Archive for Jim Calhoun

Sarah Tung / Hearst Newspapers

Sarah Tung / Hearst Newspapers

I received an email from a good friend last night with a simple challenge: without researching, name all the UConn basketball players you can who have been arrested.

How depressing it that?

Following senior Tyler Olander’s arrest on Saturday evening (his second, mind you), it seems appropriate to explore the sad history of criminal activity that has marred the proud history of UConn basketball.

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The Perps

Tyler Olander

The official charges filed against Olander are “operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol/drugs, operating (or towing) an unregistered motor vehicle and driving without a license,” via the Hartford Courant.

This follows a trespassing charge that Olander landed in March while on spring break in Florida. Charges have yet to be pressed for his murdering of the hip hop genre.

Enosch Wolf

Wolf was charged with third-degree burglary, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct following an on-campus dispute with a female co-ed in February. Prosecutors dropped all charges, but Wolf was stripped of his scholarship and will not return this season.

Jamal Coombs-McDaniel

A month after winning a National Championship in April of 2011, JCMcD was arrested on a weed possession charge in a dorm room. Coombs-McDaniel was not welcomed back to UConn and transferred to Hofstra where he again ran afoul of the law. This time for…oh, weed again. That’s some consistency UConn fans never saw from him.

Doug Wiggins

We’re taking some liberties with this list because it’s leading us to a grander point. After failing several drug tests while a player at UConn and getting into a little booze-based trouble with Jerome Dyson, Wiggins was booted from his new home at UMass following a 2008 arrest for breaking and entering. According to police, Wiggins was found inside the bathroom in someone else’s home. Alright.

Nate Miles

We’re also counting Miles on this list for the sake of full disclosure. Although he never played a game for UConn, he was technically a member of the program when he was arrested for violating a restraining order in 2008.

AJ Price & Marcus Williams

Laptop-gate 2005. The joke that never stopped being told and never started being funny. This story is fairly well-known at this point. The two guards were charged with taking laptops from other students’ dorm rooms, two of which belonged to UConn Women’s players. There’s some sort of symbolism here.

Antonio Kellogg

Remember him? Kellogg was popped for a weed charge in 2005. A month later, he upped the ante when he was charged with “attempting to assault a police officer, first-degree criminal trespass and interfering with an officer.

Mike Hayes

Immediately following the 2003 season, Mike Hayes was nabbed in a drug sting in Hartford. Hayes was busted selling a pound (a POUND) of weed to an undercover cop.

Ben Gordon

During the 2003 season, Ben Gordon (by far the biggest name on this list) was arrested for third-degree assault and disorderly conduct following an altercation where he allegedly slapped a young woman in a dorm room. The woman involved in the incident was also arrested (thanks to Peter for the update). Gordon played the very next game.

Rashad Anderson

Rashad Anderson’s crime should be expunged from the record, solely because it spawned a phenomenal nickname, “Slash.” Anderson was arrested during his first month on campus in 2002 (impressive) when he jumped out of the bushes by Hilltop with a Scream mask and a plastic knife, scaring some co-eds who were not ready to celebrate Halloween in late September.

Marcus Cox

Cox was arrested during the 2001 season after UConn campus police found weed in a car with Cox and his buddy Jack Wolfinger. Fun facts: Tony Robertson and Taliek Brown were also in the car. The owner of the car was renowned lunatic Ron Artest!

Khalid El-Amin

Two weeks after UConn would shock the world, their rotund point guard was arrested for, what else, weed. El-Amin was cruising around with Rip Hamilton when the Narcs pulled them over. The following season, while El-Amin was at the free throw line, the student section of Stanford passed a giant bed sheet rolled like a joint behind the backboard. Not sure if the distraction worked, but its creativity merited a mention.

Antric Klaiber – update

The enigmatic Klaiber was arrested in 1998 and charged with a DUI after crashing into a concrete median on I84.

