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women’s basketball Jamelle Elliott happy to back home

February 15, 2019

STORRS — Jamelle Elliott is back home, back in this tiny pocket of Connecticut that fancies itself as the College Basketball Capital of the World.

“It’s great to be back. This is and will always be home for me,” Elliott said. “I came here to Storrs when I was 18-years old, wet behind the ears as a freshman coming from the inner city of Washington, D.C. I owe a lot to this place.”

No longer constrained by the ever-growing demands of coaching, Elliott, 44, appears upbeat and enthusiastic. There’s a sense of renewal in her voice as she discusses her new role within UConn’s athletic department.

“People don’t know, when I graduated here in 1996, I went on to get my master’s in sports management because I wanted to be on track to become an AD,” she said from inside the Werth Center. “I had that in my mind, that was my goal.”

It just so happened that Elliott — who played on UConn’s first national championship team in 1994-95 — followed a different path. She would eventually jump into coaching, first as an assistant at UConn under Geno Auriemma (1997-2009) and later as the head coach at Cincinnati (2009-18).

Though her time at Cincinnati ended much earlier than she — and Auriemma, for that matter — expected, Elliott doesn’t harbor any resentment toward the school. Elliott (113-162 over nine seasons at Cincinnati) has now shifted her focus to a new initiative: enhancing networking and mentorship opportunities for current and former student-athletes at UConn.

“Everything’s not going to go the way you planned. There’s a big joke, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.’ I had planned to be the coach at Cincinnati, but things happened,” she said. “The result of it is I’m coming back home and being able to have an opportunity to impact in a different way.”

At the time, Auriemma ripped the decision on Twitter, calling it “positively disgraceful” and advising anyone interested in the job to “do their homework.” Elliott appreciated Auriemma’s impassioned defense, but has since moved on to the next phase of her life.

“No feelings. No feelings,” she said. “We’re adults here. Your feelings don’t matter. It’s about how you move on, how you learn from it, how you grow from it. You just become better because of it.”

Elliott chose to pass up pursuing other coaching opportunities in college and the WNBA. Occasionally, she’ll pop her head into one of Auriemma’s practices, but her main focus is on all sports, not just women’s basketball.

“I think she enjoys being around the game,” Auriemma said following UConn’s 109-74 victory over Temple last Saturday. “It doesn’t appear she has any interest in coaching again. I haven’t heard that. … But I think she’s enjoying being part of UConn basketball again. She really missed it. She misses the excitement of it. I’m trying to give her some.”

Auriemma wouldn’t mind having Elliott, a former 1,000 point scorer and rebounder, around more. He knows that Elliott, having been both a player and a coach, sees the game differently. Yet he understands why she’s chosen to pursue a different path.

“Not one time I have heard, ‘I want to go back into coaching.’ Most coaches that get out, they’re happy they’re out,” he said.

With the newly formed National C Club, Elliott is tasked with reconnecting past and present students through a database similar to LinkedIn, only this one’s UConn-centric.

“Whether it was five years ago or 25 years ago or 35 years ago, no matter when you graduated, we still want them to be a part and connected to UConn,” Elliott said. “It’s no secret that a lot of our graduates don’t settle in Storrs, Conn., so my job is to bring Storrs, Conn., to all of our alumni through this great platform.”

What’s in store for Elliott’s future? Well, she’s not exactly sure. Right now, she’s content with being back home.

“I’m not going to think too far ahead,” she said. “I try to live in the moment. Right now, there’s an outstanding list of things that I want to do and accomplish with the National C Club and engage with our alumni.”

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour