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Elliott builds on wisdom gained at UConn

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CINCINNATI --From winning six women's college basketball championships to a 35-0 season to finishing as the No. 2 rebounder in school history, Jamelle Elliott's 16-year stint as a coach and player at Connecticut was unprecedented.

 

However, Elliott says there's another feat the she is most proud of.

 

In her four-year playing career at UConn, Elliott appeared in 135-straight games and had perfect attendance at practice.

 

"I don't know if it's something that people really talk about," Elliott notes. "Even scoring 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, [never missing a game or practice] is what I'm most proud of."

 

On Saturday Elliott, the second-year UC women's basketball coach will host her former team, No. 2 UConn (19-1, 7-0 Big East) for the first time.

 

This will be round two for Elliott, who lost at UConn last year in her inaugural return to her alma mater.

 

Despite being a season removed from the Huskie program, Elliott still regards her time in Hartford, Conn., as surreal.       

 

"I'm going to be honest with you, being part of the Connecticut team is like a fairytale," Elliott says. "Everything goes right, you got 10,000 people cheering for you, a national championship is expected, you're not expected to lose a game and I was a part of that for a long time."

 

As a player, Elliott was 117-18, earned four NCAA berths, two Final Fours and a national championship. The UConn alumna sparked the program's dynasty by capturing their first national title in 1995.

 

"[Those were] probably the best years of my life up until this point," Elliott reminisces. "Learning from [Geno Auriemma] one of the best, if not the best college coach in the country."

 

As a part of the Hall of Famer's staff, Elliott helped UConn claim five national crowns and make nine Final Four appearances. This year Connecticut stretched their active winning streak to 90 games - the most ever by a men's or women's college basketball team - before losing to Stanford. 

 

Elliott speaks humbly about transforming UConn into a perennial power.

 

"I was fortunate to be apart of the rebuilding process," Elliott says.     

 

Elliott's former boss has the highest winning percentage (.859) among active coaches and seven national championships. While the two remain tightly knit friends off the court, the switch flips when their respective teams step onto the hardwood. 

 

"Once the game starts, obviously [Auriemma] is going to want to kick our butt," Elliott points out. "I wouldn't expect anything other than that from him."

 

Elliott was anxious to gain all the knowledge she could from her former coach when she was hired as an assistant in 1998. She absorbed everything her mentor told her like a sponge.

 

By her eighth year as an assistant, Elliott says she felt capable of taking on an even bigger responsibility. Her number wasn't called until 2009 on the heels of her 12th campaign at Connecticut.

 

When Elliott parted ways with UConn on May 5, 2009 after being named the head coach at Cincinnati, the Hall of Fame coach gave her pertinent advice.

 

"He told me, 'Your going to want to do things right everyday,' " Elliott recalls. 'You're not going to be able to get everything right [everyday]. Even though you're not going to be able to do everything right, just do one thing right everyday.' "

Elliott was indebted with the rigors of turning around a Cincinnati program in arguably the nation's most competitive and demanding conference. One factor that Auriemma says could potentially trip up Elliott is an immense amount of pressure on her shoulders.   

"The only thing that I think would make her struggle is if it becomes too much of a burden to handle because she just takes it so seriously," Auriemma says. "There are a lot of people who went out on a limb to hire her and she feels incredibly responsible and indebted to those people. She's not used to anything other than winning so it's difficult."

National player of the year candidate Maya Moore says she sees the same fire in the current players coached by Elliott that her teammates had her first two years under Elliott. 

 

"The mindset, I think more than anything, is what she instills in the players," Moore says. "You can see it in her players. They play hard, they're aggressive, and they don't hang their heads."

 

While Elliott has a long road ahead in making UC nationally relevant, one thing she has in her arsenal is her proven track record of winning.  

 

"They will," Auriemma says. "There's no doubt in my mind they will. Just right now she's got a very difficult task. Maybe there will be a time when we come in here and they have the expectation of winning. I think until that time, it'll be very, very difficult."

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