LONDON - If you ask, Geno Auriemma, coach of the U.S. women's basketball team, will tell you about arriving in America at the age of 8, unable to speak English.
If you don't ask, he'll tell you anyway.
Having been one, Auriemma loves underdogs. He just doesn't want to coach them.
"I like coaching the best team with the best players," he said. "Then if we lose, it will be my fault. I don't have a problem with that. Being the underdog means no one expects you to win. I'd rather win. It's like playing cards. You don't want to win on the seventh hand because you got lucky. I want to have four aces right off the bat."
The hand he holds in London would get him thrown out of any respectable poker game. With the London Olympics officially beginning Friday night with the Opening Ceremony, the U.S. women, featuring three Minnesota Lynx stars, might be the most dominant team in any major Olympic sport.
"They have the potential," Auriemma said, "to be one of the best Olympic teams ever.''
The U.S. women have won four consecutive Olympic gold medals, the longest streak ever for a women's team in a traditional sport, and 33 games in a row in the Olympics. They have won by an average of 29 points since starting their Olympics winning streak in 1996. Their first test in London comes Saturday against Croatia.
When the team gathered for a news conference Thursday in London, the names DiMaggio and Wooden were mentioned almost as often as Taurasi and Catchings.
"Even John Wooden, back in the day, he wanted excellence in play, and he knew wins would follow,'' said Lynx forward Maya Moore. "That's our goal, and it's a beautiful thing to watch."
Moore mentioned Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach. Auriemma mentioned Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, noting that the US women's basketball winning streak, far from being an individual achievement, has required contributions from dozens of people spanning decades, including, this year, the three Lynx players.
Moore and Lynx teammate Lindsay Whalen are two of the five Olympic rookies on the 2012 team. Seimone Augustus will play in her second Olympics.
It is a measure of the team's dominance that two of the three Lynx players come off the bench. Augustus was the most valuable player in the WNBA finals, and she is starting at forward. Moore was the league's rookie of the year. Whalen received consideration for the regular-season MVP award.
"On this team, you just want to bring the energy, whatever your role is," Augustus said. "If you play on the bench squad, the goon squad, that's what you do. It's a pretty good goon squad."
Auriemma is the famed coach at the University of Connecticut. He still talks about emigrating from Italy when he was 8, of his mother making his clothes, of carrying sausage and peppers to school for lunch and using playground basketball to gain favor among peers who didn't speak his language.
At Connecticut, he built a dynasty with players like Moore and Diana Taurasi. He says when he walks into his mother's house, he sees a life-size poster of Taurasi, and only a small picture of himself, and Taurasi remains Auriemma's on-court proxy.
Auriemma and Taurasi speak of not only winning, but winning with a beautiful, fluid style remindful of the Spanish national soccer team. Whalen, Moore and Augustus play that way for a living.
"Lindsay and I played against each other in the Final Four in 2004, and we were drafted together, so our careers have mirrored one another," Taurasi said. "The people who have known her for a long time know how great she is.
"Same for 'Mone. We started playing against each other when we were in the fourth grade. We've seen each other grow through many ups and downs, from her making the team in Beijing to being left off the last world team. She really wanted this and she worked for it.
"Maya, her career speaks for itself. She doesn't lose, man. She doesn't lose."
She's not likely to in London, either.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org