About Boardroom

Boardroom is a media network that covers the business of sports, entertainment. From the ways that athletes, executives, musicians and creators are moving the business world forward to new technologies, emerging leagues, and industry trends, Boardroom brings you all the news and insights you need to know...

At the forefront of industry change, Boardroom is committed to unique perspectives on and access to the news, trending topics and key players you need to know.

All Rights Reserved. 2022.

The 2002 UConn Huskies: A Legacy 20 Years in the Making

You can argue whether the 2002 Huskies are the greatest team of all-time. But when it comes to what happened after, there’s no debating success.

Long before the 2001-02 college basketball season started, Jessica Moore knew something was different about her UConn team.

The redshirt freshman sat on the sidelines the previous year, watching perhaps the most talented team in UConn history reach the Final Four before a couple ill-timed injuries ultimately caught up with them in a semifinal loss to Notre Dame.

That summer, playing pickup in Gampel Pavilion with her teammates, there was a fire that could only be lit when the hunger for victory clashes with the agony of defeat. Moore says rising senior Swin Cash set the tone, but all the upperclassmen — including Sue Bird, Tamika Williams-Jeter, and Asjha Jones — were gearing up to play a full season of college basketball completely pissed off.

And they did. UConn ran through the 2001-02 season undefeated, winning every game but one by double digits, en route to the program’s third national championship. Twenty years later, it’s remembered as perhaps the best women’s college basketball team of all-time — not just because it was loaded with future pros, but because the entire team bought into the singular goal of getting back to the Final Four and writing a different ending.

The team’s story, however, did not end in San Antonio with a 12-point win over Oklahoma in the national championship game. As impressive as that team was, what the players accomplished since is equally awe-inspiring.

Sign up for our newsletter

Get on our list for weekly sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.

The Team

PositionPlayerYearCurrent Role
GAshley ValleyFr.TNBA West Girls AAU Director
GDiana TaurasiSo.Phoenix Mercury guard
GMaria ConlonSo.Notre Dame of Fairfield girls basketball coach
GSue BirdSr.Seattle Storm guard
GStacey MaronFr.Portfolio Manager, Crown Real Estate Solutions
F/CAsjha JonesSr.Director basketball strategy & planning, Portland Trail Blazers
GMorgan ValleySo.UConn assistant coach
FAshley BattleRs. Fr.Scout, Boston Celtics
CJessica MooreRs. Fr.Brand Manager, Women’s Sports Performance at Nike
FSwin CashSr.VP Operations, team development for New Orleans Pelicans
FTamika WilliamsSr.Dayton head coach

Laying the Foundation

Geno Auriemma doesn’t just hand out scholarships for the best prospects to play basketball at the University of Connecticut. There’s a specific type of player that can thrive under him, and that was the case in 2002 as much as it is the case today.

As he prepared to lead the 2022 Huskies into the Final Four against Stanford, he spoke with the media about players who have come to UConn and transferred out.

“I’ve never had a really good player leave my program, in 37 years, that left and made it big at a top-10 or 20 school,” he said. “If you can’t play for us at UConn, you can’t play anywhere at this level. I let these guys be who they are. I just have certain demands on the court, and they have to meet them or they don’t play.”

You have to be OK with that to play for the Huskies, and if you are, you can do great things. That’s why Gampel became a war zone after the 2001 loss to Notre Dame, and why the 2002 team, with objectively less talent than the one that came before, ended up being one of the best of all time.

“It’s the kind of people who are drawn to go to UConn,” Jones said. “You know it’s not going to be easy. Every game, you’re in a battle against [Auriemma].”

Jones told the current team as much when she visited this past summer, calling them all winners already by even accepting the challenge of playing in Storrs, where, by design, the games feel easy compared to the rigors of practice.

That’s the reason why, over the last 30 years as the women’s game has evolved and competition increased across the board, UConn rarely gets upset. Sure, they’ll lose games, but the Huskies won’t find themselves at the wrong end of a 1 vs. 8 or 2 vs. 10 upset. Specific to 2002, it’s why that team won almost every game by double digits.

“He said, ‘You thought you know how to work hard. But that’s OK, I’m gonna teach you,'” Jones recalled Auriemma telling her.

UUConn’s Diana Taurasi (3) in action vs Tennessee’s Kara Lawson (20), San Antonio, TX 3/29/2002 (Photo by Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

And as Jones and her class got older, they became the teachers as well to the younger players, like sophomore Diana Taurasi. They knew she was loaded with talent and potential when she came to UConn in 2000, but was not fully prepared for what Auriemma had in store.

“She was on the struggle bus,” Williams-Jeter recalled. “She was a handful because we knew we needed her. We wanted to make sure she knew that we knew she was needed. When she would do something stupid and be a freshman, we would pull her back in real quick.”

By her sophomore year, Taurasi had started to put it together. She averaged 14.6 points per game and shot 44% from three. Just as importantly, she dished out 5.3 assists per game, doubling her output from the year before. Those numbers, perhaps not coincidentally, almost identically mirror Bird’s from that year (14.4 points, 47% 3 PT, 5.9 APG).

Between the two of them in the backcourt and a frontcourt made of first-round WNBA Draft picks, the team knew it would eventually wind up in the Final Four. What happened from there was anyone’s guess.

Remembering the Alamodome

Most of the details of the actual 2001-02 season are only interesting to the most diehard Nutmeggers. Even in the NCAA Tournament, where the Huskies won their six games by an average of 27 points per game. In other words, no late-game heroics were needed.

For some within the program, one of the first indications that the team would be remembered as more than just an undefeated national champion came after UConn’s 79-56 win over rival Tennessee in the national semifinal.

Auriemma and a couple players were off in the interview room at the Alamodome while the rest of the team celebrated in the locker room.

