BIG EAST Media Day and time — Ta’Niya Latson, Brooke Wyckoff talk Florida State hoops — Must-click women’s basketball links
The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, Oct. 25, 2023
BIG EAST Media Day is a glorious get-together, bringing basketball media together with players and coaches in what is usually a combination of hope and joy in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden.
But while those elements were present, the undercurrent of sadness over the death of Tasha Butts was inescapable. Tee Baker did an exceptional job of reporting this over at The Next, and the thing I kept coming back to was how much Tasha’s moment was just beginning. 41 is way too young to die, and it is also the very beginning of what promised to be a fulfilling coaching career. I’m not thinking of that denied destiny in terms of wins and losses. It was about the way Tasha could have, and would have, impacted the lives of so many young women in her role as head coach at Georgetown.
And so as we went about the business of gathering for our work covering the BIG EAST — imagine, players and coaches simply sitting there, available for casual conversations, media treated like adults given the access and time to do our jobs, what a concept, with depth and breadth of coverage to reflect it — I couldn’t separate from thinking about the emotional impact this sport we all love has on so many people.
Geno Auriemma’s smile as he recalled a moment with Paige Bueckers, getting to enjoy coaching her once again after an injury robbed her, him and all of us of her 2022-23 season, indicated that he knows the treat he’s in for in this latest defining player of his program. He’d criticized Bueckers during a film session. And not only did she accept it, learned from it, she spit back at him the precise reason why he did it.
“When you watch as much basketball she does or you love to game as much as she does, you’re constantly learning,” Auriemma told a group of us during his extended media session. “So she knows more about the game of basketball, the nuances of basketball, than she did as a freshman. She knows her body better, she’s bigger, she’s stronger. She feels more confident out there. She knew that she wasn’t big enough and strong enough. To handle what was coming at her. And she feels like now she is.”
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He reveled in getting more time with Bueckers. So, too, did Villanova head coach Denise Dillon, who’d told our own Maddy Siegrist that she always had a home with the program Siegrist elevated for the past four years, and has her working in the Villanova Athletic Department now during the offseason following Siegrist’s WNBA rookie year.
“I think Maddy will realize this year, after stepping away from it, how much she really has impacted the game and our community at Villanova,” Dillon said, sitting next to Moorestown, NJ’s own Bella Runyan. (Villanova does not lack for weapons in the post-Siegrist era: remember I told you Christina Dalce will win all-BIG EAST honors.) “You can say it when players are in the moment, but it’s not until you step away [that you feel it]. “And she’s been involved a couple of events already — and seeing the little kids come up to her, she is so great with our players and they were happy to see her back already.
“But absolutely — she went to Villanova, it is her home, and I was happy that she wanted to be a part of it again.”
There are new beginnings, too — Dillon, for all her success, has never coached at The Garden. That’ll change this year, when St. John’s faces the Wildcats there on December 16. It is a testament to the conference BIG EAST Commissioner Val Ackerman has built that while UConn elevates the brand in women’s basketball, there are still opportunities for other programs to take the lead on some initiatives. Auriemma sounded a little jealous, though playfully so.
Time is precious, doled out in uncertain, uneven increments. There was Erin Batth, newly-crowned head coach at Providence, reveling in the beginning of her build, and there was Doug Bruno, longtime head coach at DePaul, walking around glad-handing, accompanied by Liz Galloway-McQuitter and other Legends of the Ball, people Bruno, once upon a time in the WBL, had coached.
Even the passage of time itself felt uncertain, susceptible to our own tricks of memory. Auriemma pointed out that Butts was only a year older than his own daughter. Runyan, now a senior leader at Villanova and I reminisced about her time in high school at Moorestown Friends. Jordan King, a starter at Marquette since 2019, held court once again at the Golden Eagles’ table, still eligible to run the show for Amanda Duffy.
And while it felt like no time at all had passed since Bueckers arrived on the scene, all of us gathered around her in her first time at this event just a few years ago, KK Arnold, the conference preseason freshman of the year for a UConn team as deep as any dating back to pre-COVID days, had a different take about her now-experienced teammate.
“I definitely do,” the effervescent Arnold said of the 22-year-old Bueckers. “I call her the old woman sometimes.”
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