Jim Calhoun

UConn will never reach Calhoun’s level of success, and that’s OK

4 Comments

On Wednesday afternoon, I was chatting with a friend of mine that happens to be a UConn fan about the future of the Big East with Notre Dame basketball headed to the ACC.

He asked me, semi-jokingly, “When does UConn get labeled a mid-major again?”

My response? “When Jim Calhoun finally retires.”

Well … that just happened.

And it puts the future of the UConn program in serious doubt.

Think about it like this: before Calhoun got to UConn, they were nothing. Literally. When Calhoun took over in 1986, UConn was coming off of a 9-19 season and had made just one NCAA tournament since joining the Big East in 1979. Within four years, he had led UConn to a Big East regular season title, a Big East Tournament title, and a trip to the Elite Eight. Since then, he’s led the Huskies to three national titles, a fourth Final Four, and spent more than two decades as an annual favorite to win one of the strongest basketball conferences in the country while churning out NBA players at a better rate than just about any program in the country.

Jim Calhoun, quite frankly, IS UConn basketball.

But he’s not exactly leaving the program in pristine condition.

The Huskies are coming off one of their most disappointing seasons ever, as they went from a team with top five talent to a below .500 record in Big East play and a first round exit in the NCAA tournament. That’s when the defections started, as two players — Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond — headed straight for the NBA while two more — Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith — transferred out of the program. To make matters worse, UConn is ineligible for the postseason this year as a result of APR penalties stemming from a pair of disastrous recruiting classes a couple years back. And since Calhoun has managed to piss off just about everyone outside of the state of Connecticut at some point in his career — the latest being his ability to work around scholarship restrictions to get Drummond into school last season — the NCAA opted against any kind of leniency in this case.

To make matters worse, UConn is stuck in a conference that no one wants to be a part of anymore, joining forces with some of the best of Conference USA and the Atlantic 10 to try and keep the Big East afloat in name only. You don’t think the Huskies wanted a seat at the ACC’s table?

So the question now becomes: does UConn have staying power?

Has Calhoun done enough to build UConn into a national program, or were the Huskies simply successful because of his coaching acumen and ability to amass and develop talent?

In other words, is UConn truly one of the best basketball programs in the country, or were they simply successful as a result of having a college basketball legend at the helm for a quarter-century?

It will be a couple of years before we get an answer, but the early results are, dare I say, promising? Despite the issues with players transferring and their postseason ban, UConn was still able to bring in a solid recruiting class, headlined by NYC native Omar Calhoun. And even with the uncertainty surrounding Jim Calhoun’s future at the school, the Huskies were able to earn commitments from a pair of top 100 recruits in Kenton Facey and Terrence Samuel. And those two aren’t the only UConn targets that are fans of newly-minted head coach Kevin Ollie.

The future isn’t going to be easy for the Huskies.

But it’s also fair to say that the future wouldn’t be easy with Jim Calhoun at the helm. And it wouldn’t be easy for anyone else tasked with replacing the most popular man in the state of Connecticut.

UConn will never reach the heights that they did under Calhoun, and it’s unfair to expect anyone to live up to those lofty standards. Three national titles and four Final Fours in 12 years? In Storrs, CT?

Instead of worrying about whether or not the future of the program will hold the same success as the past, UConn fans should focus on the fact that they got to experience a run of success that few in sports ever do.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
Jon Lopez/Nike
Leave a comment

Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images
3 Comments

Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
Leave a comment

Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

Leave a comment

Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Leave a comment

Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.