NEW YORK (AP) — Geno Auriemma never imagined he would have a chance to win 1,000 games, let alone coach that many contests, when he first took over UConn 32 years ago.
He just, by his own admission, wanted to beat Providence and Villanova who ruled the Big East. Now he stands one victory away from reaching the 1,000-win mark.
Auriemma and his top-ranked Huskies will try for that milestone against Oklahoma on Tuesday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“Believe me, where we’re sitting right now wasn’t part of the plan,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “By any stretch of the imagination.”
Earlier on Tuesday, North Carolina’s Sylvia Hatchell will also try and join the 1,000-win club when her team faces Grambling State. Only Pat Summitt and Tara VanDerveer have reached 1,000 victories in women’s basketball.
“I think back about all the great players I’ve had, the coaching tree. The main thing is how much fun I’ve had,” Hatchell said. “But, I’m not finished. I want more. I’m greedy, I guess you could say. I want more championships, I want more rings, all that stuff.”
Hatchell gained an extra appreciation for life after battling leukemia and being declared cancer-free in 2014. Her program has finally made it through a multi-year NCAA academic investigation that ultimately led to no violations against the school or her program.
“You think about the journey, the ups and downs, you think about the last few years. I’m tougher than ever, I really am,” Hatchell said.
“I’ve learned so much. You learn through the great times and the winning, but you really learn through the perseverance. I’m healthy as can be now. I’ve beat the worst kind of leukemia you can have. I went through the NCAA; the right thing happened and it worked out.”
It’s fitting that Hatchell has a chance to get No. 1,000 in South Carolina as the Tar Heels are playing their annual games at Myrtle Beach. She got her start at Francis Marion College, which is in South Carolina, in 1975. Hatchell coached there for 11 seasons and won two national titles. She went to North Carolina in 1986 and won a national championship in 1994.
She’s had a stellar career at North Carolina, although the past two years the Tar Heels have struggled to losing records — their first since 1996. Hatchell has North Carolina off to a strong 9-2 start this season.
“You’ve got to realize you’re not going to win a championship every year, you’re going to have ups and downs,” she said.
“But you persevere and you learn from it and you move on. And that’s definitely what we’ve done the last few years. That’s why I’m so excited because I can see a lot of great things out there in the future.
“And I’m not finished. I want to be a big part of this and we get this program back to what we’re used to being. We’re used to being top 10 in the country, year in and year out.”
Hatchell wants to get North Carolina back to where Auriemma and UConn are. Since Hatchell’s lone NCAA title, the Huskies have won 11 national championships and set an NCAA record first with a 90-game winning streak then topping it with a 111-game one.
The two teams haven’t played since 2012 and the Tar Heels were one of the last teams for Auriemma to get a winning record against.
Only LaSalle (0-3) and U.S. International (0-1) have winning records against Auriemma since he first started coaching in 1985.
He hasn’t lost too many games in his career, boasting a NCAA best .881 winning percentage (999-135). Auriemma is 499-36 since winning his 500th game in 2003. Even more impressive is that he’s 99-1 since earning his 900th victory two years ago. Hatchell won her 500th game in 1998 and gone 499-174 since.
Like Hatchell, Auriemma credits the players that have come through his program for the success. There’s a lot of pressure on anyone who comes to Storrs, Connecticut.
“You walk in and look at those banners, you can’t hide from it,” Auriemma said. “You either live up to those standards or you’re not any good. So they can’t hide from it. So when I walk in there some days and catch sight of it, I’m struck by, one program isn’t entitled to that many great players. That’s just so rare.”
Sue Bird, who starred at UConn, thinks the culture around the program has made Auriemma and longtime assistant Chris Dailey so successful.
“There is a connection that all former players have with him and CD and it wasn’t about wins and losses,” Bird said. “Coach Auriemma has done it the right way and the added bonus is 1,000 wins.”
AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard, Pat Eaton-Robb and Joedy McCreary contributed to this story.
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