WASHINGTON -- Jennifer Rizzotti was there for the start of Connecticut's women's basketball dynasty, and now she hopes to bring some of that experience to George Washington.
Rizzotti was named GW's coach Friday after 17 seasons at Hartford. As a player, she led UConn to its first national title in 1995 and was the player of the year in 1996 when the Huskies first became a dominant force.
"These kids, they understand UConn basketball," Rizzotti said in a phone interview Friday. "They see it now as relevant in their life. So for them to know that I was a part of that and that I'm looking to build something that's similar just in terms of setting an example for the kind of people I bring to the program, the kind of character that they have and how they represent themselves on the floor."
The 41-year-old said she wants to take the Colonials "to new heights" after the team won the Atlantic 10 title and made the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons under Jonathan Tsipis, who left for Wisconsin.
Rizzotti turned Hartford into an America East powerhouse, going 305-181 and making the NCAAs six times, and the bar is even higher at GW.
"I do want this team to believe that they can advance in the NCAA Tournament, not just be in it," said Rizzotti, who set the goal of being a perennial Sweet 16 contender with the opportunity to do more.
Rizzotti called GW a perfect fit for her professionally and personally because she was ready to take the next step in her career. She has coached for USA Basketball and is on the staff for the U.S. women's team leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
"Jen was born to lead people, to set an example for others and to raise young people from who they are to who they want to be," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. "She did that as a player here at UConn, she has done it as a coach at the University of Hartford. She has done it at every level of USA Basketball and she will do it at George Washington University. Jen Rizzotti doesn't know how to do anything else but lead."
No program can stack up to UConn's with its 11 national titles. But Rizzotti intends to use her role in the Huskies' success to build a foundation and raise expectations at GW.
"I think any coach in the country (is) crazy to not try to live up to the standard that UConn has created," Rizzotti said. "It seems like an impossible one, but you have to remember that it started somewhere."