And in walked Pat Summitt, at the time the most accomplished coach in women’s basketball history. The same coach UConn had just blown out of the Final Four. When the players saw Summitt, the room fell silent. Williams-Jeter remembers confusion and whispering among the players. Why would the losing coach be in their locker room?

It turns out, Summitt had a message for the team.

“She thanked us for what we did for women’s basketball,” Williams-Jeter said. “She said that we were a class act, how tough we played, how well we rebounded.”

Asjha Jones goes up for two as Caton Hill of Oklahoma defends during the NCAA Women’s Championship Game at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio,Texas. (Mandatory Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Gracious as she was in defeat, Summitt did more than offer congratulations. She made sure the players knew that they were part of a special team — one that young players around the world were looking up to and trying to emulate. For added fun, she asked the seniors when they were graduating and told them that she would be at the graduation ceremony. She wanted to make sure they were actually graduating so she never had to face them again.

According to Williams-Jeter, Summitt didn’t actually attend.

“She would have been wearing too much orange,” Williams-Jeter said.

Two nights later, UConn’s win over Oklahoma to officially win the championship seemed like a mere formality. And Oklahoma wasn’t some throw-away opponent, either. The Sooners were led by the great Stacey Dales and went 32-4 en route to a Big 12 championship.

It didn’t matter. Sure, the Sooners stayed closer than most opponents, but UConn out-rebounded them 44-25, and when Dales fouled out in the final minutes, the countdown to the Huskies’ celebration officially began.

Running the League

A couple weeks later, Bird, Cash, and Jones were three of the top four picks in the WNBA Draft — Dales was the other. Williams went sixth overall.

It wasn’t until that point, Jones says, that she was able to start appreciating exactly how good UConn was that season.

“That’s the kind of thing that evolves over time,” she said. “What other team can really be compared to the level of talent that was on that team? That’s the kind of thing that happens over time, and you see if another team can match up to that.”

Before that draft, no other UConn player had ever been taken above seventh, though the league was still in its formative years. After that, Taurasi went No. 1 overall in 2004, with Moore and Ashley Battle going in the first round in 2005. That made seven of the 11 players on the 2002 team taken in the WNBA Draft, and the UConn-ification of the best women’s professional basketball league in the world had begun.

In fact, in the five drafts from 2002-06, 10 total Huskies were drafted, joining the handful that were already in the league.

The wave of UConn players into the W created a network of friendship and support for the still-young former Huskies trying to navigate life as a professional athlete.

The UConn brand in the W became so prevalent that since 2003, there have only been four WNBA championship teams that did not include at least one UConn alumna on the roster. And starting in 2004, thanks to Bird, every USA Olympic women’s basketball team has included a former Husky. In 2012, that meant Bird, Taurasi, Cash, and Jones all playing together in the Olympics, with fellow Huskies Tina Charles and Maya Moore also on the roster. The coach of Team USA that year? Geno Auriemma.

Twenty years later, Bird and Taurasi are the only two still playing — defying Father Time and competing at a high level in the WNBA. Not that this is a surprise to their former teammates. If you play at UConn, you learn to be smart about the game, your body, and how to maximize your potential.

“They’ve kind of evolved as the game has changed, as diets have changed, as exercise has changed,” said Morgan Valley, a guard on the 2002 team. “But back when we played, if you were lucky enough to get a scholarship to college, not everyone did that. They’re two people that when they got here, they just gave it everything they had. All the time.”

Running the Game

Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi of United States wait fpr a free throw during the Women’s Basketball quaterfinal against Canada on Day 11 of the London 2012 Olympic Games (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Bird and Taurasi are destined for the Hall of Fame as soon as they’re eligible. Meanwhile, the Hall of Fame is expected to announce this week that Cash will be inducted this summer.

But this roster isn’t just remembered for its great players. Of the 11 members on the 2001-02 UConn Huskies roster, 10 currently have jobs in athletics, be it coaching, playing (still), or in front offices. Nobody on the team is surprised.

“To do what that group did, I think you just had to kind of love it and always care about the game,” Valley said.

It’s why Valley finds herself now helping her former coach devise the very practices that used to drive her and her teammates crazy. Every player will tell you that Auriemma makes the practices more difficult than the games — not just in terms of physicality, but in expectation. In a game, all that matters is the final score, and UConn teams are often talented enough that there’s rarely a question which side ends up with the most points.

“[Auriemma] would always say, ‘Did we win that game because we were more talented? Or did we beat them?'” Jones recalled. “It was drilled into us to make sure that we didn’t win games because we had more talent on our roster, but we worked our butts off to win those games.”

With Williams-Jeter and Valley both already enjoying long coaching careers, neither said that past recruits have specifically brought up the 2002 team. But Valley mentioned that it’s the players people remember best. When she says she played with Bird and Taurasi, recruits (or their parents) take notice. Even without being able to put a year on it, their UConn teams are associated with greatness.

Those who aren’t coaching or playing are finding other ways to continue growing the game, particularly on the women’s side. Moore currently works at Nike as a brand manager for women’s sports performance and, like just about everyone in sports, has seen an increased interest in giving women the same chances in athletics that men have.

“I think it’s something we’ve always really been striving for,” she said. “I think that there’s just been more of a call to arms around it. We’re really trying to stand up for female athletes and provide them with the same information and the same product they need to keep pushing forward.”

While Moore is with the Swoosh, Cash, Jones and Ashley Battle are working for NBA teams. Williams-Jeter was named head coach at Dayton last week. Ashley Valley, Morgan’s sister, is an AAU director and Maria Conlon is a high school coach.

As Valley said: “None of us could let it go.”

Sign up for our newsletter

Get on our list for weekly sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.