Published April 08. 2013 4:00AM Updated April 08. 2013 5:08AM
Even the most ardent skeptics can't avoid the following truth: UConn has emerged as Broadway for women's basketball. Sinatra's reincarnation would surely croon that if they can make it here, they can make it anywhere.
And yet making it here, aside from conquering certain social, academic and hardwood expectations, calls for one more requirement: a suit of armor if you're not armed with a sense of humor.
It's a tough and funny crowd in the UConn traveling party. And nobody else, with the notable exception of Geno Auriemma, is funnier than Stefanie Dolson.
Seriously. The kid is a hoot. A personality, demeanor and joie de vivre that fits her twitter handle @bigmommastef (that's "big momma stef" for the technologically challenged).
"We're recruiting kids today who are all about social media and tweeting with people they don't know," associate head coach Chris Dailey said Saturday outside the locker room at New Orleans Arena, site of Sunday's national semifinals.
"It's not always easy for kids to converse when you get them on the phone. Stefanie had a flip phone until January when it was her birthday," Dailey said, alluding to a cell phone that's quite pedestrian by comparison to today's gadgetry. "She's very well grounded. A great personality that lights up a room. She's the personality of our team."
Dolson is a budding media star, answering questions with corresponding facial expressions and voice intonations that match her wit. When NBC Connecticut's Dianna Russini asked Dolson about her expectations for New Orleans last week, Dolson shot back, "wait til you see my dress."
Dolson unloaded a few four-letter words after collapsing to the deck in the regionals last week, fearing her aching legs and feet might have finally endured the big one. She grinned when asked about it later and in a high pitched voice, said, "awkward."
She sings along to music in the arena. She sang the words on Senior Day to "My Wish" from Rascal Flatts, a song that accompanied the seniors to midcourt. She loves it. She gets it. Her personality is the foundation of this team, giving everyone else around comfort.
"She reminds me of Renee Montgomery. I don't know that Renee ever had a bad day," Dailey said. "Every day she was smiling, happy. If she was sick, she wasn't sick. People are drawn to that. Stefanie is different than kids her age.
"I can speak for Geno, Marisa (assistant Marisa Moseley) and Shea (assistant Shea Ralph)," Dailey said. "When you get on the phone with a kid and you can go back and forth with them and they get your jokes and you tease them, you feel like they fit. That's how the relationship starts."
Just ask Rebecca Lobo, who has made it big on ESPN. Her considerable wit began well before her time at Connecticut. And yet her college experience helped cultivate a deeper, stronger sense of humor.
"People who have a certain sense of humor gravitate towards coach Auriemma and CD (Dailey) in the recruiting process," Lobo said. "He got me and understood my sense of humor. He said things that made me laugh. Their whole staff has such good senses of humor in different ways. Kids want to go there because they want to play for people like that."
Funny people drift here. It's uncanny: Lobo. Kara Wolters. Tamika Williams. Ralph. Svetlana Abrosimova. Sue Bird. Diana Taurasi. Kalana Greene.
Nothing will ever top the day at an NCAA Tournament that Taurasi had the entire gallery roaring for several minutes. Earlier that day, then-Missouri coach Cindy Stein mentioned that Auriemma was "sooooo good looking."
A writer later asked Taurasi, on the podium, cameras running, if she came to UConn because of Auriemma's good looks.
"Nah," she deadpanned. "I came for the athletic director."
UConn athletic director Lew Perkins, seated in the back of the room, turned redder than a Nebraska football uniform.
And here is a compliment for Dolson: She's approaching Diana territory.
"One of the major reasons I came here is because they all have a sense of humor and can laugh about things," Dolson said. "Marisa and I especially. CD, Coach and Shea are all more sarcastic. I kind of bond with all of them."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.