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New Haven Register (Connecticut)

 

STORRS — The conversation turned to surprises Monday and UConn's Hall of Fame coach quickly volunteered the most unexpected Christmas present of his life.

"Heather Buck, best gift ever, flash-frozen Stonington scallops," Auriemma said. "That is the most amazing Secret Santa gift of all time. I guarantee you never got Stonington scallops for your Secret Santa. She's really proud of being from Stonington."

After 11 national championships, after all of life's surprises, there has to be one shocker out there on the other end of the line from one of his players that's even bigger than flash-frozen scallops. And it probably would go like this: "Hey, coach, this Sue of Syosset. Flash: I want you to be the first to know I'm the new head coach of the Lakers (or Celtics or Knicks or Nets)."

Now that would leave Auriemma in frozen silence. At least for a minute.

On a day when the Indiana Pacers hired longtime WNBA executive Kelly Krauskopf as the NBA's first female assistant general manager, Auriemma was asked if he can envision Sue Bird, the greatest point guard he ever coached, as head coach of an NBA team.

"The big question I've always asked (his older professional players) whenever I've had these conversations is, 'Do you want to?' " Auriemma said. "The response I get a lot of times is, nah, not really. How about part of ownership? Yeah, I'd like that. Or how about being a general manager? Yeah, I'd like that. I haven't heard too many of those guys talk about, yeah, I really would like to be a head coach in the NBA.

"Having said that, do I think they would be really, really good at it? Yeah, I think they would. Sue would particularly. When you study the game like she has, when you've played the game for as long as she has, when you're as good with people as she is, I think you have all the ingredients to be a great coach. Obviously, there's an apprenticeship program if you want to do it. It'll be interesting to see what the next move by Sue and (Diana Taurasi) will be after they're finished playing."

While making it clear she wants to keep playing for the Seattle Storm, Bird, 38, accepted the job as Denver Nuggets' basketball operations associate last month. She's scouting. She's getting a taste of front office work.

NBA head coach and NBA general manager obviously require different skills and neither require a windmill dunk or guarding LeBron James. Krauskopf, the WNBA Fever's top executive the past 19 years, clearly has the qualifications and acumen for the job. As she said, "building winning teams and elite level culture is not based on gender — it is based on people and processes."

There have been two assistant GMs in baseball with the Yankees, Jean Afterman and Kim Ng, now MLB senior vice president for operations. And while Krauskopf's appointment is historic with basketball, Auriemma is staunch in his belief real history will be made when a female is hired as an NBA general manager or head coach.

"Whether it's a WNBA player getting an opportunity like Sue or where Kelly is getting an opportunity, you first want to make sure that it's not, 'In this era of empowering women we really need to show we're on board with that,' " Auriemma said. "That's part of it, but the bigger part is these people are really qualified and they add to our ability to have a high-level organization."

 

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123

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