Posted: Thursday August 25, 2005 5:04PM; Updated: Saturday August 27, 2005 1:31PM
Geno Auriemma still has the respect of the top-ranked recruit who reneged on her oral commitment to the Huskies.
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Unhappy times for UConn basketball these days, and I am not discussing the men's program. Jackie Gemelos, a 6-foot guard from Stockton, Calif., Parade first-team All-America as a junior last season and probably the top recruit in the incoming Class of 2006, has reneged on her oral commitment to play for the Huskies.
Last August, Gemelos, then 15, became the youngest girl to make an oral commitment to play at UConn. At the time it seemed an ideal marriage. Gemelos, not yet a junior, had already led her St. Mary's High School team to its second Division III California state championship. The Huskies had just won their third consecutive national title, primarily because of -- get this -- a 6-foot guard from California.
Or, as coach Geno Auriemma was fond of saying, "We have Diana [Taurasi] and you don't."
Then, earlier this month Gemelos informed the UConn coaching staff she has decided not to attend college in Storrs. And even though National Letter of Intent Day (i.e., signing day) is still more than two months away, this marriage has about as much chance of being reconciled as Cincy's with Bob Huggins.
"The conversation was pretty final," Gemelos said in a Hartford Courant article. "I didn't want to disappoint the Connecticut coaches or fans ... I want to be happy, so I needed to do what was best for me, and I think I'll be a lot happier in California."
Well, from a lifestyle standpoint, duh.
What's strange about Gemelos' case (Auriemma and the coaching staff are not allowed to comment on recruits) is she first pursued them, or so it seemed. The recruiting letter from UConn was one of the last to arrive at the Gemelos abode, but when it did, Gemelos essentially declared her fealty to the Huskies. Game over.
"Ever since I was 11, ever since Sue Bird," Gemelos told FullcourtPress.com, "Connecticut's been a dream for me."
In fact, Gemelos' hoops career has been dreamy. The daughter of Steve Gemelos, a 6-foot-5 former power forward who played professional ball in Greece, Jackie earned $500 at a WNBA game when she was just 10 years old (your joke here about how that compares to the standard WNBA rookie contract). She was picked from the crowd at a Sacramento Monarchs game and challenged to make six shots from the free-throw line extended in one minute. Gemelos missed the first, then made six in a row (that's two potential jokes in one paragraph if you're paying attention).
Gemelos won a $500 savings bond.
Her talent and hard work has, six years later, brought Gemelos to a moment where her hoops skills will earn her much more than $500. She'll earn a full scholarship to whatever school she chooses.
It just won't be UConn.
Some sources indicate Gemelos, who averaged 25.5 points, 6.0 assists and 5.5 boards last season in leading St. Mary's to a runner-up spot for the state championship, began to wonder if she could play at UConn's level. That seems far-fetched. Take her at her word: She just didn't want to be homesick.
"As time went on," Gemelos told All Star Girls Report recently, "I started to think a lot about my family. I want for them to be able to see me play my home games."
Six years ago Auriemma fielded similar concerns from that season's No. 1 recruit, Taurasi. When Diana and her mother, Lily, flew from Chino, Calif., to Connecticut for a recruiting visit, Auriemma picked them up at Bradley Airport north of Hartford.
"I don't like it here," Lily said as they drove toward campus. "It's very dark."
"Lily," Auriemma, somewhat exasperated, replied, "it's 10:00 at night."
During Auriemma's final visit to the Taurasi home, Diana informed him it was between UConn and UCLA. The Lady Bruins at the time had made three consecutive trips to the NCAAs, but had created nowhere near the buzz UConn had in women's hoops.
"You're going to do a lot of amazing things in college," Auriemma said (he was right about that -- Taurasi was a two-time Wade Trophy winner). "It'll be a shame if no one sees you do them."
It's too early to gauge where Gemelos is headed next year. Stanford, located across the San Francisco Bay, has long been the dominant power west of the Rockies. The Cardinal have an oral commitment from 6-4 stud-ette Jayne Appel of Concord, Calif., about an hour's drive west of Stockton. Appel and Gemelos would both be part of Stanford's freshman class in September 2006. Plus, Candice Wiggins would be a junior and likely the favorite to capture the Wade Trophy (women's hoops' Heisman), if she hasn't won one already.
Then there's the Princeton Review, whose recently published The Best 361 Colleges, ranks Stanford No. 1 under the category "Happiest Students." That said, Gemelos is rumored to be looking at California's three other Pac-10 programs: Cal, UCLA and USC. In the span of a year, she has gone from dreaming about playing for Connecticut to California dreaming. But, she's only 16 years old. What 16 year-old doesn't change her mind over the course of 12 months. Huskies fans should keep that in mind before they excoriate Gemelos.
As for the Huskies coach? Well, he's the father of two teens and another who's a college student. He probably understands, too, but a huge part of his job -- of his success -- has to do with harvesting high-school talent. So perhaps he was a little chapped.
"(Coach Auriemma) wasn't happy at all when I told him," Gemelos, who added that she still has the utmost respect for UConn and its coaching staff, told the Courant. "I don't want to get into everything that was said, but he basically said that I should pray to God that I never play against his team."
Gemelos would have heard much worse if she had decided to matriculate at UConn. She likely would have wound up a better college player, too.