HARTFORD, Conn. -- Last season, the University of Connecticut women's basketball program arranged a homecoming game for Breanna Stewart at Colgate. Next season, homecoming games for junior guard Kia Nurse (versus Duquesne in Toronto) and sophomore guard Katie Lou Samuelson (at UCLA) are set.
But what about Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma, who was born in Montella, Italy, on March 23, 1954?
That's on the schedule, too. The Huskies will travel to Italy for 11 days in August. It will be their fifth visit to Europe since 1994.
"The actual itinerary is not complete but we have the dates pretty much - Aug. 13-24," Auriemma said. "We're going to have a lot of people back and a bunch of guys coming in. That makes it a perfect time to go. You get 10 days of practice before you leave if you want them. We'll play three, four, five games there. It's a chance to get a feel for each other before school and the season starts."
The Huskies will return eight players from their 2016-17 active roster -- Nurse, Samuelson, Gabby Williams, Natalie Butler, Napheesa Collier, Molly Bent, Crystal Dangerfield, and Kyla Irwin. Then there will be six newcomers -- transfers Batouly Camara and Azura Stevens, and freshmen Mikayla Coombs, Lexi Gordon, Andra Espinoza-Hunter, and Megan Walker.
"We're really excited about it," Samuelson said. "It's going to be a lot of fun for all of us. It will give us a chance to bond and play together and have a great time."
For a few of the players, perhaps, it may not be their first trip to Italy in the summer as the FIBA U-19 world championships are set for July 22-30 in Cividale del Friuli and Udine, Italy. Trials to select the 12-member team will be held May 18-21 at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
Walker and Dangerfield were named to the 2016 U-18 United States team a year ago, though Dangerfield withdrew due to a hip injury. Walker averaged 9.6 points and 2.8 rebounds in five games as Team USA won the gold medal at the FIBA Americas event to qualify for the world championships.
UConn's first two trips to Europe in August 1994, and August 1999, had it touring and playing games in Belgium, France, and Italy. Both times the Huskies came back and went on to win the national championship. Their last two tours -- in November 2006, and August 2011 -- were to Italy.
In 2011, the Huskies visited Rome, Florence, and Como and played four games.
"It's never been a bad trip for us," Auriemma said. "Every time that we've gone over to Europe we've gotten amazing results once we got home. I'm looking forward to it. I really am."
NEW DEAL FOR GENO
Usually when Auriemma signs a new contract, UConn sends out a press release announcing the deal.
But it wasn't until a USA Today Sports report last week that the public learned that the 32nd-year coach had signed a new five-year agreement last October that is scheduled to pay him at least $13 million. The deal replaced another five-year contract that had been set to expire in April 2018, the report said.
Auriemma said discussions about a new contract started with former athletic director Warde Manuel, who left UConn for Michigan last March, and continued with new athletic director David Benedict and university president Susan Herbst. He added that getting the new deal done with two years remaining on the old contract was not unusual.
"This is usually the way it's worked," Auriemma said. "You're always talking a couple of years in advance. Or maybe the older you get, the more people ask about it and people say, 'He's getting ready to hang it up,' or this and that. Warde and I had started talking about this before he left. When Dave came in, we got together with Susan and said, 'Let's just do this and move on.' "
Auriemma owns a 981-134 record heading into Wednesday night's game against Temple at the XL Center (SNY, 7 p.m.) and his .880 winning percentage is No. 1 on the all-time list. He has led UConn to 11 national championships, 17 Final Four appearances, and 28 consecutive NCAA tournament berths. If the Huskies (26-0 overall, 13-0 American Athletic Conference) beat the Owls, they will win their 23rd league regular season title to go along with 21 league tournament crowns. UConn also holds four of the top five winning streaks in NCAA history, including the current top run of 101.
USA Today Sports also reported that Auriemma's deal had several other enhancements, including an increase in the amount of money he would be paid annually if, upon resigning or retiring in good standing after the 2020-21 season, he chooses to take a job with UConn's athletic department. Continuing a feature from his previous contract, Auriemma would be able to choose an appointment of up to five years at $400,000 per year or a $1 million payment that he would get within 90 days of his resignation or retirement.
But will Auriemma be done in 2021? He's certainly not acting like it. He is bringing in one of the top recruiting classes in the country this fall that will graduate from UConn in 2021. But he has also accepted a verbal commitment from one of the top players in the high school Class of 2018 in Charli Collier. He has made a number of trips to Arkansas to watch Christyn Williams, considered to be the top guard in the junior class, play. He has also traveled to Virginia to watch top 2019 recruit Samantha Brunelle in action. Earlier this month the Huskies welcomed two of the top prospects from the 2020 class -- Maddie Burke and Kylee Watson -- to Gampel Pavilion for unofficial visits.
Does Auriemma believe this will be his last contract?
"I don't know," he said with a smile. "Is the school considering this my last contract? I don't know. I don't know. Are there guys on my team that are hoping it's my last contract? I don't know. Are there guys that we've recruited that are hoping it's my last one? Right now, it's the one that I have and I'll let it go at that."
WALKER A NAISMITH FINALIST
UConn Class of 2017 signee Walker (6-foot-1 wing, Chesterfield, Virginia) is one of five finalists for the Naismith Trophy that goes to the top high school player in the country, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced.
The award will be presented in early March.
The other finalists are Rellah Boothe (Texas), Dana Evans (Louisville), Anastasia Hayes (Tennessee), and Evina Westbrook (Tennessee).