FAIRFIELD - The itch is still there, even though over a decade has passed since the local girl made so very, very good on the biggest stage that college women’s basketball can offer.
Maria Conlon steered the ship that was the Connecticut women’s basketball team, starting at point guard two straight seasons in 2003 and 2004, driving the Huskies to back-to-back NCAA championships. When you throw in the other NCAA crown that Conlon earned in 2002 when Sue Bird led the way, it makes three national championships and four consecutive Final Fours for Conlon, the guard with the gritty game that hailed from nearly Seymour.
After UConn, Conlon gave the WNBA a shot, just missing out making both the Los Angeles Sparks and the Connecticut Sun. She also did a little bit of coaching, working as a graduate assistant for Geno Auriemma and then as an assistant to Southern Connecticut coach Joe Frager, helping the Owls capture the Division II title in 2007.
Since then, however, basketball has been mostly in the rear view mirror. Conlon is currently the managing director at Barnum Financial and when she’s not working, she’s the mother to her five-year old daughter Layla and wife to husband Carmine.
But the love of the game never left and along with work and parenthood, Conlon has gotten back into the coaching world, working as a part-time assistant girls’ basketball coach with her former Seymour High School coach Eric DeMarco at Notre Dame-Fairfield.
“I’ve always kind of wanted to get back in the swing of things, I’ve had a lot of transitions at work over the last couple of years, a lot of change, had my daughter, didn’t have a lot of spare time, still don’t have a lot of spare time but I missed being around the sport,” Conlon said. “And Eric gave me a great opportunity to be a part of the coaching staff and not necessarily have to be here every day, so it’s not a seven day a week commitment but I’m trying to be here as much as possible and I’m here a lot but my other career comes first and he’s respectful of that and that makes it easy to be a part of it.”
“We had a position to fill,” DeMarco said. “I’m sure that people had asked her a lot of times before but the situations, work circumstances, didn’t allow her until now. It’s just a part-time job. It’s not much but she adds a lot.”
Especially in showing how determination and toughness can drive a player to succeed. At Seymour, Conlon once recorded a quadruple double - 22 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists and 10 steals - and posted state records for 3-pointers made in one season, most 3-pointers made in a single game, most career 3-pointers and most points, assists and steals in high school. But she was small, not overly athletic and not overly fast. Still, she received a scholarship from Auriemma to UConn.
“She brings a completely different perspective of competitive basketball and what competitive basketball means,” DeMarco said. “As the year goes on, we do post-perimeter work and when we’ve done that, she’s taken the guards and she’s a resource there for the kids to go seeks out if they choose to and kids can talk to her at varying levels. It’s nice to have a two-time NCAA championship starting guard as someone the kids can go talk to.”
“I’m giving them tidbits here and there,” Conlon said. “Giving them my knowledge of how I see the game, about playing hard and reading screens differently, things I see that they might not see. I’ve been able to practice with them a bunch of times. That’s helps. As the season grows, hopefully, I’ll play a bigger part in helping the guards grow and the team grow.”
Of course, watching the game from a coach’s perspective brings a different view - along with a different mentality.
“Sometimes, it’s funny because I hear myself saying something that I picked up from (Geno) or from Joe or from Eric in the past and I’m kind of combining them all into one,” Conlon said. “I’m just hoping that I can bring the players a level of confidence and enthusiasm to the game.”
For now, Conlon is making it all - job, family, coach - work. What does the future hold for a possible bigger future in coaching?
“I always thought I would eventually coach at some level below college because college is far too time consuming to have a full-time career and all that,” she said. “