John Altavilla | Hartford Courant
Let’s take a moment to chart UConn’s enormous global reach in women’s basketball.
We start in Europe. Who would have guessed Elena Delle Donne’s first chance to help Geno Auriemma win a game would come in Girona, Spain, in 2015?
The USA Basketball Women’s National Team opened its European tour with an 84-52 victory over Uni Girona on Sunday, paced by 21 points from Delle Donne, playing in her first national team game against a Spanish team featuring Connecticut Sun guard Chelsea Gray.
“It was so much fun,” Delle Donne told reporters. “It’s probably the most fun I’ve had playing the game, with all these incredible players elevating everybody’s game.”
It seems certain Delle Donne will be on Auriemma’s second Olympic team Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro, almost a decade after she left his UConn team a few days into her freshman summer to return home to Delaware.
Despite it all, two sure things transpired: UConn continued to win national championships and Delle Donne became an All-American with the Blue Hens and the WNBA’s most valuable player this season in Chicago.
“Elena Delle Donne is just Elena Delle Donne,” Auriemma said. “She’s one of the most gifted players in the world. She’s just never been in the position to do this.”
The U.S. squad trained Monday in Platja D’Aro, Spain, before traveling to Italy to face the Italian national team Wednesday in Rome and Dike Naples on Thursday in Naples. The tour concludes against 2015 EuroLeague champion USK Prague on Saturday in the Czech Republic.
As you might expect, Auriemma has a number of former Huskies with him, including Sue Bird and Stefanie Dolson, and current senior Breanna Stewart. Hartford coach Jennifer Rizzotti is with the national team as a court coach.
On Sunday, Bird had 10 points in 28 minutes. Dolson scored four in 21 minutes and Stewart had six in 27.
Had the Minnesota Lynx not been busy playing Indiana for the WNBA title this week, Maya Moore most likely would have been on this trip.
The Lynx, who lost to the Fever in Game 1 of the finals Sunday, have four UConn players – Moore, Kalana Greene, Renee Montgomery and Asjha Jones.
Jones, who played on the 2012 Olympic gold medal team in London, is in position to complete a rare trifecta – winning an NCAA title, a WNBA title and an Olympic gold medal. She would be just the 10th player to do so, joining former Huskies Moore, Diana Taurasi, Bird, Kara Wolters and Swin Cash.
A UConn graduate not currently in the USA Basketball mix, however, is Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis. It’s best to say her rookie season with the Seattle Storm was developmental, a little better at the end. The No. 3 overall draft pick last year will play in northern France this offseason with Flammes Carolo Basket, which plays in Charleville-Mezieres.
“Kaleena got a lot better as the year went on, which is what our team is all about right now,” Storm coach Jenny Boucek said. “For half the season, I would say her [development] was behind the scenes and all of a sudden she got some opportunities she was ready for.
“You saw glimpses of what she can be. Once she gets her pro body, I believe she is going to be a very good WNBA player.”
It’s extremely likely KML will be reunited next season with her friend, Stewart, who should be the Storm’s first overall pick in the draft.
“UConn players are pro ready,” Boucek said. “Geno does an incredible job of choosing players who have the ‘it’ factor and then cultivating it. The culture he’s created, the eye he has for a player who may not always be the most athletic, but the best player, teammate and winner, is something that translates well into the WNBA.”
While Auriemma is away, UConn prepares for its opener at Ohio State on Nov. 16. You may have heard the Division I women’s basketball oversight committee has decided to revert to a Saturday-Monday, Sunday-Tuesday format for the preliminary rounds of the NCAA Tournament in March.
The decision was fueled by the interest to avoid other major sporting events.
The committee also voted in favor of maintaining the format of hosts for the first two rounds of the tournament. The top 16 seeds earn the right to host for the first two games.
What does this mean? After UConn’s game at East Carolina on Feb. 20, the Huskies will play their final three games at home, the American Athletic Conference Tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena, first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games at Gampel and an extremely likely regional semifinal and final at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. That’s home cooking.