During the last decade of Geno Auriemma's 28 seasons as UConn women's basketball coach, his voice has begun to carry and have more of an impact as he addresses the state of women's basketball, the breakup of the Big East and now events such as the national tragedy that enveloped Newtown 10 days ago.
Circumstance has offered Auriemma a national forum, thanks to the success and uniqueness of his program, his status as the reigning Olympic coach and his willingness to say what others might only be thinking.
"The only thing that has changed is, when I say something, more people are paying attention to it and reacting to it," Auriemma said Saturday after his No. 2 Huskies improved to 10-0 with a 102-45 win over Hartford.
"To tell you the truth, I wish I could say more about things, even if people continue to say that my opinion does not matter. I wish I could say a lot of things I actually believe. Unlike a lot of people, I went to college. I keep up with what's going on in the world. I read the newspaper and books."
As Auriemma said, when he says something, people tend to listen, whether they agree or not. When he makes a suggestion, people tend to consider it. And when he does something like begin cancer charities or donate $80,000 with his wife, Kathy, to start an academic scholarship fund at UConn for the families of the Newtown victims, the nation sees it.
And now, in increasing numbers, it wants to talk to him about it.
"I'm just a poor little Italian kid, come over from Italy," Auriemma said. "I don't know anything. But I do know this: Little kids in Italy aren't afraid to walk down the street because they are going to get shot. They aren't afraid about being shot in a school. They don't need to worry about going shopping at the mall. Nor do the little kids in Germany or France.
"Most civilized countries in the world do not have to worry about this stuff. So why do we in this nation have to fear for our children? Why do I have to be afraid for the safety of my grandson? It's beyond me. I can't figure it out and no one will ever convince me that it is OK."
Auriemma appeared on both CNN and MSNBC last week to talk about the scholarship fund. His point of view about lowering the rim in women's basketball began a national debate. And last week, his request that the Catholic 7 leave the Big East as soon as possible again stirred emotion.
"Everyone who was around has an opinion about what happened in Newtown," Auriemma said. "And if someone asks me my opinion about that or about schools leaving the Big East, you sometimes get the nonsense back [from those that don't agree] about, 'What do we care, he's only a women's basketball coach. His opinion doesn't count.' That's fine. I understand. You are going to offend some people and others may agree with you."
"I think people ask my opinion on things not because I am a women's basketball coach, but because they know I am going to offer an honest opinion. If you ask me a question on a national issue, I will tell you what I think and I've been doing it for 28 years now."
What's true is that there do not seem to be many coaches, college or otherwise, who share that point of view.
"I don't feel like I have a tremendous responsibility [to be the voice of women's basketball]. If I am not asked, I won't offer an opinion," Auriemma said. "But what amazes me is how many people that are in the position to influence public opinion, at a much higher level than I am, refuse to comment or offer an opinion because of what it might mean to their careers, either in politics or any arena in which they don't want the perception people have of them to change.
"So what you get instead are stock answers and cliches, canned responses to important questions. I've never felt like that was [my style] and I go back all the way to when I was a child. I said what I honestly thought and it hasn't changed.
"Look, I am not trying to get re-elected. I don't have a constituency to report to, corporate sponsors who may bail out on me. And when people contact me to tell me they don't care what I have to say, I think to myself, 'Well, you must care or you wouldn't be contacting me to tell me I am full of it.'"
Ready For Stanford
The Huskies are off until Thursday, when they will have an evening practice in California to prepare for their Saturday game against No. 1 Stanford. The last time UConn played at Naples Pavilion, Stanford snapped its 90-game winning streak, the longest in the history of NCAA Division I basketball, men's or women's.
"Our goal Saturday was to come out against Hartford and have a really good game before the break," said freshman Breanna Stewart, who led UConn with 27 points. "We want to keep things rolling so we are prepared for Stanford."
The Cardinal are 11-0 after Saturday's victory at Tennessee. Chiney Ogwumike had 21 points and a career-high 19 rebounds in the 73-60 victory over No. 10 Tennessee. Amber Orrange scored 14 points. Toni Kokenis and Bonnie Samuelson each added 11 points, and Joslyn Tinkle had 10 points for Stanford, which was coming off a 53-49 win at No. 21 South Carolina on Wednesday.
Honor For Stewart
Coming off her career-high 27 points at Hartford on Saturday, which allowed her to surpass Maya Moore as UConn's top scorer following the first 10 games as a freshman, Stewart has been named the Big East's freshman of the week for the second time this season.
Stewart has 169 points. Moore had 165.