File photograph of University of Connecticut Huskies head coach Jim Calhoun standing with his team as practice for the NCAA men's Final Four basketball championship

Gathering some of the many reactions to Jim Calhoun’s retirement on the internet

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One of the most interesting aspects of a sports figure’s retirement are the reactions of fans and media alike. With Jim Calhoun ending a coaching career that’s spanned four decades, there’s no shortage of opinions in regards to a run that resulted in 873 victories and three national titles.

But what makes the reactions to Calhoun’s career so interesting are the different views provided by national writers and members of “The Horde”, the famed group of beat writers that followed the Connecticut program’s every step. Below are a sampling of the various commentaries on Calhoun’s career.

Dana O’Neil (ESPN): “Calhoun can be combative, prickly and at times downright difficult to like. He ambles on his aching hip into the locker room of retirement with his share of detractors and critics. Frankly, not everyone will be sorry to see him go. But whether you liked him or loathed him, you had to respect him.

“I personally enjoyed the crusty New Englander. He was blunt, often to his own detriment, and his news conference filibusters gave more than one stenographer carpal tunnel syndrome. But you always knew where you stood with him and you always knew where he stood. And usually he stood his ground, defiantly.”

Mike DeCourcy (Sporting News): “Calhoun always insisted 3 o’clock on winter afternoons would feel so empty if he weren’t on the court at Gampel Pavilion—not far from longtime assistant George Blaney, who was clinging to the same obsession—and sarcastically goading his players into elevating their level of play. That is what Calhoun did better than anyone, ever: Coaching ‘em up.

“The other legends recruited prospects acknowledged to be transcendent talents and turned them into champions, which surely is no mean feat. Those guys had to find players who filled the roles around Lew Alcindor and Isiah Thomas and Christian Laettner and James Worthy. They had to call the right plays, manage the egos, throw a tantrum when it seemed most prudent and build the team’s collective belief.”

Jeff Goodman (CBS Sports): “Sure, he’s a guy who has taken shots as his career wound into its twilight. There were the NCAA sanctions — which included Calhoun being suspended for a trio of league games — due to the program’s involvement with former manager-turned-agent Josh Nochimson. There was the postseason ban this season.

“But Calhoun will ultimately be remembered for taking a program that was irrelevant and turning it into a national powerhouse. There were three national titles — in 1999, 2004 and 2011. It became a factory, churning out NBA players and victories, with the one constant over the past 26 seasons being Calhoun.”

Les Carpenter (Yahoo! Sports): “Back when he first transformed UConn from Big East joke into conference contender he seemed to be a man with integrity. He might have yelled too much at his players or screamed irrationally at referees. He often had the look of a haunted madman desperate to do anything to win a game. But he was also a teacher, a leader, someone who appeared to care about his players enough to send many of them into the world with college degrees.

“Then something happened in the lust for championships. He changed. People talked about it. Newspapers launched investigations following leads about a coach and a program that maybe weren’t so clean anymore. The investigations came up dry but the rumors continued to swirl. The coach who despised the instant winners and talked of his disgust for the titles they bought, was starting to follow that very path.”

Gary Parrish (CBS Sports): “And it’s why it would be wrong to spend this space waxing poetically only about how Calhoun made college basketball relevant in New England, about how he built a program out of nothing in the middle of nowhere, about how he signed and developed Rip, Emeka, Kemba and dozens of other NBA Draft picks, the last being Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb.

“That’s some of story, and that portion of the story is really impressive. It’s why Calhoun is in the Hall of Fame, and deservedly so. But the other part of the story is about a bully who apparently didn’t demand the same type of excellence in the classroom from his players that he demanded on the court, about a stubborn man who walked away only when his body failed him yet again, about a rule-breaker who left a program on probation, banned from the NCAA tournament and without the kind of talent necessary to compete in the Big East.”

Alexander Wolff (Sports Illustrated): “But insecurity looks better when you consider the alternative, which can morph easily into complacency. And there was no room for complacency at UConn, a school with no tradition of Final Fours until Calhoun arrived in 1986. His first NCAA title team, in 1999, went 11-0 on the road that season, in what was the perfect tribute to its coach’s personality. “When I walked in his sneakers, we dreamed of the postseason and being the best in New England,” one of Calhoun’s predecessors, Dee Rowe, told me this week.

