RIO DE JANEIRO — Sue Bird took a moment to pause and look around the U.S. women's basketball practice court.
Standing in one corner doing interviews was assistant Jen Rizzotti, who helped Geno Auriemma win his first title at the school in 1995. On the other end of the court was 2016 Connecticut grad Breanna Stewart showing off her dunking skills while catching alley-oop passes. Right in the middle of it all, as he always has been, was Auriemma. The Hall of Fame coach has been the centerpiece of the record 11 championships that the school has won over the past 21 years.
Assembled among the 12 players on the U.S. team are five of the best ever to don a UConn jersey — Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Tina Charles and Stewart.
"I hadn't even thought about it, but this is a really special experience," Bird said. "A lot of people give the large UConn presence some flak, but for us it's special. All the players are here for a reason. All the coaches are here for a reason. The fact it's all come together in this way, it's something you want to enjoy every moment of and know once it's over it will probably never, ever happen again."
Bird, Taurasi, Moore and Charles played for Auriemma on the 2012 Olympic team that won gold. Now with Stewart on the squad, all of UConn's history is together in the same place. Both Bird and Taurasi have said that this is probably their last Olympics, making this a final go round for them with their former coach.
"It's not often, if ever, you get a chance to play for your college coach again. We've been able to do it for eight years," Bird said. "It really is a special experience and one we enjoyed. There have been some ups and downs for sure, but we definitely enjoyed it. To finish with gold medals around our neck is certainly the goal. For myself and Dee even. It's got a little extra because it is coach Auriemma and it could be the last time."
The five players have helped the U.S. team get off to a great start to the Olympics. Taurasi is leading the team in scoring and Stewart isn't far behind. The Americans have won their first three games, scoring over 100 points in each contest. Next up is Canada on Friday, which is led by Huskies junior Kia Nurse .
Auriemma for his part is trying to enjoy the experience. When the team was first announced he was left defending the selection of so many of his former players. It's hard to argue with their success.
"Maybe that's why they are here. Maybe they are here because they were able to do that," Auriemma said of his former players' success in college and the pros. "Maybe they are here because they are that good and I've always said there's something special about that group. Those people you're talking about, they're not normal, they're not regular basketball players or basketball coaches. There is something different about that. You have to be different to be part of this. Maybe it goes together. It's unusual, isn't it?"
Even he knows that this will end soon, unlikely to ever be repeated. So he's savoring every moment he can. He watched beach volleyball the other day with his wife Kathy and Taurasi, Bird and Stewart. One big happy family together again.
"It will never happen again that's why I'm trying to enjoy it as much as I can," he said.
AP Summer Games
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