UConn ready to start title defense
STORRS, Conn. -- Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma is sure his Huskies can contend for a seventh national championship -- if he can find the right floor leader.
UConn, which held its annual media day on Thursday, returns 10 players from the team that went 39-0 and won its sixth title in April. The roster includes national player of the year Maya Moore and All-American center Tina Charles.
But Renee Montgomery, the point guard and unquestioned floor leader of that championship team, is with the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx. Auriemma acknowledges that her departure left a leadership void which must be filled if the Huskies are to repeat.
"You can have all the ingredients sitting on the table, but if you don't know how to mix them, you are not going to like what you're cooking," Auriemma said.
Junior Lorin Dixon, and sophomores Tiffany Hayes and Caroline Doty are all expected to see time at point guard this season. All three say they are ready.
"It's just that it's not going to be just one person," said the soft-spoken Hayes, who averaged more than eight points and four rebounds as a freshman. "Not one of us is going to be a Diana [Taurasi] or a Sue [Bird], or a Renee, so we all have to come together to be that one thing."
Hayes said she learned a lot about leadership playing with the national team at the World University Games, and that will show on the court.
Dixon went to a point-guard camp this summer to help her learn how to lead players -- even those considered the best in the nation.
"Maya and Tina being so great, and playing at the level they play at, they still listen," she said. "If you tell Maya, 'You need to do this and that, and Tina, you need to do this and that,' they're going to listen. They are still going to play their game, but they're going to listen."
Doty who missed the final 22 games last season after injuring her left knee in January, said she is healthy and ready to step back into a starting role. But she doesn't expect to replace Montgomery.
"Renee is one personality you can't substitute for," she said. "We're going to take what she taught us from that year and go with it."
Auriemma said he doesn't expect the team's leader will emerge in the next week, or even next month. He's confident that the right person will step forward when the team needs her.
"People automatically assume that your best player is going to be your leader, or your upperclassmen are going to be your leaders," he said. "It doesn't always work out that way. Leaders emerge."
That being said, nobody at UConn would be surprised if this year's Huskies end up taking direction from Moore. The junior, who averaged 19 points and nine rebounds a game last season, has never been shy, and said she thinks it is her responsibility to take over "when things get hard."
"I think it's something that we will share," Moore said. "But, when it comes down to it, I definitely want to be the person that -- no matter what -- is going to do it or say what needs to be said."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press