UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- The irony wasn't lost on Geno Auriemma that the first opportunity to win his 1,000th career game would come at a casino.
There were no guarantees when he came from Virginia or when Chris Dailey came from Rutgers to take over the University of Connecticut women's basketball team that success would follow. Prior to his hiring on May 18, 1985, the Huskies had one winning season and an overall record of 92-162.
But the gamble paid off, thanks to his own skills, knowledge and personality, and his ability to bring in players that bought into his philosophy.
Auriemma became the fourth Division I women's coach to reach 1,000 wins Tuesday night when No. 1 UConn defeated Oklahoma 88-64 in the Naismith Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase at sold-out Mohegan Sun Arena.
"Kids were taking a big chance on us," Auriemma said before the game. "CD took a big chance coming here because she left a really good job. We have kids coming to school here for whom our facilities here were worse than the ones they played at in high school. You go down to Central Bucks East (Pennsylvania) where Meghan Pattyson (SNY analyst Culmo) played and her facilities were 10 times better than our facilities here. So kids took a big risk coming to play for us because they could have gone to more established programs and better schools at the time."
Auriemma joins late Tennessee coach Pat Summitt (1,098), Stanford's Tara VanDerveer (1,018) and North Carolina's Sylvia Hatchell (1,000) in the 1,000-win club. Hatchell reached the plateau Tuesday afternoon when the Tar Heels defeated Grambling 79-63 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The 2006 Naismith Hall of Fame inductee also became the fastest to reach four figures (1,135 games) ahead of Summitt (1,187), VanDerveer (1,228) and Hatchell (1,376). He was also the fastest to 600, 700, 800 and 900 wins.
It took the 63-year-old Auriemma just 101 games to go from 900 to 1,000 wins. The 900th win came on Feb. 3, 2015, when the Huskies defeated Cincinnati at the XL Center in Hartford. Seniors Kia Nurse and Gabby Williams were freshmen.
"I feel old," Nurse said with a smile. "The 900th win was a lot of fun. To be a part of another milestone, it came so quickly."
Win No. 1 came on Nov. 23, 1985, a 73-67 overtime victory at Iona.
"I think about how excited everybody was to finally play in a game," Auriemma said. "We had been practicing for so long. That was late, Nov. 23, so that means we were practicing from Oct. 15 so people were anxious to play. Everyone wanted to compete. I remember the bus ride home, people were generally excited. Those were the good old days."
Even with the 11 national championships, the 18 Final Four appearances, and the combined 45 league regular season and tournament titles that have come since, he oftens get nostalgic.
How many times have the Huskies been an underdog the last decade, twice?
"There was a long stretch where coaching basketball was fun, because every little thing that you accomplished almost led to a celebration," Auriemma said. "You celebrated everything, because it was the first time or it was meaningful, significant and new for a lot of the players and our program. There were a lot of new highs and experiences we hadn't felt before. Yeah, now all that is gone."
But that doesn't mean he plans on going anywhere soon.
After the Huskies' come-from-behind win over Notre Dame on Dec. 3, Auriemma spoke about his hope to coach until he was 70.
"I probably should have an exit strategy," Auriemma said. "The only problem is that I never had a strategy to get to where I am. It hasn't dawned on me to have a strategy for how to get out of where I am because I don't know how I got here. But I'm sure that sometime soon, the people in my world who spend more time thinking about that than I do are going to say, 'How are we going to do this, and when is that going to be?' But as of right now, I don't have one.
"One of the big plusses of being at a place like this is that there is so much here that helps you be consistently good because of what we have done in the past. That's hard to walk away from because you know you have a chance to be really, really good every year. The flipside of that is that it is draining to be in an environment where the only standard is an undefeated season. It is draining. There is going to come a point in time when I wake up in the morning and say, 'I don't want to do this anymore.' I don't know when that is. It's not going to be tomorrow morning. I think we all get to that point. I just don't know what it is. I read something where the optimum age for not working anymore is 70, not a day before and not a day after. So I don't know. Does that mean anything?"
A sign that Auriemma plans on being around for awhile is his recruiting of high school sophomores and freshmen. As SNYUConn.com reported last month, he has offered scholarships to 2017 United States U-16 national team members Paige Bueckers, a sophomore guard, and Azzi Fudd, a freshman wing. They are considered among the top players in their respective classes and both have been in Connecticut twice to watch games.
Part of his week off as his players went through fall semester final exams was spent traveling to see recruits.
"I have had more kids ask me about it and now I even ask them first," Auriemma said. "I say, 'Do you have any questions for me? Like when I am going to retire? Like how long I am going to be here?' 'Well, now that you brought it up.' I'm sure that is what people are going to bring up. It's funny one of the things I said to a really good kid, a fun kid who asked me that was, 'Well, maybe the coach that asked you that question, I'll be around a lot longer than they will be because I have outlived a lot of coaches you know.' It has come up way more in the last two years than it has in the rest of my career.
"I say, 'I'm going to be here as long as I want to be here. If you come in and you aren't very good, that may be what drives me out of here.' I try to make it so it is not life and death. The scary part is that you have ninth and 10th graders saying, 'How long are you going to be here?' I say, 'I am going to be 80 by the time you get here, but I'll wait around.' "
Auriemma, though, is taking it one game at a time. On deck for the Huskies is a trip to Toronto, Canada, for Friday's contest with Duquesne (SNY, 7 p.m.) that will serve as a homecoming for Hamilton, Ontario, native Nurse.
But Tuesday night was a milestone worth celebrating.
"The thing I get from my mother when I talk to her is just how fortunate I am to be in the position I'm in, to be where I am, and to be doing what I'm doing," Auriemma said. "The thing she keeps telling me is, 'You're lucky. You really have a good thing going. Don't screw it up by trying to be all things to all people.' She is all for the players, and she wants us to win every game until we win every game and then she complains because we win all the games.
"One of her greatest comments ever to me was, 'That is why nobody likes you, because you win all the time.' "
It's what he has done best.