2020 Great Immigrants Recipient

Geno Auriemma
Head Coach, University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball
Born in:
Italy

Geno Auriemma was born in the town of Montella in southern Italy. He grew up without running water or electricity, and his mother never had the opportunity to attend school and learn how to read or write. His father was the first to leave for the United States, eventually getting a job at a candy factory. In 1961, seven-year old Auriemma traveled with the rest of his family to the U.S., settling in Norristown, Pennsylvania. The eldest of three children, Auriemma babysat his brother and sister and helped his parents with English-language paperwork.

As a boy, Auriemma embraced America’s favorite pastime, writing in his autobiography that he was “going to be a major league baseball star.” He branched out to basketball — in spite of not making the team on his first try — at Bishop Kenrick High School. As a political science major at West Chester State College (now West Chester University of Pennsylvania), Auriemma began coaching women’s basketball part-time at the high school level. After graduating, he coached the women’s basketball team at the University of Virginia.

In 1985, Auriemma joined the University of Connecticut to coach the Huskies women’s basketball team. The Huskies had only one winning season in its history before Auriemma’s arrival. Since then, the team has gone on  to win 11 national championships. In 2016, the Huskies became the first Division 1 women’s basketball team to win four consecutive national championships. The team’s success also includes 49 conference regular season and tournament championships, 20 Final Four appearances, and six perfect seasons.

In 2009, Auriemma was designated the head coach of the USA Basketball Women’s National Team, and with Auriemma at the helm, the team would go on to win gold medals at both the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. The team also won the 2010 and the 2014 World Championships.

Auriemma has been recognized with numerous coach of the year awards, and in 2006 was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Auriemma’s philanthropic efforts include a partnership with the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Foundation, where he serves on the board of directors. Alongside his coaching career, Auriemma owns the Italian steakhouse Café Aura in Manchester, Connecticut. He also has a line of Italian wines and a line of Italian sauces based on recipes from his mother Marsiella's native province of Campania, known for the rich quality of its herbs.

According to Auriemma, he’s living the American dream. “Just think, a little Italian kid who snuck over on a boat like Leonardo DiCaprio [in Titanic]. I know his boat eventually sank. Mine didn’t. But I think my ticket was the same as his.”