Doug Wrenn

In 1998, recruit Doug Wrenn was arrested for attempting to steal a pair of shoes from Bob’s. Undeterred, Wrenn and UConn guard Tony Robertson were almost arrested again for “stealing” shoes in 2000. Stealing is a rough term, as the two were trading game tickets for Tims. Wrenn eventually did come to UConn, transferring after an uneventful freshman season. His life story became very depressing in 2009 when he was convicted on two counts of second-degree assault. Read this Seattle Times profile.

Eric Hayward

In 1997, big man Eric Hayward was arrested for an incident in a woman’s dorm room. Hayward’s legal troubles would follow him, as he was the defendant in a bizarre and sad sex abuse case in 2010.

Steve Emt – update

Steve Emt was a seldom used bench player for the Huskies who suffered a life-altering car crash in 1995 when he smashed his truck up on I84. Emt was arrested on drunken driving charges. This piece details his recovery.

Rudy Johnson – update

Johnson was arrested in 1994 after he got into a shouting match with a UConn women’s player. The incident escalated until it got physical, the cops were called and both were arrested.

Brian Fair – update

In 1993, sharp-shooting guard Brian Fair was arrested for stealing a $5 video splitter from Sears. Five bucks, homes?

Murray Williams – update

In 1990, Murray Williams was arrested for drunk driving during a dark period following the death of his father. This piece from the Courant archive is worth a read.

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Others

Clyde Vaughan

In 2004, assistant coach Clyde Vaughn was arrested following a prostitution sting in Hartford. The arrest forced Vaughn to resign. It would later be learned that Vaughn had two prior arrests, also for soliciting prostitutes.

Johnnie Selvie – update

In 2003, following his time with UConn, lunatic big man Johnnie Selvie was arrested for nearly running down a cop at Celleron.

Jerome Dyson – update

Getting into semantics here, Dyson was never technically arrested, although he was cited for possession of alcohol by minor with his pal Doug Wiggins. Both players got hit with a suspension, although weed was also found in the car they were in. It was also reported that Dyson had failed two drug tests.

Tate George

Hitter of The Shot, Tate Made-Off (are we still doing that?) with $2M in other people’s money during a 2011 Ponzi scheme. Considering the arrest happened nearly two decades after George’s UConn career, it would be foolish to draw any parallels.

Richard Ashmeade

Similar to George, Ashmeade was arrested long after his UConn tenure was complete. Ashmeade, who played only two seasons in Storrs before transferring in 1992, was arrested in 2010 in Phoenix on a DUI charge.

Toraino Walker – update

Walker quit the UConn basketball team in 1992. By the late nineties, he was serving a bid in Florida for a host of charges including selling cocaine.

Earl Kelley

Talk about stories that would garner a lot more attention now. In 1985 (a year before Jim Calhoun would arrive at UConn), Kelley and a cohort were arrested for threatening a few co-eds before forcing one of them into a van that Kelley then drove off. Charges were filed after the hostage (appropriate term?) escaped and contacted police. Yikes.

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Takeaway

Seeing the sad history of UConn’s criminal exploits laid out is depressing and more than a little disheartening. Most of these infractions occurred during the lengthy tenure of Jim Calhoun, but as we’ve seen, clean-cut head coach Kevin Ollie is not immune to these events happening on his watch either.

UConn has produced incredible ambassadors for the game and the university. Ray Allen’s charitable deeds rival those made by any of his peers. Emeka Okafor was a brilliant scholar, as well as the greatest big man in team history. Recently, Kemba Walker graduated in three years while redeeming the reputation of a program about to be ravaged by NCAA sanctions.

Still, a trend exists, and it is troubling. Some of the arrests above seem to be explained away by saying simply: college kids smoke weed. Surprise! It’s a bit unrealistic to think the temptations that exist for many co-eds don’t apply to basketball players. They should be held to a higher standard. They have so much on the line, and so much more to protect — personally and on behalf of the university. But it is very hard to drill that message into 18 and 19 year old kids. God help us if we were all to be judged on the mistakes of our youth.

The important question is: how do you correct this? Are these kids failing the university, or vice versa? Where does the accountability begin and where does it end? I don’t know the answers. But it is imperative that Ollie and athletic director Warde Manuel figure it out, and soon. The longer this list grows, the harder it will be to detangle UConn basketball’s extraordinary success with its sordid criminal past.

 

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If I’ve missed anybody, or you discover any factual errors, please leave a comment or share with @ADimeBack on twitter, and we will correct as soon as possible.

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Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Last night, Alex Oriakhi was selected by the Phoenix Suns in the second round of the NBA Draft — officially ending the collegiate career of one of the most polarizing players in UConn history.

Oriakhi started 39 games his sophomore season — including 11 straight victories culminating in UConn’s third National Championship. Playing alongside Kemba Walker, Oriakhi was the team’s second-best player — its best during the title game against Butler, where Oriakhi dominated with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks. It was an incredible high point, both for Oriakhi and the university.

The honeymoon didn’t last long. During the offseason, Oriakhi’s best friend and high school teammate Jamal Coombs-McDaniel was all but booted from the team following a marijuana arrest. When the season started, Oriakhi saw his minutes and production sacrificed to accommodate star recruit Andre Drummond — culminating in Oriakhi losing his spot in the starting lineup, which he deemed “sum bs [sic, obviously],” in a twitter conversation with Coombs-McDaniel.

Oriakhi never adjusted to his diminished role. He couldn’t coexist with Drummond in the paint, or with the shot-happy backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb. His minutes dropped. His production dropped. His attitude soured. And he quit.

With UConn facing a tournament ban, and the relationship with coach Jim Calhoun irreparably frayed, Oriakhi announced his intentions to transfer to Missouri for his senior year. The transfer itself would have been enough to enrage UConn fans — really an unprecedented situation in modern UConn history — but it was when Oriakhi’s father got involved that things got really ugly.

In a comment on the Hartford Courant web site, Alex Oriakhi Sr. blamed the coaching staff for his son’s struggles. The remarks followed a disheartening pattern where both Jr. and Sr. seemed completely unwilling to accept any fault in the situation. Poor play? Coach’s fault. Bad attitude? Coach’s fault. Disappointing record? Coach’s fault.

All of the above set off a fire in UConn fans that already permanently reside on the tipping point. There is a deep-seeded little brother complex engrained in UConn fans that stems from the days of playing second-fiddle to the Georgetowns  and St. John’s of the eighties. The “us against the world” mentality — really born by Jim Calhoun himself — has helped push the program into national prominence, but has also created an atmosphere where the competition rarely ends.

With that said, it’s time to let it go. Oriakhi was 21 years old when he decided to leave UConn. Did he handle it poorly? Yes. Did it hurt they way he torched the bridge on his way out of Storrs? Yes. Is his father an insufferable fool who hurt his son by handling things so unprofessionally? Definitely, yes.

But did Oriakhi make a wrong decision by leaving UConn for Missouri? Probably not. This may be hard to hear, but Alex Oriakhi did not owe UConn anything. He arrived, he played, he won and he left. There is one more banner in the rafters of Gampel Pavilion because Alex Oriakhi played at UConn. From a professional standpoint (and let’s be honest, college basketball is as much a profession as anything else), it was in Oriakhi’s best interest to get out of Storrs.

Shabazz Napier was a stark example of how low the spotlight shines on a lame duck basketball team. Napier’s play during the lost season was inspired, brilliant and heroic. Yet, nobody saw it happen. NBA scouts routinely had Napier slotted for the late second round (ironically right around Oriakhi). Almost anyone who watched Napier play knew the rankings were overly pessimistic, forcing Napier to make the easy decision of returning to Storrs where he could build his brand, hopefully leading to better prospects after his senior year.

Essentially, that is what Oriakhi did. By leaving UConn for Missouri, Oriakhi guaranteed himself an audience for his play. That opportunity would not have been available at UConn — a seemingly ridiculous scenario that was born out of very unique circumstances. Also, unlike his fellow transfer-mates Roscoe Smith and Michael Bradley, Oriakhi was free to play immediately for Missouri. He slid right into their starting lineup and played a key role as they made the NCAA Tournament. Although his play was decidedly mediocre, from a business standpoint, it’s easy to argue that Oriakhi made the right career choice by leaving UConn.

It’s time to let it go. We live in an age where college basketball is a business. While the fans run full of school pride — bleed blue, if you will — the unpaid collegiate athletes that provide free labor for the universities have a responsibility to themselves and their families more so than the programs that profit from their skills. It is hypocritical to hold Alex Oriakhi in eternal fault for treating UConn as a disposable career opportunity when that’s essentially how UConn (and most high-level college programs) treat disappointing players like Oriakhi’s pal Coombs-McDaniel.

In a perfect world, Oriakhi stays in Storrs. He averages a double-double for new coach Kevin Ollie and leaves UConn remembered more like his predecessor Jeff Adrien than the pariah he is today. But college basketball is far from perfect and so are 21 year old kids. I think we can all agree we’d rather not be permanently judged by the actions of our 21 year old selves.

With that said, it’s time to wish Alex Oriakhi luck and congratulate him on being drafted — an accomplishment itself that most high school prospects never know. UConn is better off for him having played there. As they say, flags fly forever.

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Stephen Dunn | Hartford Courant

Stephen Dunn | Hartford Courant

Through a statement released by UConn, long-time Assistant Coach George Blaney announced his plans to retire from coaching to spend more time with his family on Thursday.

Blaney’s coaching career spans five decades, but to UConn fans, he will forever be remembered as the calming hand on the shoulder of Jim Calhoun for most of the past twelve seasons. His stoic behavior on the sidelines was at constant odds with the often-frenetic nature of his Hall of Fame boss.

After Calhoun’s retirement a year ago, Blaney stayed on board to provide experience and guidance to a young head coach in Kevin Ollie and the other, young assistants he served with.

Blaney was too often forced into the role of head coach during his UConn career. When Calhoun battled his various ailments – and the occasional suspension – Blaney took the reins with varying levels of success. His ultra-calm demeanor didn’t seem to lend itself to the modern game; despite the success he had as head coach of Holy Cross for 22 years, as well a three-season stint at Seton Hall.

Those fleeting moments at the helm for UConn are an unfair assessment of Blaney’s contribution to the university. Blaney’s job was to recruit, mentor and provide stability – all of which he did with aplomb and supreme grace.

Blaney will head into retirement wearing two National Championship rings. May he wear them in health.

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Read the full statement from UConn here.

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UConn's Shabazz Napier shoots over Providence. Photo by Tyler Wilkinson, adimeback.com

Tyler Wilkinson | A Dime Back

Overtime. It couldn’t have happened any other way. In a season where UConn has felt robbed of playing the extra games that historically signify success and failure, they’ve found ways to pull every possible minute from the ones they had until the clock finally ran out. Saturday’s victory over Providence (17-13, 9-9) was the last game UConn will ever play as a member of the Big East conference and a fitting end to a season of transcendent basketball that saw teamwork and character trump talent.

The first good omen happened in warm-ups when a hobbled Shabazz Napier emerged from the tunnel and took his place in the layup line. Although an injured foot slowed him, his presence on the court signaled the importance of the game for the Huskies.

Napier said once he got it in his head that he would play, there was no turning back. “I told myself I’m going to play as hard as I can and do whatever it takes,” he said.

That momentum carried UConn in the first half. Napier sank his first two shots and sophomore DeAndre Daniels picked up where he left off, scoring 12 first half points and leading the Huskies to the locker room with a 32-26 lead. Napier’s return also freed fellow guard Ryan Boatright, who looked in control and efficient playing with another ball handler on the court.

Unfortunately for UConn, when they returned for the second half, Providence was ready. The Friars abused a porous Husky defense for quick points. UConn’s offense looked sluggish. The players looked tired. The lead disappeared three minutes after the half had begun.

Although it looked like the game could get away from the Huskies, they rallied to keep it an up-and-down affair until the final minutes. Boatright ignited the offense with penetration as Phil Nolan and senior guard RJ Evans played laudable defense and fought for rebounds.

The result of their second half effort was an extra five minutes – their school-record seventh overtime game of the season. In the extra period, Shabazz Napier got UConn started with a jumper. Boatright followed with two free throws. UConn did not trail for the rest of the game.

As the final buzzer sounded on their improbable season, head coach Kevin Ollie stood at mid-court, surrounded by his players, and said thank you to the fans that embraced this team. It was a fitting final show of togetherness for a squad that never stopped playing for one another.

“I’m sad that it’s over but I’m happy for this team,” said Ollie. “This team is something special because they never quit.”

This team will hold a special place in the hearts of fans for many years. “We just wanted to make everybody proud,” said DeAndre Daniels.

“We had so many distractions this year,” said Napier. “We had a lot of excuses. But no one gave up.”

Notes:

  • Much of the post-game talk centered on the future of Shabazz Napier. He will consult with his family, coach Ollie and former coach Jim Calhoun about his standing with NBA executives before deciding if he will return to UConn for his senior season or declare for the NBA Draft. “I know a lot of GMs,” said Ollie. “I’m going to give him feedback. We’re going to support him as a person either way.”
  • Asked what Ollie’s opinion may be, Napier joked, “I would think coach wants me to stay.”
  • The promise of a talented and competitive team next season, free from NCAA sanctions, was on the minds of several players including Napier. “You can’t wait to see next year, to see how talented we’re going to be,” he said.
  • DeAndre Daniels added, “If everybody comes back, we have a chance to be a really good team.”
  • Much of that potential rests with Daniels himself, as he has transformed into a star. He finished Saturday’s victory with 19 points and 8 rebounds – narrowly missing what would have been his third double-double in his last 4 games.
  • RJ Evans was emotional after the game, succumbing to tears during the ceremony. Ollie and Napier were quick to praise Evans for the leadership role he played on this team. “Although he was only here for one year, he’s part of our family for life,” said Ollie.
  • Athletics Director Warde Manuel announced after the game that UConn will break ground on the new basketball facility on April 16th.
  • Next November, the next chapter in UConn history will begin. For now, we’ll give the final word of this one to coach Kevin Ollie, “The pride, the tradition, the dominance is still going to be there. The journey isn’t over, it’s just beginning.”

 

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A sad end for the Big East.

Early this morning, news broke that the ACC had voted to accept Louisville into the conference – leaving UConn standing as the game of realignment musical chairs seemingly comes to an end.

The ACC appeared to be UConn’s last legitimate chance to continue their basketball legacy and advance their football program. By losing out to Louisville, UConn is left in a dying conference with little light at the end of the tunnel.

The bastardization and subsequent demise of the Big East is depressing. Once the greatest basketball conference in the world is now losing its last four league champions (Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse twice). Already weakened on the football side by the departure of West Virginia and the 2003 exodus of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, commissioner Mike Aresco has spanned the country desperately pulling in geographical anomalies like Boise St., Tulane and East Carolina. San Diego St. joining the Big “East” conference marking the most ridiculous of the additions. It’s sad, but UConn needed to leave.

Losing out to Louisville is, to put it bluntly, a failure. By all measures, UConn had the better case. They controlled a larger media market. They had the basketball legacy that fit with the makeup of the ACC. Their academics were miles ahead of their hillbilly conference-mates to the south. In the end, it appears to have come down to two things: lobbying and football.

