NEW YORK — Fresh from leading unbeaten Connecticut to the NCAA championship, Geno Auriemma is set to become coach of the U.S. women’s basketball team through the 2012 Olympics.
Auriemma will serve as head coach for the next three years, a person familiar with the hiring told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because an official announcement had not been made.
A news conference was scheduled for Wednesday in Storrs, Conn., home of the Huskies.
This year, the 55-year-old Auriemma guided Connecticut to its sixth national championship and third perfect season.
He will serve as head coach through the Summer Games in London.
“The thing about him is that he knows how to win, and he knows how to use his players to their strengths,” two-time Olympic gold medalist and former University of Tennessee standout Tamika Catchings told The Associated Press in an e-mail. “It will be great to see him excel on this level as well.”
Auriemma is the first active college coach to head an Olympic team since Tara VanDerveer led the 1996 Olympic team to a gold medal in Atlanta. The Hall of Fame Stanford coach had to take a year off to lead that U.S. team, which went 52-0 during its pre-Olympic competition-game exhibition schedule before sweeping through the Atlanta Games.
Auriemma became eligible to coach the Olympic team after the USA Basketball executive committee approved a rule change last month. In the past, the Olympic head coaches were required to have WNBA coaching experience. Now the coach must only have five years experience as either an assistant or head coach at any level at the time of the selection.
The U.S., which has captured four straight Olympic gold medals, will first have a chance to qualify for the London games at the FIBA World Championships in 2010 in the Czech Republic. The winner of that tournament will receive an automatic berth to the 2012 Games.
“Geno has mastered the art of doing more with more,” said ESPN analyst and former UT star Kara Lawson, who won a gold medal in Beijing. “He improves great players and that’s not as easy as people think. It’s a skill, something he’s mastered.”
The U.S. teams will most likely have a UConn flavor, with returning Olympians Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi on the roster. They helped Auriemma win national championships when they were Huskies.
“Having a number of his former players in the next few years on the team will help with familiarity, his terminology, coaching style,” Lawson said. “They can enlighten us on how he wants things.”