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Memorable day for UConn’s Auriemma — and women’s basketball

Geno Auriemma became the sixth coach in Division I basketball history to reach the 1,000-win milestone Tuesday, but the UConn program was very different when he took over in 1985. His last losing season came in his first season in Storrs, and his assistant Chris Dailey, who Auriemma attributes much of his success to, has been with him on the sidelines ever since.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Oklahoma at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Uncasville, CT — Not many people in Division I athletics can say they have won 1,000 games, and Tuesday saw two women’s basketball coaches reach the plateau within hours of each other.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma and North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell both won their 1,000th career game on December 19. The two are the fifth and sixth coaches in Division I basketball, men’s or women’s, to reach the mark.

Auriemma was asked about Hatchell also earning her 1,000th win today, and said he is happy for her.

“There’s been a lot of challenges, both personal and professional for Syliva,” Auriemma said. “She fought through her battle with cancer and won, and got through all the nonsense with this school and came out okay. No matter what anyone said, it didn’t bother her. She hasn’t changed one iota since the first time I met her thirty something years ago.”

Auriemma became the fastest coach in women’s basketball history to earn his 1,000th career victory when his team defeated Oklahoma in the Naismith Holiday Showcase Tuesday evening at Mohegan Sun Arena, 88-64.

“I think (1,000 wins) is so significant because so few people have be able to do that,” Auriemma said. “There’s just so few opportunities to coach that many games, so you feel incredibly fortunate that you’re one of a very, very select few.”

“It’s funny: two in one day, so it can’t that hard right?”

Auriemma didn’t accomplish the feat alone. His assistant coach, Chris Dailey, has been with him since day one, and also earned her 1,000th win Tuesday. Auriemma says

“If you look back and you think about the significant accomplishments, not just in sports, it’s always done in pairs,” Auriemma said. “I don’t think anything this difficult can be accomplished by one person. If that first move that I made when I got the job was to call someone else, and they said yes, there’s no way they’d still be here, and no way we would still be here doing this.”

The Huskies’ leading scorer entering Tuesday’s game against Oklahoma, Katie Lou Samuelson, touched on what Dailey does for her not only on the court, but also off of it.

“I know (Chris Dailey) helped me become a way better player, but she’s taught me things and life lessons like how to present my self more professionally. I think she does little things like that, that the outside world doesn’t get to see.”

“On the court, she’s that little bird in your ear that’s always chirping at the little things that you don’t do. Everything she does is solely to make you better as a person,” Samuelson concluded.

During the postgame celebration, UConn alumni were brought onto the court to celebrate the accomplishment. On this historic day, Auriemma thought back to when he started coaching at Connecticut in 1985 and says he remembers thinking it was going to be easy.

“I thought, ‘how could it be hard?’” Auriemma said. “It wasn’t until the middle of January or early February (of that first season) that it started to dawn on me: ‘you’re not as good as you thought you were.’ That first year was a real learning experience for me. I was under the impression that I could do anything. I didn’t know any better at the time.

“I think I realized, ‘Yeah I’m pretty good at what I do, but it doesn’t matter unless you get players that are really, really good. You’re only going to be as good as the players that you’re going to be able to get here, and each and every year it got better and better.”

Fast forward 33 years and 11 National Championships, I think it is safe to say Auriemma has definitely been able to get those really, really good players year in and year out. The talent he’s recruited has allowed him to reach many of the goals he’s set.

“We had specific goals when we started, and one of them was definitely not to win a thousand games,” Auriemma said. “We had specific short team goals, and we worked every day to accomplish those goals, so we always knew where we stood when it came to tracking our progress.

“It was easier when the goal was to make the NCAA Tournament, and it was easy when it was to make the Final Four. It’s really difficult now because I don’t know where to set our sights on, because wherever you set them we’ve already been there. Just because we make it look easy doesn’t mean it’s easy.”