Husky History No. 20: Jennifer Rizzotti 

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Hello all, and welcome back to Husky History, a column focusing on one accomplished UConn athlete per week. Each article details the athlete’s accolades at Connecticut, as well as their ability to take their games to the professional level. This week’s Husky History focuses on women’s basketball legend Jennifer Rizzotti. 

Born in 1974, Rizzotti grew up in New Fairfield, Connecticut, quickly picking up the game of basketball. Playing point guard for New Fairfield High, the budding star won state championships in her junior and senior years with the Rebels before catching the eye of UConn head coach Geno Auriemma. She arrived in Storrs in the fall of 1992, ready to make a big splash in a program that recently made their first Final Four appearance, but was still seeking their first National Championship. 

Rizzotti certainly made her mark right away with this team already on the rise, stepping in and earning Big East Rookie of the Year Honors, logging over 1,000 minutes over the course of the season and adding 12.3 points per game. Despite her and the team’s best efforts, the Huskies would fall short of a Big East title and lose early in the NCAA Tournament that year. 

In the 1994 season, UConn would enjoy one of the best seasons they’ve ever had, with Rizzotti running point the whole way. The Huskies won 30 games, at the time the highest win total in program history, running through the Big East Tournament and first few rounds of NCAAs before being halted by soon-to-be champions North Carolina in the Elite Eight.  

The women’s basketball program changed completely the next year, with the Huskies capping off an undefeated season with their first-ever National Championship. Alongside other legends such as Rebecca Lobo, Kara Wolters, Carla Berube and Nykesha Sales, Rizzotti helped her team to a 70-64 victory over powerhouse Tennessee. The New Fairfield product was integral to the team’s success, making the go-ahead basket with under two minutes to play. She made the cover of Sports Illustrated, an edition she still receives in the mail from fans looking for a signature. 

“We believed we were going to be really, really good, and we wanted to take the next step, which was a Final Four, and we definitely had that expectation. But I don’t know if we ever thought we would accomplish what we did,” Rizzotti told  

The point guard and the rest of her teammates turned into celebrities overnight, notching the first of what would become a record 11 National Championships. 

“I’m 5 foot 5, so maybe if I went over to the mall, I could hide under a hat, but if I’m walking around anywhere with 6-8 Kara Wolters or 6-4 Rebecca Lobo, we were seen and asked for autographs and it was crazy in the state of Connecticut,” Rizzotti explained. “It was unlike anything we had ever experienced, and we did feel like mini-celebrities.” 

Despite coming up short of back-to-back aspirations in her senior season, the Huskies made another Final Four, and Rizzotti cemented her legacy as an all-time great. By the time she left, she had accumulated 1,540 points, 637 assists and 459 rebounds. There were plenty of accolades: Big East Player of the Year, All-American (twice) and NCAA All-Tournament Team. In her final campaign, she was also named the 1996 AP Player of the Year. 

Alongside Sales and Wolters, Rizzotti joined Team USA for the Jones Cup in 1996, leading her country to a gold medal. 

After graduating from UConn with a degree in biology, the star decided to take her talents to the next level, playing for the New England Blizzard of the now-dissolved American Basketball League. Rizzotti was drafted by the Houston Comets in the 1999 WNBA Draft, where she flashed her championship DNA, winning two league titles in as many years. After a stint with the Cleveland Rockers ended in 2003, Rizzotti said goodbye to basketball for good – playing the game, that is. 

The former Husky had already taken up a similar career within the sport, having taken a job as the head coach of Hartford women’s basketball back in 1999 alongside her WNBA gig. As she told, Rizzotti saw a rare opportunity she couldn’t pass up. 

“It wasn’t really something that players of my generation really thought of as a career path back in the 1990s,” Rizzotti said. “I think as I was driving away from the interview I thought how I might never get that kind of opportunity again, I was 25, I had no coaching experience, and I was getting offered an opportunity to run my own program.” 

Over 17 seasons at Hartford, Rizzotti never took that opportunity for granted. She led the Hawks to four conference championships and six NCAA Tournament appearances, earning America East Coach of the Year three times along the way. She got herself national coaching jobs as well, heading up a few different Team USA squads. Rizzotti left the Hawks in 2016 to take over the reins at George Washington in a tougher Atlantic 10 Conference, but parted ways with the program in 2021. 

Years after her playing days, Rizzotti received a call telling her that she would be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013, a nod that was a long time coming.  

“I’m thrilled to be going into the Hall of Fame where my former coach and mentor Geno Auriemma is and where my best friend Rebecca Lobo is,” Rizzotti said in 2013. “I think it speaks a lot about what our team back in 1995 was able to accomplish, and what all my hard work and dedication lived up to.” 

Today, Rizzotti is the president of the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA, now finding herself in the front office of a league she helped build out of its infancy as a player. 

“I am proud to have won two championships as a player in the WNBA and will work tirelessly to help bring a championship to the Sun franchise,” Rizzotti said in a team statement.  

She sure has gone to work quickly, as the Sun made the WNBA Finals in 2022, falling to the Las Vegas Aces 1-3. While Connecticut is still looking for their first league title, Rizzotti is determined to get them there. 

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