“Maybe, once, do what Holy Cross did in 1947 [when the Crusaders brought the region its first NCAA title]. Jim dared to pursue excellence. He dared to dream. What he’s done is simply miraculous, because he did it in Storrs, Connecticut, where you … don’t have restaurants or movie theaters or clothing stores, not like Lexington or Chapel Hill. No one had ever done it before, and no one will ever do it again.”

Jeff Jacobs (Hartford Courant): “Watching Calhoun break through to his first Final Four by beating Gonzaga in Phoenix in 1999 and then watching him break in tears afterward was one of the most amazing and moving days in UConn history. It was the only time I’ve ever seen Calhoun cry. It was the day UConn went big time. And it wasn’t nearly the end.

“Calhoun kept bashing away at anything in his way, opponents, cancer, reporters, athletic directors, until, by sheer force of will, the worst loser in the world bent destiny his way. He didn’t settle for one national championship. He would take UConn to two and then three titles, lift him among the pantheon of the greatest coaching names.”

Chris Elsberry (Connecticut Post): “Maybe that’s one of the reasons that Calhoun, who turned 70 in May and is the grandfather of six, decided to put down the clipboard for good. What’s the difference between three or four NCAA titles? What’s the difference between 870 and 890 wins? What’s another Big East championship on the resume? When you’ve done as much and won as much as Calhoun had won, it can only be desire that keeps you going. That desire must have finally started to fade.

“Because he could have stayed. His contract still has two seasons left to run on it. Apparently, however, in the aftermath of a disappointing first-round loss to Iowa State in the NCAA tournament; a three-game suspension by the NCAA for his actions (or lack thereof) in the Nate Miles recruiting affair; his players’ poor academics that led to a 2013 postseason ban; the transfers of Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith; the loss of Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond to the NBA draft; his absence of eight games with yet another medical issue, spinal stenosis; and, lastly, surgery on a fractured hip after a fall off his bicycle in early August, Calhoun must have felt enough was enough.”

Bob Moseley (Connecticut Post): “Maybe Calhoun thought he could reform a kid with questionable character. He lost on [Phil] Dixon but triumphed with Caron Butler, an at-risk youth from Racine, Wisc., who turned his life around. There have been many other success stories, and also some embarrassments along the way.

“But the good far outweighs the bad with Calhoun. His coaching has brought millions of dollars to UConn, elevated the school’s national profile, and lured thousands of prospective students to Storrs. He’s also been a staunch supporter of charities, including the Jim and Pat Calhoun Cardiology Research Endowment Fund. All things considered, he’s been a state treasure.”

Chip Malafronte (New Haven Register): “His legacy is firm. Complicated, perhaps, given his combative nature and recent controversies. But Calhoun is a Hall of Famer. A coaching legend. Seven Big East tournament titles, four Final Fours and three national titles. He is to UConn what John Wooden is to UCLA, Dean Smith to North Carolina and Mike Krzyzewski to Duke. He leaves with the program on probation, unable to compete in this season’s NCAA tournament. It doesn’t help that the Huskies suffered major personnel losses in the offseason.”

Neill Ostrout (Journal Inquirer): “Calhoun’s three national titles put him in some elite company. Only John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp and Bob Knight have won as many in Division I basketball history. That’s odd to consider when one looks at the program Calhoun took over from Dom Perno in 1986. The Huskies were a regional power but rarely contended nationally.”That began to change with the surprising NIT title Calhoun and the Huskies claimed in 1988. And it shifted seismically with the 1989-90 Dream Season, a breakthrough campaign that saw the Huskies win a legendary NCAA Tournament game when Tate George hit “The Shot” and come within a Christian Laettner jump shot of making the Final Four. Although capable UConn teams fell short of the making the Final Four again in 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1998, the 1999 team of Richard Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin and company “Shocked the World” with a win over Duke in the title game to give Calhoun and UConn their first national championship.”

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim (as told to Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard): “I think it’s one of the great coaching jobs of all-time,’’ Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said Thursday morning. “I think the biggest thing for me is when you take over at a Kentucky or Kansas or North Carolina or Duke, it’s still a hard job but you’ve got so many assets and so much tradition. If you do a great job there, it’s great. But if you take over a program like Connecticut, which was still coming out of the Yankee Conference, and do what he’s done. It’s pretty remarkable.’’

Lastly, while this isn’t a thought college basketball now has a new piece of art to consider. Kentucky had its Anthony Davis portrait made with cereal, and UConn can claim a statue of Jim Calhoun made out of Legos

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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)
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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)
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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)
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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

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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)
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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.