Years before Aaron Hernandez became a star tight end for the New England Patriots, he played AAU basketball on a team by coached Geno Auriemma.
These days Hernandez finds himself involved in a murder investigation. Speaking this morning at the Hartford Golf Club prior to the start of his “Fore the Kids’’ Charity Golf Tournament, Auriemma passed along his thoughts on Hernandez’s current situation.
“Any time you see anyone that you know or you’ve had any kind of relationship with go through a situation like he’s in right now you can’t help but be shocked about it,’’ Auriemma said. “But, again, Aaron who was 16 or 17 and Aaron who’s (23) are two completely different people, as anybody else would be. It’s sad. No matter how it comes out it’s sad.
“This will be his fourth year in the league coming up and he’s not 24 yet. That’s a young guy and it’s a lot sometimes. I don’t know anything about what happened. I don’t know anything about the situation.
“It’s a shame. I wish his dad (Dennis) was around to have helped him out a little bit.’’
Dennis Hernandez died seven years ago at the age of 49.
Here is what Auriemma remembers about coaching Hernandez and then seeing him find success in the NFL. Hernandez has amassed 175 receptions for 1,956 yards and 18 touchdowns in 38 career games with the Patriots.
“Aaron was easy to coach,’’ Auriemma said. “But then, again, he was only 15, 16. He was easy to coach. And his dad was around all the time. His mom (Terri) was around all the time. He was friends with all the guys on the team. For me, it was easy. But, again, I didn’t go home with him. I just saw him a couple hours when we practiced and saw him on weekends when we had trips to go play. It’s not like I knew him like I know my son.
“I watch every (Patriots) game as much as I can. I think living up here you certainly follow them and you certainly root for them. But having him play the way he’s played and have the success that he’s had you can’t help but feel good for him and be happy for him. You’re talking about a kid who’s 16 years-old and playing in these AAU tournaments and you’re getting in a van and you’re driving and doing dumb stuff as 15- and 16-year-old kids do. Then you turn on the TV one day and he’s head-butting Tom Brady because he just caught a touchdown pass. That’s not real life. How many times do you get to sit there and watch an NFL game and go, `Hey, I know that kid. I used to hang around with him.’ So for all his friends, his family, high school coaches, everybody, I think everybody was like, `Wow, I’m really proud of him.’’’
The last few days have also provided Auriemma with another example of just how different it is being a college coach as opposed to a professional coach.
“If you were coaching in college and one of your players was involved in a situation like that you as a college coach would be immediately held responsible,’’ Auriemma said. “You and your program would be almost as responsible as the individual who’s involved in the situation. But in the pros it’s all on you. That’s why it’s so hard when you’re coaching and you’re responsible for bringing kids up to campus. And you’ve got 17-year-olds, 18-year-olds that come up to campus, and now you’ve got them for the next four years. You think you know them, but you don’t really know them.’’