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Book Review: “Geno: In Pursuit of Perfection”

'Geno: In Pursuit of Perfection,' by Geno Auriemma, with Jackie MacMullan

Geno:In Pursuit of Perfection is the University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma’s memoir. Published in 2006, the mostly self-written book takes us from Auriemma’s earliest years in Italy to growing up in Norristown, Penn. The book touches lightly on Auriemma’s career at St. Joseph’s and Virginia before devoting the bulk of pages to UConn. Diana Taurasi, whose departure basically ends the book, also introduces it.

Though also credited as a writer, the book contains none of former Boston Globe writer Jackie MacMullan’s style. I get the feeling MacMullan just helped a bit with structure and grammar.

As Good as it Gets

The best parts of this memoir are the recruiting stories for Rebecca Lobo and Taurasi. They were two of the most acclaimed, successful and popular players in women’s basketball history, and the book doesn’t skimp on how Auriemma convinced them to play for UConn. Lobo’s story actually reads a bit better because UConn wasn’t a premier franchise yet.

Auriemma’s brief discussions of real basketball strategy are also quite interesting. Too many look at Auriemma and only see his “fiery” attitude. They forget that to do what Auriemma’s done, you need the brains to properly utilize the talented players you have. The strategy sessions show off his mind instead of his voice.

Still, this book has some serious flaws to it. Auriemma darts back and forth too much between seasons. The 1995 and 2002-04 championship teams obviously had different players. Auriemma also says he both worked his players harder and got more feedback from players on those early teams. So if the players are different, the relationship with the players are different, and the demands placed on the players are different, how valid can any comparison between two eras of UConn basketball really be?

Additionally, Auriemma’s a coach – he’s not a writer. He tends to use the same adjectives to describe every one of his players. He names two or three different players as the nicest, the most loving, the most fit, the smartest, etc. By using the same superlatives over and over, Auriemma diminishes each player’s unique accomplishments.

Yes, a school like UConn will likely get multiple players who are incredibly smart, incredibly athletic, or incredibly competitive. But no two players are identical, and Auriemma should have tried harder to differentiate his players by specific strengths and weaknesses. Only Swin Cash comes off as unique, and that’s only because she dressed exceptionally well (which is kinda sexist to focus on, anyway).

Auriemma’s book reads a little false. None of his assumptions about his players’ motivations and thoughts are corroborated with player interviews, so every encounter is just his version of it.

Finally, Auriemma also spends a lot of time talking about regretting some of the things he’s said and done, in particular slamming Tennessee coach Pat Summitt. If Auriemma regretted “acting like an ass,” as he himself calls it, then why does he continue to do it throughout his career? And if he didn’t regret it at the time but does now, then the book is a disingenuous attempt to rebuild his public image in what he thought was the twilight of his career. I’m not interested in reading that.

Whatever this book’s faults may be, there will likely never be another Geno Auriemma book. This is as good as it will probably ever get. So if you want to know anything about Auriemma beyond the sound bites on ESPN, buy this book.

Missing Maya Moore

Auriemma’s decision to write this in 2005 makes sense: He’d just lost Taurasi, the best player in UConn history, and likely thought his team’s three straight championships were the most successful they’d ever be. He assumed no future team or player would ever live up to the 2002-04 dynasty, so he wrote a memoir.

Auriemma turned out to be wrong on both fronts: his Huskies would go undefeated and win national championships in two straight years from 2009-10, and Maya Moore would give UConn two of the best individual seasons in school history. Moore also did it with weaker teammates than Taurasi, playing with just three future first-round draft picks to Taurasi’s six (including four who went 1-2-4-6 in the 2002 WNBA draft).

Along the way, the team broke the NCAA men’s record for consecutive wins held by the 1971-74 UCLA Bruins – a record Auriemma says he’d get a lot more joy out of breaking in the book, as opposed to the women’s win streak, which Taurasi’s Huskies broke.

Moore’s absence gives this memoir an unfinished feel, as if at least one key chapter is missing. I can’t fault Auriemma for this – how was he to know? Still, between this book’s faults and its lack of Moore, a real journalist (perhaps MacMullan) needs to at some point write a real account of the rise of UConn basketball.

Auriemma’s memoir is a good holdover, and no one may ever profile the coach as well. But as for the entirety of the UConn Lady Huskies, the true story has yet to be written.

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