Jamelle Elliot back at UConn after falling in love with coaching again
When UConn women’s basketball assistant coach Jasmine Lister left the team on personal leave last season, Geno Auriemma didn’t have to look far to find an interim replacement. Jamelle Elliot, a former player and assistant for the Huskies, had taken a position as an associate athletic director at the school after being let go as the head coach at Cincinnati – a job she held for nine seasons.
At the time, Auriemma joked that Elliot avoided him immediately after Lister departed because she knew he’d ask her to help out as an assistant. Whether or not there's truth to that, it's all in the past as Elliot gladly accepted his offer once he tracked her down.
“I have a lot of dedication and when someone asked me to do something for a program that has done so much for me, I didn't even hesitate at the opportunity to come in and help in any way that I can towards the end of last season,” she said. “So that was my thought going in to at least come in and do what I can to help finish up the season.”
“Imagine if you put it out on the street, ‘Hey, UConn women’s basketball is looking for a full-time assistant’ and all of a sudden you get an application in the mail: ‘Yeah I was an assistant coach for 14 years, I won this many national championships, I won a national championship as a player, and I was a head coach for nine years, and I was an administrator.’ I think my administration would go, ‘Damn, we want you to take over for our coach,’” Auriemma told reporters in July.
“She’s a great teacher, she’s a great communicator, she’s a great recruiter, a lot of great things have happened to our program but this is right up there,” he added.
Despite her strong calling to return to the court, Elliot's decision to join Geno's staff wasn’t so cut and dried. She’d spent her entire career as a coach until returning to UConn in 2018 to head up the National C Club, a new athletic department initiative to provide UConn student-athletes with better networking and mentorship opportunities.
Elliot had enjoyed her new role as an administrator where she faced new professional challenges. But at the same time, her short stint with the team reignited her passion for coaching, which ultimately drew her back to the sidelines.
“I fell in love with being a coach again all over again, just to have the opportunity to be back on the floor,” Elliot said. “The reason why I decided to stay on is two things: To help in any way I can, to help our players be better players and people and also help Coach Auriemma and the rest of the staff in any way that I can.”
Auriemma, of course, couldn’t be more excited to have her back. He spoke about his “tremendous amount of respect for her” as both a person and as a basketball coach while highlighting Elliot’s vast experience in the program and as a head coach. However, all that only goes so far. What sets Elliot apart as a coach is the way she connects with players.
“The ability to interact with the players, that made [Jamelle] so integral to all the success that we had when she was here as a player and as a coach in her previous stint here,” Auriemma said. “That hasn't gone away. It's still there. The players on our team will probably all tell you that there's a way that she interacts with them that's just really unique and I love it.”
According to Christyn Williams, Elliot provides a contrasting style to Auriemma’s sharp tongue, which the team appreciates. Having another former player around helps, too.
“We love having Jamelle,” Williams said. “When Coach (Auriemma) is on us, she’s there to support us. She brings a lot of energy – energy that we need on and off the court. It’s cool because she played here like Shea, so she knows what we’re going through. She can relate. So I love that.”
And in the end, it’s the players that keep Elliot going.
“My favorite part of coaching is being on the floor, seeing a player’s development, being able to go through it with them and see the progress that they make,” she said. “I will definitely – without a doubt – say it's 100%, the joy for me is being back on the floor. Every opportunity I get, I love it.”
CLICK HERE for full clips of Jamelle, Geno, and players during the media session and check out these links to get up-to-speed on everything else happening with the Huskies!