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Graham Hays, espnW.com 25d

Sue Bird, Kyrie Irving join Geno Auriemma in first installment of UConn coach's new podcast

Women's College Basketball, Connecticut Huskies, Seattle Storm

It took University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma all of three minutes in the first episode of his new podcast to launch a broadside volley of sarcasm at Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, one of two initial guests along with Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird.

"No relation to Magellan, who did sail around the world," Auriemma said by way of introducing Irving, whose views on the Earth being flat are well known. "We'll talk about that a little bit later."

Running more than an hour, the first episode of a series that will include future interviews with Charles Barkley and Tiger Woods didn't always live up to that standard. But in the spirit of, as Auriemma put it, going where the news doesn't go, "Holding Court with Geno Auriemma" offered its share of interesting moments.

Round ball and flat Earth

Auriemma circumnavigated back to Irving's contentious views on scienceĀ an hour in, but that is likely the portion of the wide-ranging discussion that will attract the most attention across the sports world. Needling Irving, who was born in Australia, about being able to take a flight the first time he traveled to the United States, Auriemma called on his own family story of emigrating from Italy as a child on a ship "in the Leonardo DiCaprio suites down there with the luggage."

"You mean to tell me if we'd kept sailing, we would have fallen off the edge of the world?" Auriemma asked. "You don't think we would have gone all the way around and ended up back in Italy?"

Irving said his purpose in ever discussing the issue publicly was challenging "people to do their own research" rather than accept popular belief. To that end, in an earlier story, Bird related a friendly argument between Irving and Carmelo Anthony during the Olympics over why Anthony followed the conventional wisdom on shooting routines.

But Irving also didn't retreat from specifics of flat Earth skepticism, questioning the authenticity of photos from space and footprints left on the moon by American astronauts. It was at times an awkward discussion because of the convivial tone, but that also perhaps made Irving more willing to linger on the subject, unconvinced as Auriemma clearly remained by the argument.

'Whiplash' connection

You knew Rebecca Lobo would make an appearance in the podcast, even in absentia.

After noting that "Whiplash" was one of Irving's favorite movies, Bird got Auriemma to tell the story of Lobo instructing her former coach to watch it and that the maniacal teacher played by J.K. Simmons at the heart of the story reminded Lobo of him.

"Damn, you've got to be kidding me, this guy is an animal," Auriemma recalled thinking after researching the movie. "This is who I am?"

But he said he was so taken by the story of a student willing to give everything for a passion, the perfection of a craft as Irving put it, that he watched the movie a second time and then showed it to his team. It was a fascinating bit of self-reflection from a coach who doesn't just, as many dismissively suggest, get the best players but gives them the means to improve.

"I don't want you to pay attention to the guy who is the teacher and what he is doing," Auriemma recounted telling players. "Don't think that I'm showing you this because I'm a big fan and I'm going to be like this guy and you need to understand it. Just keep in mind what this kid is willing to go through to be the best in the world because that's his goal. That idea ... unless you're willing to leave your blood on the drums, then you know what, you haven't given enough yet.

"It really made a huge impression. It might be time to pull it out again."

Different recruiting games

Irving is almost a basketball generation removed from Bird, so their recruiting experiences were likely to be different for reasons beyond just gender. But the exchange detailing their paths to Duke and UConn, respectively, was telling nonetheless.

Without delving into the specifics of scandals like those surrounding Louisville and other high-profile men's programs at the moment, Auriemma asked Irving about the world of recruiting in the men's game and the perils that await for teenagers without a good support network.

"The stories are true," Irving said. "It really depends on how close knit you are with the people that are in your life, that are there to kind of filter out the BS and what's truthful. There are a lot of dreams sold, I'll tell you that. And just a lot of things that people do just because they want you to come there."

In the tamest of possible stories, Irving recounted Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski telling him at the top of the iconic Duke Chapel that he could become the first player to wear the No. 1 jersey.

Bird, on the other hand, said that while UConn was always her first choice from a list that included Stanford (whose acceptance letter Bird's mom pinned to the fridge) and Vanderbilt, doubt arose when she saw Auriemma continue to recruit and sign other point guards.

"I didn't get my number given to me on the top of the chapel," Bird joked, "But I pretty much got told, 'Do you want to come here or not? Make up your mind.'"

Stories from Rio de Janeiro

It would take time for anyone, even a voracious a talker as Auriemma, to find his voice in a new medium. The initial podcast was most compelling when it lapsed into conversation, the host able to give and take with Bird and Irving instead of worrying about steering the interviews.

In those moments, Bird and Auriemma could team up to tease Irving about his beard -- Bird joking that only without it did she realize he was still 25 years old -- or the players could give the coach a hard time about the necessity of morning shootarounds the days of games.

One of the most compelling of those stretches came when Auriemma essentially turned the questioning over to two players who got to know each other well when the U.S. men's and women's national teams spent time together during the Olympics. That led an audibly curious Bird asking Irving about how NBA players with branded shoes feel when they see opponents wearing them.

"I don't mind guys wearing the shoes if it's performance-based," Irving said. "But also it doesn't limit the fact that I try to kick they a-- for wearing the shoes. That doesn't change."

Moment of truth

As she prepares to try and earn a place on new Team USA coach Dawn Staley's roster for what would be a fifth Olympic cycle, Bird explained why the last Olympics in which she didn't partake was one of the defining moments of her career. Still a young player at UConn in 2000, she said she still didn't take her basketball future all that seriously. It was just a game to play in the moment. That changed only when Auriemma returned from a stint as an Olympic assistant and told her that if she wanted to be the next Team USA point guard, she had the ability.

A four-time gold medalist, two-time WNBA champion, the league's all-time assists leader and an icon of the Seattle sports scene, she hasn't looked back since that vision crystalized.

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