CROMWELL, Conn. -- For the first time in nine years, Geno Auriemma has a summer without United States women's national basketball team responsibilities.
The University of Connecticut's Hall of Fame coach has worked on his tan but not so much on his golf game, though that would be hard to believe after seeing his drive off the first tee at the Travelers Championship Celebrity Pro-Am at TPC River Highlands Wednesday find the fairway.
"It's been busy," Auriemma said. "You don't realize that when you're doing the national team stuff, they leave you alone. The minute they think you don't have anything to do? It's been a lot. And there's a lot more to come. So this will be as busy a summer as I have ever had. I'm looking forward to it."
Much of that time in July will be spent recruiting. The Huskies have a verbal commitment from Charli Collier (6-foot-4 forward, Baytown, Texas, ranked the No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2018 by ESPNHoopgurlz) and at least three more scholarships remaining. They are a finalist for No. 1 recruit Christyn Williams, a guard from Little Rock, Arkansas.
And when August comes around, Auriemma will be back on the floor at the Werth Champions Center with his players as they have 10 days of practice before heading to Italy for an 11-day journey prior to the start of fall semester classes.
For the first time in five years, UConn will enter a new season coming off a loss. Mississippi State ended the Huskies' record four-year national championship reign and 111-game winning streak as Morgan William's pull-up jumper at the overtime buzzer gave the Bulldogs a 66-64 victory in the Final Four semifinals in Dallas.
"Anytime you come up short of something you really want it has some kind of effect on everyone," Auriemma said. "One of the things that I've talked to the players about is that time has a way of making you forget things.
"The worst thing would have been to start another year with the streak still intact and another championship and these kids would never have the opportunity to start fresh. The best thing to happen out of the loss is that you can start the season like every other team in the country. You've got nothing and you're trying to get something. That will help us. That will be the biggest thing I'm excited about."
The Huskies return a three-year starter in Kia Nurse and three 2017 All-Americans in Napheesa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson, and Gabby Williams. Also back are reserves Crystal Dangerfield, Molly Bent, and Kyla Irwin. Transfers Azura Stevens and Batouly Camara are eligible after sitting out last season and their highly-regarded recruiting class of Mikayla Coombs, Lexi Gordon, Andra Espinoza-Hunter, and Megan Walker is already in Storrs taking summer classes.
The potential is there for Auriemma to have one of his deepest teams in years.
"That remains to be seen," he said. "The four starters we have coming back who played a lot of minutes plus Crystal, you have a good idea of what's out there. That's a known and everyone else is an unknown. You don't know how everyone else will fit in.
"Katie Lou was saying the other day how it will be nice to get a breather during the game every once in a while and not worry what it will look like out there. But little does she know ... It's not going to look as great as she thinks it will look."
UConn will open the regular season on Nov. 12 against Ohio State at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, site of the 2018 Final Four.
Eleven of the Huskies' 13 non-league opponents advanced to the 2017 NCAA tournament, including national champion South Carolina. The only two non-NCAA tournament teams on the slate are Nevada and Duquesne. The game in Reno on Nov. 28 is a homecoming for Williams. The game against the Dukes, which will be played in Toronto, Canada, is a homecoming for Nurse.
"About 90 percent of the teams we play in our non-conference schedule probably have a chance to go to the Final Four," Auriemma said. "That's a good thing. The more we do that the better it makes us, the better for our fans, the better for everyone. I don't know if it could get any stronger. It would be virtually impossible for us to have a better non-conference schedule than we have coming up. That's the way it is going to be from here on in."
UConn will also played on Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the first time since 2013 when it visits Texas on Jan. 15. The Huskies were 15-4 when playing on the holiday from 1995 through 2013.
"It's a great tradition thing for us and something that we've always enjoyed doing," Auriemma said. "I hope that it's an afternoon game where you can get kids that are not in school to come out. The more events there are like that for us, the better."
Auriemma is also nine wins shy of 1,000 entering his 33rd season. If the Huskies win their first eight games and the game at South Carolina -- the only non-league date yet to be announced -- is not played before Dec. 19, Auriemma could reach the milestone six days before Christmas against Oklahoma at Mohegan Sun Arena.
UConn knows its American Athletic Conference opponents but dates and times have not been finalized. The AAC added Wichita State as its 12th full-time member in the spring.
"I think it's great," Auriemma said. "The fact that they're so good every year on the men's basketball side is a huge plus. Obviously they're struggling a little bit in women's basketball right now, but that move wasn't made for women's basketball. On the men's basketball side, I don't know if there's anyone out there that they could have added that would bring more from a competitive standpoint and national reputation."
Auriemma added he does not want the league to split into two six-team divisions. But there was a discussion at the AAC meetings that since there are six teams in the Eastern time zone and six in the Central time zone, about playing each team in a school's own time zone twice and crossing over once with each school to total 16 games.
"That would cut down on the travel a bit," Auriemma said. "Does that make it into divisions? I don't know. I still think when it's time to see who the best teams are, you line them up 1 through 12."
While Auriemma's days coaching the national team are gone, he has not been forgotten.
On Wednesday, the United States Olympic Committee named Auriemma -- the first coach in Team USA history to guide the Americans in back-to-back Olympic Games and the first to capture consecutive Olympic gold medals -- the 2016 USOC Co-National Coach of the Year. He shares the honor with Aimee Boorman from USA Gymnastics.