In his last, great failure as Athletics Director, Jeff Hathaway hired former Syracuse football coach Paul Pasqualoni. There was backlash at the time that Hathaway hadn’t run the hire past key boosters, namely Robert Burton – whose name now adorns UConn’s new football practice facility. Following the departure of Randy Edsall, UConn needed a big move to keep growing their blossoming football program. In the two years since Edsall’s departure, Hathaway has been replaced and Pasqualoni has failed to land a single significant recruit in leading the Huskies to a middling 10-13 record thus far. Louisville’s football program has not been demonstrably better than UConn’s in the last half decade, but UConn hasn’t shown that it has a plan for bettering their product and filling the beautiful new stadium in East Hartford that is sucking money from taxpayers and the university with every game it doesn’t sell out.

There is a lot of blame to go around and no one can be sure where it properly lies. Sources out of the ACC are saying the Louisville’s lobbying efforts were so tenacious and effective that the minds of the member schools were swayed. Does that mean UConn Athletics Director Warde Manuel and school President Susan Herbst did not lobby enough? Was the uncertainty born from Edsall’s cowardly departure and the ensuing missteps of the Pasqualoni experiment enough to convince the ACC that UConn football would never be competitively or economically viable? Did Jim Calhoun’s basketball program let academics slide so far that the NCAA sanctions leveled upon now-Kevin Ollie’s basketball team create instability and doubt in the university’s proudest asset?

The answer is undoubtedly some mix of all of the above – and, at present, completely irrelevant. The ACC was UConn’s best hope at escaping the disaster of NCAA realignment relatively unscathed, but some flicker of optimism remains. If Maryland wins the lawsuit absolving responsibility to pay the $50M exit fee demanded by the ACC, perhaps Florida St. follows them out the door and heads for the SEC. Maybe the Big 10 adds to their new additions of Maryland and Rutgers, finding a space for UConn and equally-screwed Cincinnati.

What is certain is that, if this was UConn’s final chance to jump ship to a stronger conference, they blew it. In the fractured, remnants of the Big East, UConn stands as a once-proud beacon of glory that will never come back.

 

 

 

 

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Nov
01

Expectations for a Lost Season

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Kevin Ollie

Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Tonight marks the beginning of what will surely be one of the oddest seasons in UConn’s history. As the Huskies take the floor tonight against American International , they will do so knowing that there is no championship to compete for. There is no conference to win.

There is only tonight – this one game. And then the next. As a fan, this is a difficult reality to accept. There have been teams that have disappointed, missing the NCAA Tournament and left to flounder in the NIT. There have been teams that overachieved, leading to respectable seasons that understandably fell short of championships. In recent memory, there has never been a team with no hope of either.

Yet, there’s something about this team. These players that chose UConn when there were so many easy ways out. A coach with everything to prove and everything to lose. Fans who have spent the offseason reading article after article deriding their favorite team as cheaters, academically embarrassing under the eyes of their Hall of Fame watchdog. This is a team, an organization, a university, and a state with something to prove.

Head Coach Kevin Ollie has stated it very simply. No one will work harder than this team. It’s difficult to hear Ollie speak and expect anything less. This team will run faster than you. This team will defend you for 40 minutes. This team will fight you for every rebound. This team can be beaten, but they won’t make it easy for you.

As fans, that is enough. Disappointment can last a season but the work ethic and mantras of personal and team responsibility preached by Ollie should ensure UConn regains its place with college basketball’s elite. As fans, we listen to Ollie speak and feel comforted that the hallmarks of Jim Calhoun’s program have not retired. His work was not in vain and his legacy may last through another generation of UConn basketball through his tutelage of Ollie.

As the Huskies take the floor tonight, they will do so with a chip on their shoulder an eager fan base in their corner. Time to go to work.

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Categories : Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie
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Sep
13

A Testament to Hard Work

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(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

“Hilton, get that mother***ker!”

“Which mother***ker, coach?”

