By DOUG FEINBERG, AP Basketball Writer
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Geno Auriemma is thrilled to be headed to Rio.
After months of denying his interest in coaching the U.S. national team, Auriemma will return for an unprecedented second term as the women’s basketball Olympic team head coach. He was introduced at a news conference in Connecticut on Friday and will guide the Americans towards the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to do this again,” the 59-year-old Hall of Famer said. “It’s such an honor to represent your country.”
He’ll be the first repeat coach for the U.S. women’s team, which has won five consecutive gold medals at the Olympics. Mike Krzyzewski decided in May he would return to coach the men a third time.
“I always had a feeling he would do it again,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said. “Similar to Coach K, he’s a competitor and I think inherently when you have a good experience and good results you feel attached, there’s not much of a sell that needs to take place.”
Auriemma’s team cruised through the 2012 London Games, winning by an average of 34 points, including an 86-50 rout of France for the title. The U.S. has won 41 straight Olympic contests dating to a loss in the semifinals of the 1992 Summer Games.
Since the end of the Olympics, Auriemma had denied interest in coaching in Rio and repeatedly said he would not return if asked.
“When people asked me if I was going to do this again, I said exactly how I was feeling. I had done it. It was great and it was unbelievable. But I felt like it was time to move on,” Auriemma said.
That started to change over the Summer. Auriemma admitted that he had a few conversations with NBA officials and U.S. leaders who convinced him to rethink his stance.
“I was reminded that the opportunity to represent your country is one you don’t take lightly,” Auriemma said. “This is not an opportunity that comes along too often. I was humbled by the request and I’m honored to do it again.”
Auriemma received a call from national team director Carol Callan and USA basketball executive director Jim Tooley offering him the job when UConn was at the White House celebrating its eighth national championship in late July. He told them he’d think about it and get back to them.
Two weeks later, he called Callan and told her he was in.
Auriemma is in a class by himself now as the first two-time Olympic women’s coach. Naismith Memorial Hall of Famers Pat Summitt, Tara VanDerveer, Kay Yow and Van Chancellor all guided the Americans to one gold medal but never considered doing it again.
“It’s not the first time we’ve thought about it or even broached it,” said Callan, who is the national team director, “But he certainly has shown his commitment to our program. He’s had great success. The landscape in women’s basketball has shifted with the schedules the players have. Realistically we can’t get a lot of training in. So with all that we need to do, it makes sense for Geno to be the coach.”
Auriemma had felt his Olympic duties took too much time from his coaching at Connecticut. Still, the Huskies won an eighth national championship in April to match Tennessee for the most in women’s basketball. With most of his team returning, including outstanding sophomore Breanna Stewart _ who earned outstanding player of the Final Four as a freshman _ the Huskies look poised to repeat.
On the Olympic front, the U.S. women play at the world championships in the fall of 2014 in Turkey, where a victory would qualify the team for Rio.
Auriemma can expect the return of veterans Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings. All three have said they would play in Rio if healthy.
“To have another opportunity to play for coach is truly an honor,” Taurasi said. “Our pursuit of another world championship and gold medal is top on his list and we will be fully prepared. It’s nice that he would sacrifice his golf game for the good of the country.”
In fact, most of the roster from the 2012 Games could return with stars Candace Parker, Maya Moore and Tina Charles all reaching their prime. Not to mention a wealth of young talent with WNBA rookies Elena Delle Donne and Brittney Griner.
As has been the case for the last few Olympics, training time with his team will be one of Auriemma’s concerns. Between his college season, the WNBA season and players overseas commitments in the winter, there is a limited window to get players together.
The U.S. will try and train this Fall for a few days.
“Our training time is limited, and we need to make the most of it,” Auriemma said.
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