UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma made his first public appearance Wednesday since being named in an employment discrimination lawsuit filed by NBA security official Kelley Hardwick. Appearing at the Travelers Celebrity Pro-Am at TPC River Highlands wearing a fedora and a white striped UConn golf shirt, he looked relaxed and was in good spirits.
Auriemma, who is also serving as the head coach of the U.S. Women’s Olympic Basketball Team, said there was absolutely no hesitancy on his part on whether or not to attend this event.
“This is what I do,’’ Auriemma said. “I’m not going to let anything change the way I go about my job and about my life. If I was scared of anything I wouldn’t be out here. But I’m not.’’
Auriemma teamed with professional George McNeill, singer/songwriter Michael Bolton and WWE Superstar Booker T. He joked earlier in the day after leaving the driving range that he might have to take Booker T, a muscular former World Championship Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment champion, with him on the road for security.
Auriemma received a loud ovation before starting play at the first tee. In fact, he said he was warmly received by the fans throughout the event.
“The people have been great,’’ Auriemma said. “All this other crap just gets in the way of things, but the people have been great. I’ve really enjoyed it.’’
In the lawsuit, which was filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan June 11, Auriemma is being accused of grabbing Hardwick by her left arm and subsequently trying to kiss her in a hotel in Russia during an invitational tournament in October of 2009. It is Hardwick’s belief that Auriemma retaliated for being rejected by having her removed from the security detail that will accompany the U.S. Olympic Team to London next month.
Auriemma has since received an outpouring of support from former UConn players in his defense.
“It’s just like I thought they would,’’ Auriemma said. “It’s always nice to see that. I’ve done a lot for a lot of people in Connecticut so I’m not surprised. Like my wife said, those people that didn’t like me like me less and those people that like me like me the same. So I guess it’s a net loss.’’
Auriemma is slated to head to Europe next week on a scouting trip. The Olympic team will train in Washington, D.C. July 14-16 before heading to England.
The Olympic competition is scheduled to be held July 28 through Aug. 11. Auriemma does not foresee the lawsuit as being a distraction for the team as it chases a fifth straight Olympic gold medal.
“It better not be,’’ Auriemma said. “And I don’t think it will be because we’ve got players that have won an Olympic gold medal before and they know how to win one. We’ve got six I think maybe that have never played in the Olympics and they really want to win one bad. And I talked to Diana (Taurasi Tuesday) and I think this team is as focused and as intent on not only winning a gold medal but creating something that’s never been done before. And that’s what Diana wants. This might be her last one so I’m excited for her and for the rest of the team.’’