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Recruiting like-minded players the key to UConn’s success


    Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma signaled to his team during Saturday’s game against SMU.

STORRS, Conn. >> UConn guard Kia Nurse sees a lot of herself when she watches her teammates play and she knows that’s not an accident.

The Huskies have a chance to win an unprecedented 100th consecutive game on Monday against No. 6 South Carolina. Nurse and her teammates say that consistency comes not just in the way the team plays, but in the type of player Geno Auriemma and his staff bring into the program.

“You know that every time you go out on the floor as a Connecticut player you have to sprint the floor,” said Nurse. “You have to run hard. You have to dive on loose balls, because that’s what everyone else does. That’s what they did to build this place.”

Auriemma says he’s found there is a very specific type of player that can thrive in his program, which has won 11 NCAA titles, including the last four.

He and his staff obviously recruit talented players. But beyond that, he wants someone who is supremely confident in her own ability and someone who impacts whatever team she’s on in multiple ways, making those around her better on and off the court. He also wants someone whose top priority is the team and winning.

He said he can tell if a recruit will be a good fit by the way she answers his questions and by what type of questions she asks him.

“The majority of the kids we get, they talk about winning championships,” he said. “Whenever a kid says to me, ‘What position am I going to play?’ or, “What’s my role going to be on the team?’ I go, ‘Well, you’re probably not going to have one, because you’re probably not coming to Connecticut.’”

Auriemma said players such as Nurse, Katie Lou Samuelson, Napheesa Collier and Gabby Williams all came in with the same attitude.

They all were thinking “Of course I’m going to play,” he said. “I’ll decide what my role is. I’ll show coach Auriemma I can do this, this, this and this and of course I’m going to play.”

Auriemma said he also wants recruits who will look up at the all championship banners and the names on the wall at Gampel Pavilion and go home determined not to be the one that “screws this up.”

“I think this is one of the best parts of this program is the positive pressure you feel to carry on the tradition,” said Maya Moore, who starred on the UConn team that set the previous record of 90-straight wins. “Because you know that the benefits that you have as a current player is because of the players and the coaches that came before you.”

Auriemma acknowledges that not all players handle that type of pressure well. Some don’t thrive at UConn and will move on.

But those who stay, describe the UConn culture as a big family. Senior center Natalie Butler transferred into it from Georgetown, where she was the freshman of the year in the Big East.

At UConn, she comes off the bench. She doesn’t play a lot of minutes and she’s not the star of the team. But she said she’s happy, because she’s found a group of like-minded players and she fits in.

“Having a team where everyone wants to get at the same place and everyone has this intensity and is 100 percent about basketball all the time, it’s great,” she said. “It makes a huge difference and the chemistry is incredible. I don’t know how many other teams are this close all the time.”

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