From all over the world, they follow the streak on the Internet and commiserate through text messages or
's basketball team attempts to win its 89th consecutive game tonight, the program's alumni will be hanging on every shot. And for those who contributed to the winning streak, there's a vested interest in
's quest to pass the revered 88-game streak of the
"Yes, I still think I am a part of it,"
said in an e-mail from Russia, where she is playing professionally. "I think every former player feels they are a part of it because of the value and ownership they tried to have for four years at UConn. Once you are a Husky, you are always a Husky, and there's no changing that — the relationship you have with Coach [
], and what you got out of the program. There are still times I reflect back and watch them play now and get goose bumps, just watching and knowing what it's like to be a part of such a great thing, such history."
Charles was an integral part of the first 78 victories in the streak, graduating to a professional career with the
of the WNBA after the Huskies won their second consecutive title last year. She was there when the streak began with a season-opening victory over Georgia Tech on Nov. 16, 2008 and was a catalyst over the next two seasons.
And she admits she thought about the streak during her senior year.
"I thought about how I could be a part of history," Charles said. "Coach would say during my senior year that other teams are playing to win, but we would play to win and to make history."
Auriemma has been at UConn since 1985, so there are multiple generations for former Huskies brimming with pride as their alma mater makes history. The recent alums, though, are perhaps more immersed in the pursuit.
Former UConn forward Cassie Kerns, a member of the 2008-09 team, is living in downtown Indianapolis and few of her current acquaintances know about her basketball past. But when the subject of the streak arises, Kerns can't help but tell people she was there when it all began a few years ago.
"I do feel like I'm a part of it," Kerns said. "I love it when people comment on the games, and I'm like, 'Yeah, I was part of that streak.' People can't believe it. So, yeah, I think I'm still part of it. I kind of helped set the foundation."
In Israel, former guard Renee Montgomery is an active UConn supporter on Twitter. Montgomery, who is playing professionally overseas after her first season with the Sun, was a starter on the 2008-09 team that started the streak. But she does feel somewhat removed from it.
"It's hard to explain," Montgomery said in an e-mail. "I know that I was a part of the streak, but now I feel like I'm observing history and not necessarily a part of it. I cheer them on as if I am still a part of the team, which is also a reason I made the shirts [that read], 'Records are meant to Broken.' "
Mel Thomas, who graduated in 2008 and was not part of the streak, is in her first year as director of basketball operations at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. As Thomas enters the world of coaching, she is often asked the secret to UConn's success.
She attributes the consistently high level of performance to the talent, yes, but also to the structure imposed by Auriemma and associate head coach
"When you've won that many games and you're the target, everybody wants to be the team that beats you," Thomas said. "You have the bull's-eye on your back. ... There's so much tradition and so much discipline in the program, you learn to be focused every day."
When the streak began, UConn was coming off a loss to
in the 2008 national semifinals. Kerns said the loss was an eye-opener for the Huskies, who returned the next season with hunger to win a title.
"We all decided to just grind down and do it for ourselves," Kerns said. "We were all on the same page."
The theme of the season, Montgomery said, was "Natty or Bust." Natty, for the uninitiated, is slang for national championship.
"I think that explains it all," Montgomery said.
The season opened with Georgia Tech visiting
, as UConn honored the 1995
championship team at halftime. It was 34-34 at halftime before UConn marched to an 82-71 win.
"I remember that we played terrible that game, and a lot of UConn alums were there watching the game because they were getting honored," Montgomery said. "I was embarrassed, and winning the game didn't make me feel any better about how we played."
Charles said the presence of the '95 team helped remind her of her goals at UConn.
"I individually remember telling myself that I had to be a part of a team that got presented with such an honor, and [I] only had two more years to make that happen," Charles said.
So the win over Georgia Tech wound up being a springboard to history. UConn won every game and the 2009 NCAA title and did the same last season.
Montgomery, Charles and Kerns all say they sensed the team was unbeatable throughout the first season of the streak as the momentum built.
"I knew the team was special every day by the way we got through every challenge Coach threw at us in practice," Charles said. "He was always raising the bar for us to overcome, so that the games would be easy, which the majority of them were."
Last season, players heard media chatter about the UCLA streak. Charles, though, said the streak was never discussed among the players and the coaching staff never let up — even as UConn was winning one blowout after another.
"I understand why [Auriemma has] been very hesitant to talk about the streak as it's building," said
, the former UConn All-America guard who graduated in 2002. "It's a young team [five freshmen] and you know as well as I do that he always does things for a reason. There is always a plan. I think he's been intentionally underplaying it for the benefit of the freshmen, just so they don't get all caught up in the pressure of it."
When the Huskies tip-toed past Baylor for a one-point victory last month, the constellation of alums celebrated electronically while breathing a collective sigh of relief.
"We were watching the Baylor game and I was talking to four of my former teammates, calling and hanging up and calling," Thomas said. "We were freaking out the whole game. I just think it's the tradition ... when you become part of that program, you stay connected. It's a family and you always remain part of it."
Now they turn their attention to tonight, when the Huskies approach history.
"It doesn't surprise me," Thomas said. "Nothing about the program surprises me."