Still, there was Mrs. Taurasi. She got off the plane in Hartford with Diana, already mad mat her daughter was visiting this crazy place, Backeast. And she wasn't going to cut it any slack "At one point," says Chris Dailey, Geno's associate head coach, "Lili said she didn't like Connecticut because it didn't have enough traffic. I said, 'Lili, you gotta be the first person in history to complain because a place doesn't have enough traffic' "
Lili told Geno, "I don't like Connecticut. It's too dark."
Geno said, "Lili, for God's sake, it's 10:30 at night. When it's 10:30 in California, it's dark there, too."
Well, Lili did soften a little because Marsiella Auriemma, now a widow, was there, and the two ladies could talk in a mixture of Italian and English. And Kathy Auriemma's eggplant parmigiana was a big hit. And when Geno pulled out a bottle of wine he'd found with the Taurasi label, straight from the vineyards in the Calore valley, that trumped any move any Anglo coach had made. But in the end Geno just told her, "Look, Lili, if Diana goes to UCLA, you'll be happy at first, but if she isn't happy, then you won't be. If she goes here, maybe you won't be happy at first, but when you find out how happy she is, you'll be happy for a long time." And then, in that way he deals with women, he put it head-on: "You know, Lili, we're recruiting Diana. We're not recruiting you."
Probably Lili already knew the jig was up. "She had to have known," Diana says.
After all, going across the country didn't intimidate the kid. When she was 11 her father, discouraged and homesick, packed up the family and returned to Argentina. The Taurasis lived there for a year, but it didn't work out, and they came back. Because Diana won't admit that anything fazes her, she says moving around didn't bother her. Argentina, Storrs—she could handle it.
When she enrolled at UConn, Geno told her again that she could be the best player ever. This time he asked her directly, "You want that?" Diana took a moment, then said, "Yeah, I do."
Geno says, "Once she said that, it was like a license for me to do anything I wanted to with D."
He just calls her D. Among themselves, though, the other UConn coaches call her Little Geno.
Diana Taurasi is not just hard to read. She actually looks very much like that other famous inscrutable Italian lady, Mona Lisa. Diana is friendly, outgoing and full of laughs, but underneath she doesn't let on, doesn't give in. In fact she still maintains that she had no trouble adjusting to Backeast. Her coaches thought otherwise. "She fought conforming to what the Connecticut ideal is," Dailey says. "She wanted it—after all, that's why she came here—but she was struggling with it."