Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Geno Auriemma focused on Olympics
CROMWELL, Conn. -- U.S. women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma said Wednesday the Olympic team should not be distracted by an employment discrimination lawsuit filed by a security official who claims she spurned his advances.
"It better not be, and I don't think it will be," said Auriemma, who called his team focused and intent on winning a gold medal.
Auiemma, who has won seven NCAA titles at Connecticut, said he would let lawyers worry about the lawsuit filed June 11 by NBA security official Kelly Hardwick, who alleges the coach tried to kiss her on a trip to Russia in 2009. The lawsuit, filed in New York state court, names Auriemma, the NBA and USA Basketball as defendants.
Auriemma made his first public appearance since the allegations became known, playing in the celebrity pro-am event at the PGA Tour's Travelers Championship.
"I'm not going to let anything change the way I go about my job, about my life," he said. "If I was scared of anything, I wouldn't be out here. But I'm not."
Auriemma, sporting a fedora and playing just 35 miles from the UConn campus, received a load ovation from the crowd at the first tee. He played the front nine, but retired on the 13th hole, apparently feeling the effects of temperatures in the upper 90s. He was taken by golf cart to a medical facility on site, but later left for home in his own car.
Hardwick is a former detective with the New York police department who started working for the NBA in security in 2002. Her suit says that as part of her job duties, she managed security for the U.S. women at international basketball events, including the Olympics in 2004 and 2008 and the world championships in 2010.
It was during a 2009 trip to Russia that she says Auriemma wedged his way into a conversation with a co-worker in a hotel lounge, followed her to the door of her room and tried to kiss her.
Hardwick says in the suit she told supervisors about the incident, but that nothing was done. In subsequent international trips, according to the suit, Auriemma avoided her but was uncomfortable with her being there.
In March, Hardwick says, she learned of a conference call involving NBA officials in which Auriemma demanded that she be taken off the security assignment for the London Games.
Auriemma has called the allegations "beyond false."
Olympic and WNBA players have been keeping their distance from the controversy.
"I only know him as my coach," said Asjha Jones, a member of the WNBA's Connecticut Sun and an Olympic team member who also played for Auriemma at the University of Connecticut. "I don't know what happens off the court with him. It's not my business, and it's none of his business what I do off the court. We stay in our lanes."
Jones and other WNBA players said they know and respect Hardwick, who also provides security for the league.
U.S. center Tina Charles, another former Husky, said she doesn't think the lawsuit will distract players.
"Knowing coach Auriemma, he knows how to prioritize things," she said. "Like when you're on the court, your focus should be on the court. Outside things, you go on and handle your business."
Auriemma made light of the situation Wednesday, joking that pro wrestler Booker T, a playing partner at the pro-am, might be a good person to take "on road trips where I need some kind of protection."
"Like my wife said, those people who didn't like me, like me less, and those people who did like me, like me the same," he said. "So, I guess it's a net loss."
Chris Dailey, UConn's associate head coach, was among those vouching for him Wednesday.
"I have worked with him for 27 years and I don't think I need to see anything more than that to speak about his character or anything else," she said. "End of story."
Auriemma is next scheduled to meet with the U.S. team for practice in Washington on July 14-16 before heading to London for the Olympics, which begin two weeks later.