Ed Daigneault of the Republican-American shared that Jim Calhoun memory last night. An exchange between the Hall of Fame coach and center Hilton Armstrong during some game long-lost in the ether of UConn basketball. One game of the hundreds that Jim Calhoun oversaw at UConn, and one game he wanted to win just as bad as the others.

Calhoun officially retired Thursday afternoon, ending a brilliant career that wrought three national championships, four Final Four appearances, seven Big East tournament titles and a Hall of Fame induction. Calhoun won victories over 873 opponents, cancerous tumors and a state ready for heroes.

Statistics help define Calhoun’s career but not the man himself. In the wake of his retirement, several national writers have seized the opportunity to call Calhoun a cantankerous ogre. A tyrant who didn’t respect a recorder with a major media corporation’s name on it. Some have called him a cheater – a claim that exceeds ignorance and sways into stupidity. Yet simultaneously the people who knew him best – his players, the Connecticut media horde, his rivals – have spoken of his need for victory, his undying support for his players, his charitable deeds and his love for his family. The true Calhoun is surely somewhere in the middle. Short-tempered but forgiving. Humble yet protective. Surly but giving. Through it all however, no one dares question his work ethic.

When the dust settles, that will be the Jim Calhoun trait that carries through generations. Players like Hilton Armstrong will tell their children and grandchildren how playing for Calhoun helped them understand the importance of effort and determination. UConn fans will tell their children and grandchildren about Hilton Armstrong and how hard work and trust in his coaches transformed him from skinny bench-warmer to 1st round NBA draft pick.

As Jim Calhoun bids farewell to coaching, another student of his will step in. Kevin Ollie shares a similar story to Armstrong and understands the responsibilities that come with wearing “Connecticut” across your chest. Hopefully his road to success will be easier than Calhoun’s but odds are it won’t. Ollie wouldn’t want it to be. And neither would Jim Calhoun.

AP Photo/Jessica Hill

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Categories : Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie
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Sep
12

Saying Farewell to a Legend

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Source: Unknown

In 1986, Jim Calhoun was named Head Coach of the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team. At his introductory press conference, Calhoun was asked if it was possible to turn the perennial-cellar-dwelling Huskies into a national powerhouse. His response, “it’s doable.”

Calhoun will officially retire tomorrow having led UConn to three National Championships and heights no one (besides possibly Calhoun himself) could have imagined. Farewell, Coach. Thanks for everything.

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Mar
27

The Case for UConn

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"I thought F was the good one, Coach." | (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The statewide panic over UConn’s APR and subsequent potential NCAA Tournament ban is coming to a head. According to ESPN’s Andy Katz, the NCAA’s Committee on Academic Performance will announce UConn’s fate in the next week or so.

The industry consensus seems to be that the hammer is going to be dropped on UConn. The uncooperative ogre that is Jim Calhoun let his team flounder in the classroom and now the NCAA is going to make an example out of him, imposing the harshest of penalties for the first time on a major conference school.

But should they?

The NCAA is an oddly moralistic bunch. They have no problem presuming the guilt of 18-year-old kids, despite reaping monetary benefits when they return to the court. They extol the virtues of the student athlete in deference to “one-and-done” players, despite putting them on the cover of NCAA licensed video games the following year. They punish students and universities, but rarely coaches in any meaningful fashion.

It’s easy to look at the recent history of NCAA decisions, including one against UConn, and read the writing on the wall, but consider the effects of a tournament ban:

Who is Getting Punished?

Let’s take a run down the list. Susan Herbst, University President for a whopping 10 months, would be left leading an academically disgraced university despite ardent efforts to emphasize the importance of academics for student athletes. Included in that effort is the hiring of new Athletics Director Warde Manuel, another historically strong advocate for academic achievement off the court. Manuel would be immediately put at a disadvantage in terms of fundraising for the new practice facility, and university-wide, as the perception of UConn is tarnished.

Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond would almost certainly flee Storrs for the millions of the NBA. Without a championship to play for, it would be hard to fault them. Recently, NCAA president Mark Emmert told the Kansas City Star that he dislikes the “one-and-done” rule for college freshman because it sullies the true meaning of student-athlete. Explain that to Drummond, whose grades are high enough to stay on the court and keep UConn’s APR rating in good favor, but who would be severely punished by the failures of players long gone.

Junior forward Alex Oriakhi has already announced his intentions to leave UConn this offseason and transfer to a school that is tournament-eligible. Granted, there are other factors that surely led to that decision (like his maniacal father, perhaps) but the fact remains; the players are scared for their future as it pertains to UConn.

Thus begins the downward spiral. If players leave, fan interest wanes. Talk about overt cruelty, punishing ticket holders because Jerome Dyson slept through Linguistics. When fan interest wanes, revenues fall. When there’s less money coming in, there’s less money for that new practice facility, hindering recruiting.

There is also the very real possibility that Jim Calhoun retires. UConn would be left as a lame duck school in a dying conference, devoid of talent, with a first-year coach trying to recruit players into a hemorrhaging program. If that scenario unfolds, not one person – on the court or off – would have been at UConn when the original academic infractions occurred. That is both cruel and indicative of the backwards nature in which the NCAA operates.

People are right to assume that a tournament ban could have significant and lasting impacts for UConn basketball. But the NCAA would be wrong to let that happen

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Mar
20

Tired Coach or Tired Narrative?

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It’s that time of year again. The weather warms up and sportswriters dust off their tired templates begging for Jim Calhoun to retire the way regular people beg 90-year-old grandma not to get behind the wheel for a 20mph jaunt to the pharmacy.

It’s an infatuation that has existed for a number of seasons now, with the voices growing louder after unsuccessful years such as this one. The reasons tend to vary but usually fall into one of two categories: the program is better off without him or he’s too sickly and he must leave to protect him from himself.

The first argument is probably true considering UConn hasn’t won a National Championship in…wait, really?…12 months? OK, nevermind then. It truly is an exercise in delusion to imagine another coach having the sustained success that Jim Calhoun has enjoyed in Storrs. Ignore for a second the three titles, the 800 wins, the Hall of Fame induction and the assorted other accolades that accompany decades of excellence and think about this; Jim Calhoun’s best players have been pulled from Baltimore, New York, Texas, Philadelphia. Calhoun has absconded with players from the shadows of bigger schools near bigger cities and planted them in the pastures of rural Connecticut. Will Chris Mack, Shaka Smart, or another mid-major flavor of the week be able to accomplish that?

Health is a different issue. Calhoun has missed games for several years now due to illness and his various ailments are a concern to fans and followers alike. Here’s where it gets tricky though. The people pleading for Calhoun’s removal are not doctors. There is no diagnosis that says “one more game will kill you.” A quick glimpse at web MD doesn’t return a search for “terminal coaching syndrome.” It stands to reason that if his health was such a severe issue, doctors would not have let him return to the court this season following spinal surgery, and his health-conscious family might intervene as well.

Of course, these reasons are simply the ones given in print. It doesn’t take a detective to see there’s more to the story. Calhoun is a jerk. He’s mean and combative. He’s fiercely protective of his players, sheltering them from ambitious journalists searching for a story. He’s so revered in the state that a negative story about him often paints the writer in a worse light than the subject. For a journalist, it must be incredibly difficult to cover Calhoun.

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When the dust settles on this season and UConn surrenders the title of reigning National Champion, Calhoun will eventually make his intentions known. Perhaps he will retire; walking into the sunset before the NCAA drops the hammer on the program he built. Maybe he names Kevin Ollie as his successor, guides him through a season with no tournament reward waiting at the end. Maybe he coaches for another decade. We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know this. That decision rests with one man, Jim Calhoun, not writers with obvious agendas and column inches to fill.

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