UConn Coaches Speak to Military at Pentagon

Seven national and collegiate basketball coaches, including UConn’s own Kevin Ollie and Geno Auriemma, met with President Barack Obama and headed to the Pentagon today to lead a panel on leadership or 400 members of the U.S. military.

It’s part of the Hoops for Troops program focusing on common challenges shared by basketball teams and service members.

Topics covered included “how to motivate and inspire people towards pursuit of a common goal, how to mentor young adults for a lifetime of positive contributions, how to recruit and retain the best talent and how to better integrate a diverse group of people,” according to a release from USA Basketball.

Ollie imparted words of wisdom Wednesday afternoon, telling service members, “It’s more important to be respected than liked” in a leadership role, adding “I’m not a wedding planner, I’m a coach.”

He mentioned his “challenge circle” during practice, designed for self-improvement and said his job as a leader is to be a “dealer of hope.”

“You know, the first thing we do when we challenge… we have to give the sugar first before the hot sauce,” Ollie joked with Texas Tech University Head Coach Tubby Smith.

Auriemma said part of his leadership approach is to teach his players to figure it out, explaining that it gives players a sense of ownership and confidence.

He also said that, as he’s gotten older, he’s learned to embrace the notion that you “can’t control what [you] can’t control” and it’s “all about how well you train.” He was the only women’s basketball coach in attendance.

“When you start taking everything you’re supposed to do as seriously as those kids your age take their job in the military, then you’ll understand what passion is and what commitment to detail is, and when your teammate expects you to do something, you do it,” Auriemma said.

The coaches met with the president at the Oval Office this morning. They also met separately with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey.

“For as many times as you’ve been down here, you walk in that room, and it got real quiet,” Auriemma said, of their encounter with the president. “You know, there’s a lot of coaches in that room – we like to talk a lot – and standing in that room, it was really quiet.”

Military personnel all over the world could watch the panel live on the Pentagon’s Web site. Dempsey hosted the panel in conjunction with USA Basketball, the National Basketball Association and Hoops for Troops.

It’s part of an “expanding relationship” between the basketball organizations and U.S. Department of Defense, focusing on “commitment to service.” According to the release, the program focuses on four pillars: Transition, Community, Leadership and Health, and features speaking engagements, clinics, exhibitions and meet-and-greets, to name a few.

The Huskies and their coaches will head back to the White House to celebrate their national titles June 10.

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