"I started to privately go, 'Man, I hope I didn't overestimate what we have here,'" Auriemma said. "We just didn't know what to do to get some of these guys to shake that little bit of doubt they had in their minds. So what's most rewarding for me is that it wasn't easy, that they were able to conquer some things, things mostly in their mind."
"This last month has been everything and more that I could ever hope for."
No, this would not be Geno's greatest trick. This would be Geno's greatest nurturing job. Not only were Stewart, KML and Faris on the All-Final Four team, so, too, was Hartley.
Fresh off his men's national championship in Atlanta, Rick Pitino arrived in New Orleans and gave the Louisville women a pregame pep talk. In a week in which he became the first coach to win national titles at two schools, was selected to the Hall of Fame, saw his son was named Minnesota coach and his horse won the Santa Anita Derby, let's put it this way. Had he been able to talk the overmatched Cardinals to a win over UConn, Pitino would have walked on water today. There was nothing Pitino could have said to stop Stewart, a force inside, outside and with arms longer than a cartoon action hero.
Auriemma was talking the other day how his young assistants Shea Ralph and Marisa Moseley have brought energy to his program and how his trusted associate, Chris Dailey, has refused to waver "an iota" in 28 years. It takes every bit of that energy and every bit of that obsessive-compulsion to push this indomitable machine — one that left expectations behind years ago and faces only demands.
The UConn women rarely get ripped by the media. Instead, they are pecked by thousands of nitpicks. Swin Cash, a vital part of the perfect 2000 and 2002 teams, said the other day that whenever that group gets together they curse their fortunes about the 2001 Final Four. Yes, there were without injured Ralph and Svetlana Abrosimova, but they squandered a 15-point second-half lead to Notre Dame and, darn it, Geno could have been celebrating No. 9 in New Orleans if they hadn't.
A decade later, the ones who matured through Auriemma are still cursing a loss. Perfection is the by-product of the endless, unrelenting pursuit of perfection. Faris leaves this way. Auriemma pointed out that she is an anomaly in the sense that she isn't defined by one brilliant skill. She isn't the ultimate distributor like Sue Bird. She isn't an all-time perimeter shooter like Mosqueda-Lewis.
"What Kelly is great at is putting you in position to win. She has done that so many times I can't even count them," Auriemma said. "She competes for the national championship every single day."
"Will she leave as one of my favorite players?" Auriemma said. "Absolutely. If somebody said where is Kelly Faris from? Miami Beach. No. Anaheim Hills? No. She's from Indiana. She looks like an Indiana kid. She looks like a kid from a basketball crazy state who just loves to play basketball, who plays for the love of the game."
In the end, all of Geno's players look that way. That's how history is made. That's how the pursuit of perfection never ends. That's how the train of greatness arrived Tuesday at 10:39 Eastern time, 12 months early and right on time.