Calhoun and his assistants surrendered the East Coast to the other Big East teams. Why fight St. John's for the New York kid, Villanova for the Philadelphia kid, Georgetown for the Washington kid? The UConn staff attacked Connecticut first, trying to keep local kids home, and then jumped around the country, the farther the better.
Auriemma confined his recruiting mostly to the East Coast. He wasn't fighting dominance by other Big East teams, all of which seemed to be trying to start something, too. Auriemma's job was to create a winner, yes, but also a feeling, a buzz, a beginning. No one was watching UConn women's basketball. "I'd go to the games, and there'd be 50 people," Kathy Auriemma says. "I'd know every one of them. They'd be our friends or the friends or relatives of the players, and that'd be it."
"I made my students come to the games," Chris Dailey says. "I had a phys ed class on running. If you missed a class, you could come to women's basketball and make up the credit."
The two head coaches went off on their separate missions, climbing their separate beanstalks. Jim and Geno. They were a couple of workaholics. They were friendly enough—Calhoun says they jogged together a few times—but never friends. They were consumed by their own separate problems. They were finding their own separate answers.
"If they ever were going to become friends, it would have happened in those early years," a mutual friend says. "It's too late now. You know what I think happened? Geno never went to the altar. He went his own way. He never looked for Jim's advice. There's a soccer coach at UConn now—Ray Reid, slightly younger than Geno. He went to the altar, asked Jim for advice. He even takes soccer recruits to meet Jim. He and Jim have become pretty close."
The rise of the two teams was dramatic. By the time the new building, Gampel Pavilion, opened in January 1990, Calhoun had built a team that would finish 31-6 and one Christian Laettner jump shot from the Final Four, losing 79-78 to Duke in the East Regional final. After four years on the job, Calhoun was voted Coach of the Year.
In the same season the UConn women finished 25-6 and appeared in their second NCAA tournament in a row. A year later they would go to the Final Four. Four years after that they would be perfect, 35-0, the nation's darlings. Auriemma would be Coach of the Year.
"The most important recruit in the school's history was Chris Smith [in 1988]," Calhoun says. "He was a kid from Bridgeport who could have gone to Villanova or BC. When he came here, it was a message to other kids: We were going to keep the good Connecticut kid in the state. We were building a fence around the border."
"We got Kerry Bascomb from New Hampshire [in 1987]," Auriemma says. "We made a push for her. Nobody knew how good she really was. Then we got Meghan Pattyson [in 1988] and we got rolling. Then we got Rebecca Lobo from Massachusetts [in 1991]. She was a player everyone wanted. She legitimized us nationally."
The faces of the two coaches were the faces of the two teams. Calhoun was confrontational, emotions rolling over his sharp Irish features like storm systems over a weatherman's map. He chewed gum on the sideline at hyper speed, walked, pouted, stamped his foot, turned to the crowd in agony. Collar undone, tie loose, he looked like a tourist in the big city who had just been shortchanged by a cabdriver. This was the men's game, a slugfest, a war. Calhoun was the besieged general.