Former UConn Husky Maria Conlon returns to her roots, coaching and leading – CT Insider

Posted: December 16, 2019 at 5:45 am

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FAIRFIELD Earlier this fall, Kwame Burwell was sitting in Starbucks when he was approached by a stranger. The man, bursting with curiosity, asked to take a photo, not of Burwell but of the person sitting next to Burwell.

Is that Maria Conlon? the man asked.

Yes, thats exactly who it was.

Obviously, everybody knows her from the Valley. Big name, big-time hero coming back to the community, giving back, Burwell, a local basketball coach, said Thursday. Ironically, shes doing it at Notre Dame, and she played for UConn.

Conlon, a former Seymour standout, is coaching again but not at that Notre Dame. Shes back at Notre Dame-Fairfield High School, this time as head coach of the girls basketball team. In many ways, its a natural transition for the ex-point guard, who played in four Final Fours and won three national titles at UConn from 2000-04.

Everybody always used to tell me that I would make a great coach, Conlon said Thursday before practice. I think that being a point guard your whole life, you see a lot of stuff on the floor because you have to. Youve got to know where everybodys supposed to be. For me, when I was in high school and college, I thought, All right, lets see whats going to make my teammates tick? How can I get them in the right position? Those natural tendencies usually follow really well with coaching.

Conlon was a graduate assistant on Geno Auriemmas staff at UConn in 2005 and spent a year as a full-time assistant at Division-II Southern Connecticut State. She couldve continued climbing the coaching ladder, but life got busy. And it still is, in fact.

However, Conlon, who has since started a family and opened her own business, is back doing what she loves at a place thats familiar. Conlon previously served as an assistant at ND-Fairfield in 2017 and 2018.

I have no interest in coaching at probably any other level than this. This is where I max that out, she said. I have two other companies that I own and an 8-year-old daughter, so it was more or less of, is this the right fit for me in terms of the athletic director and the school?

Conlon inherited a ready-to-win team. ND-Fairfield has four starters back, including one of the states best players in sophomore Aizhanique Mayo, who already has offers from UMass, Sacred Heart and St. Peters. Thats made the job easier, but no less stressful or time-consuming, of course.

Her day is long and structured. It begins before sunrise and ends well after sunset. She teaches classes at her gym, SWAGG CrossFit in Shelton, then goes to what she calls her big girl job, working as managing director of Maffe Financial Group. Once shes done with that, its on to coaching.

Its kind of funny because Im watching game film, Im putting together practice agendas, she said. Its constantly, what are we tweaking today? What worked? What didnt work? And we havent even had a game yet.

The Lancers tip off their season Tuesday at Mercy-Middletown.

Shes literally the energizer bunny, joked Burwell, who is one of her hand-picked assistants. Shes going, going, going, going, going.

Thats sort of how life was at UConn, where Conlon kept winning, winning, winning, winning, winning. There was immense pressure, having grown up in Derby, but Conlon, a smart and gritty player, made her home state proud. She started at point guard for the 2003 and 2004 national championship teams and was part of a 70-game win streak. In 2006, she was inducted into the Connecticut Womens Basketball Hall of Fame.

Conlon said that most of her players, some of whom werent even born when she was a Husky, are just learning about her background.

I think theyve probably looked her up at some point now if they hadnt already, ND-Fairfield athletic director Rob Bleggi said. If they didnt know then, they know now.

Around a month ago, Conlon took her players to UConn to watch practice. That gave her a chance to catch up with some familiar faces, including Auriemma, associate head coach Chris Dailey and assistant Shea Ralph. On Sunday, she was back at Gampel Pavilion to see UConn beat rival Notre Dame.

To her, it all seemed so familiar.

We still run the same plays. I went to practice, we still do all the same drills, Conlon said, laughing. Its funny because its like, if its not broke, why fix it? If I was him, I wouldnt change much either.

In some respects, Conlon plans to follow that same philosophy in her new gig. Shes going to coach, teach and educate, until she stops having fun.

And at that point, presumably, the so-called energizer bunny will find something else to do.

Im not moving out of Connecticut until my daughters at least 18. So youve got at least 10 good years, she told Bleggi. That would be the plan, minimum-wise. I think that, if its not fun parents are hard nowadays I dont know how some coaches do it. Kids are different than they were when I was growing up. It makes things a little more challenging at times.

When somethings not fun for you, its really hard to be a part of that. If Im not having fun coaching, then my players probably arent having fun either. I think, for me, fun doesnt equal, Oh, we won a state championship. Its like, are kids getting better on and off the court? Are we having fun at practice every day? Are we learning? For me, that stuff is fun.; @DougBonjour

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Former UConn Husky Maria Conlon returns to her roots, coaching and leading - CT Insider

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December 16th, 2019 at 5:45 am

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