counterbalance; Whalen and Moore are two of the five fresh faces who haven't been to the Olympics before.

"I don't think early on in Lindsay's career she probably got enough respect or enough exposure to let people know just how good she really is," Auriemma said. "... She grows on you the more you're around her."

With their WNBA success and world championship experience, neither Whalen nor Moore is intimidated by the leap to the Olympic stage. It may even fuel them to play at a higher level. Auriemma is also seeking his first Olympic gold as coach. Fortunately, there are plenty of veterans around to help shepherd them along the path to the top of the podium.

As the journey goes on, U.S. forward Tamika Catchings, owner of three golds, can see the excitement in their eyes.

"It's kind of like that, 'What's next?'?" Catchings said. "Just watching, sit back, you don't really say much. You just watch everything that's going on. I feel like between Sue, [Taurasi] and I, even Swin [Cash], just being able to talk them through, tell them and show them, it's kind of like it makes it a little bit easier. I know that nervous energy because I had it, too, and I still have it."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com