After traveling all the way to Charleston, South Carolina Wednesday to beat the College of Charleston by 48 points, the UConn women's team won't play again until December 29 when they host Fairfield. A week later, they'll be into the Big East schedule.
For now, they're 10-1 and No. 2 in the nation behind Baylor, the only team to beat them this season. Instead of being comfortable with the the current situation, coach Geno Auriemma continues his quest to find a leader. In previous seasons, veteran leadership was easy to come by but this squad has exactly one senior -- guard Tiffany Hayes -- and is chocked full of freshman and sophomores, many of whom have a lot to do with UConn's success through 11 games.
But Auriemma didn't win seven national championships by settling. He knows that while the Huskies are talented, it only takes one mistake, one off-night to bring the season to a screeching halt.
But the process isn't as simple as Auriemma saying "hey, you, you're the new vocal leader."
“You can’t pick one,” he said according to the Hartford Courant's John Altavilla. “We know who that might be. But you can appoint leaders. They emerge and take over. You can’t have a team meeting and select one. Leaders evolve and set the tone.”
Coaching has become as much about psychology as the actual Xs and Os. While the older generation has lamented "just how good young people have it today" for centuries, Auriemma's right.
“I’m still trying to figure out what motivates kids beside anger,” he said. “I am still working on it, still trying to figure it out. You try to tap into people’s competitive spirit. And the top thing you try to find when you recruit kids for UConn is how competitive they are. If they are they will respond to anything. All you need to do is push them in the proper direction because they want to win, play well and they take pride in what they do."
“Some of these kids come out of high school without any coaching. No one has told them they can’t take that shot or jog off the floor. No one has ever told them that if you can’t keep someone in front of you on defense then you can’t play here. So, this is the first time many of them are hearing it."
It's that, more than the physical differences, that separates the men's and women's game. While yelling and screaming might work for Jim Calhoun, Auriemma has be be more nuanced in his motivational tactics. He's talked about it before and it has as much to do with his success and running the half-court trap or executing the pick and roll.
“When you have a a lot of juniors of seniors, you don’t need to say that a lot," Auriemma continued. "They’ve heard it so many times. But when you are playing a lot of young players, it’s hard. Some things you can only learn over time.
“You don’t have to tell Kelly Faris a thing. She came here prepared. Bria Hartley took almost her whole freshmen season to pick it up, but now she looks out there and likely can’t believe she was actually like that once.”
We've said it before but these are good problems to have: too much talent in need of a little direction. And Auriemma could right a book on how to balance inexperience with unparalleled basketball abilities. He's done it before with young teams, he'll likely do it this season, too. Which will make it even easier next year -- when UConn has another top-flight recruiting class filled with players likely to contribute immediately -- to assimilate new and old.