STORRS, Conn. -- Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma couldn't pass up coaching an Olympic team and couldn't imagine not coaching the Huskies.
So he'll do both.
Auriemma was introduced Wednesday as the coach of the U.S. women's basketball team for the next three years, through the 2012 Olympics in London. The 55-year-old Auriemma just guided Connecticut to its sixth national championship and third perfect season.
The opportunity to coach in the Olympics presented the next challenge.
"There's a lot of people who probably take it for granted that you get opportunities like this because you're born in this country and you feel a sense of entitlement. I wasn't and it means a lot to me and the people I grew up with," said Auriemma, who was born in Italy but came to the U.S. as a 7-year-old in 1961 and became a U.S. citizen about 15 years ago.
"I can't imagine that there's anything I'll ever do in my coaching career that will be as meaningful as for me to win the gold medal," he said.
Auriemma is the first active college coach to head a women's Olympic team since Tara VanDerveer led the 1996 Olympic team to a gold medal in Atlanta. The Hall of Fame Stanford coach took a year off to lead that U.S. team, which won the gold medal at the Atlanta Games.
Auriemma, who was an assistant coach on the 2000 Olympic team, said he doesn't see any problem doing both jobs.
"The USA Basketball program is something that I will do in the way it needs to be done with the help of a lot of people," Auriemma said. "The only difference is that any time that I would have off from coaching UConn that used to be off, is now on."
Auriemma became eligible to coach the Olympic team after the USA Basketball executive committee approved a rule change last month. In the past, the Olympic head coaches were required to have WNBA coaching experience. Now the coach must only have five years experience as either an assistant or head coach at any level at the time of the selection.
Auriemma said he expects to have a WNBA coach and another college coach as assistants.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, who won three Olympic gold medals as a player and was an assistant coach on the team that won gold in Beijing last summer, said she'd love to remain on the staff.
"Of course, as would anybody that plays. I gave over half my life to USA Basketball. I'd like to stay in the fray to position myself to one day be in Geno's position," Staley said.
Staley praised the selection of Auriemma as coach.
"I think Geno's been tremendous with our game here in the states. He's won, he's won a lot. His record speaks volumes. When the committee decided to go on that, he was the top choice," she said.
Auriemma is likely to be reunited with several of his former players on the national team, including Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, who both won gold medals in China.
"I trust him completely, and know he's going to have us playing at our best and keep the USA Basketball tradition going," Bird said in a statement. "I also know we're going to enjoy the entire experience with him in charge because there is no one better at being serious when it's time to be serious, but also no one better at having fun when it's time to have fun."
Auriemma said he looks forward to coaching them and other stars such as Candace Parker and Tamika Catchings.
"They have a good solid core, a good nucleus of women who have won on an Olympic level already and they know how to do it," he said.
Current UConn star Maya Moore is among the players hoping to make the national team, and said playing for Auriemma would be an added bonus.
"I've always had this dream and goal of playing on an Olympic team," Moore said. "This doesn't change my goal, but it definitely makes it a more exciting goal to have another opportunity when I leave here to be coached by him."
But Auriemma said if Moore, or Connecticut players Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles think they are assured of a spot on the squad, they better think again.
"If they're the same as everybody else, then I'm not going to 'em, because I don't want anybody to say it's favoritism," he said. "So if they are going to make this team, they are going to have to be a little bit better than the other guys, that's the way I look at it."
The U.S. women, who have captured four straight Olympic gold medals, will have their first chance to qualify for the London games at the FIBA World Championships in 2010 in the Czech Republic. The winner of that tournament will receive an automatic berth to the 2012 Games.