How Geno Auriemma is working his way through these times as a coach, restaurant owner and reader

Tribune Content Agency

HARTFORD, Conn. — It’s Monday, March 23, and for the first time in over 20 years, Geno Auriemma doesn’t have to prepare for or worry about postseason basketball on his birthday.

Of course, unlike the last time this happened when UConn lost to Iowa State in the 1999 Sweet 16, Auriemma had absolutely no control over this outcome. It’s been nearly two weeks since the NCAA Tournament was canceled. Most of his team has gone home. If Auriemma goes into work in Storrs, there’s no one else around.

“Just being here, being out of the house, making yourself feel like at least I’m trying to have as normal a day as I can, just don’t interact with anybody,” Auriemma told The Courant on his 66th birthday about how he’s adjusting.

But it didn’t take long for him to concede that that’s easier said than done.

“There’s nothing normal about it,” Auriemma admitted. “Absolutely nothing normal about it.”

So much about this spring and beyond remains unknown. But in the meantime, here’s how Auriemma is getting through it all, as a coach, restaurant owner and avid reader and television consumer.


— Coaching in the era of social distancing

Auriemma still tries to make it into Werth Champions Center when he can, mostly to check up on the players who remain on campus. Freshman Anna Makurat was around before finally being able to return home to Poland with her sister Ola on Wednesday, making Evina Westbrook the only player left in Storrs.

Auriemma says he’ll look out his office window and see Westbrook, who stayed behind to continue rehabbing her knee, putting up shots by herself, testing her knee a little bit every day. She’s still on track to return for the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

Auriemma’s staff still regularly meets, just over video conferencing. Recruiting has become much tougher, too. High school and club competitions have been canceled nationwide, and for the time being the NCAA suspended both in-person recruiting for coaches and recruit visits to campuses. Auriemma said that while the staff was able to get in a few home visits before the ban, everything else since then has been moved to the digital sphere.

“It’s funny. All we’ve been talking about is that we want people to be more engaged, this whole technology thing is taking people away from each other, and we need to get them engaged,” Auriemma said. “And now we’re telling everybody ‘Hey, stay away from each other, rely on technology.’ It’s flipped a total 180, right?”


— A shroud of uncertainty over the next few months

The coronavirus may have prematurely cut short UConn’s postseason run this spring, but that may not be the only major disruption the program faces.

All winter and spring sports have been canceled, and UConn students are finishing the spring semester remotely. What the summer brings remains a question mark. Though the Olympics have officially been postponed, affecting multiple former Huskies, no official announcement has been made about the WNBA draft and 2020 season, leaving Crystal Dangerfield’s and Megan Walker’s professional futures uncertain.

“I don’t think any of us have ever been in a situation where we know so little about so many things,” Auriemma said.

That’s true at UConn, too. Normally the team reconvenes at the beginning of June for summer school. If that can’t happen this year, Auriemma hopes the players can make it to Storrs for the second summer session, which usually starts in July, or that they could continue to take classes online if on-campus instruction isn’t an option.

“All these are great unknowns,” Auriemma said. “We don’t know anything. So we just go every day, keep our fingers crossed and say, ‘Hey, hopefully by the end of May we can get back to some sense of normal.’”

Whenever the time comes, the program is also hoping its entire squad can convene on time. Makurat, along with incoming freshmen Nika Muhl and Aaliyah Edwards, from Croatia and Canada, could face difficulty entering the United States depending on travel policies enacted down the line.

Auriemma is in touch with all of them and their families.

“All we can do is talk about it,” Auriemma said. “There’s no contingency plans because what could the plans be? ‘Hey, we’ll see you when they let us come over.’ That’s the best we can do right now.”


— Helping the community

When Auriemma isn’t worrying about UConn basketball, he’s got a whole other team he’s responsible for. The coach opened Cafe Aura, an Italian restaurant in Manchester, this past December. And while he certainly anticipated the unexpected bumps that come with starting up a new place, he never could have imagined the challenges he’d face with the coronavirus outbreak.

Last week, Governor Lamont ordered restaurants to shut down in-dining services and only provide takeout and delivery. As Auriemma and his staff figured out how to function in accordance with these new requirements, one thing became clear: The restaurant would do its part in supporting the local community.

“Some people only have enough to take care of themselves,” Auriemma said. “Others have more than that, and if you do, then I think you have a moral obligation to do the best you can with what you have.”

Cafe Aura prepared meals for 200 healthcare workers at Manchester Memorial Hospital last week and just a few days ago provided some to Manchester’s Westside Care Center and iCare Health Network Touchpoints.

“As long as we’re allowed to do it, as long as we’re allowed to stay open and function and cook food, we’re going to do it,” Auriemma said. “And we’re going to try to touch as much of the community as we can, for as long as we can.”

The restaurant decided to no longer offer takeout or delivery services as of Tuesday following the stae’s “Stay Safe, Stay at Home” mandate.


— Auriemma’s reading, movie and TV show list

With all this newfound free time, Auriemma has been able to catch up on plenty of television.

That includes: the film Uncut Gems (“It’s Adam Sandler in a different light. I’ll tell you what, he’s a pretty talented dude”); The Hunters, a new series starring Al Pacino (“it’s Al Pacino being Al Pacino,” Auriemma chuckled, “really, really interesting”); and The Stranger, a British mystery thriller based on the book by Harlan Coben.

An avid reader, Auriemma has also made his way through multiple books. He first read The Cartel, by Don Winslow, and is now onto the next book in the series called The Border, both of which discuss the U.S.’s complicity in the drug trade with Mexico. He just finished James Ellroy’s The Storm, the second book in Ellroy’s Second L.A. Quartet trilogy.

“I enjoy (reading about) things that happened because I want to try to get into the heads of the people that are doing it, so I live vicariously through the people that are actually doing this stuff,” Auriemma said. “And I go, ‘wonder what they were thinking when they did this. I wonder what was going through their mind when this happened. Then I start to think, ‘I wonder how I would react in that situation.’

“And then the historical fiction ones are (about) ‘how much of this actually happened? Well, I know this happened, and I know this happened. But what about this, could this have happened? Interesting.’ For me, it’s giving me the opportunity to decide did it really happen, and I can make my own decision.”


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