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

Leave a comment

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.

Player of the Week: Tayler Persons, Ball State

Robert Franklin/AP Photo
Leave a comment

In a week where Jy Bowman put 30 on Duke, Tra Holder had 29 in Phog Allen Fieldhouse and Mikal Bridges popped off for 28 in Madison Square Garden, the Player of the Week this week was shockingly easy to pick.

Tayler Persons, Ball State.

And I know what you’re saying. “Who?”

That was my reaction, too, when I found out that Persons was the man that hit the game-winning 25-footer to give the Cardinals a victory at No. 9 Notre Dame on Tuesday. When he hit another game-winner against Valpo on Saturday, I knew who he was.

And when I realized that, in those two games, Ball State’s leading scorer had averaged 23.5 points, 5. boards and 4.0 assists in those two wins, it made sense.

If you’re going to hit the game-winning shot in the two biggest wins of the season for your team, chances are that you’re a pretty good player.

I do have some advice for young Tayler, however.

He left 1.5 seconds on the clock at Notre Dame and 3.3 seconds on the clock against Valpo. Next time, make the shot at the buzzer. It’s cooler that way, and you’ll probably get on Sportscenter.

THE ALL-‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM

  • KY BOWMAN, Boston College: Bowman damn near had a triple-double on Saturday, finishing with 30 points, 10 boards and nine assists to lead Boston College to a 89-84 upset win over No. 1 Duke. His partner in crime, Jerome Robinson, was pretty good as well. He finished with 25 points, including a pair of massive threes in the final five minutes of the game.
  • MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova: Bridges has been having a terrific season, but he finally had his moment on Tuesday in the Jimmy V Classic. Bridges went for 28 points and six boards, including an emphatic dunk, as the Wildcats knocked off No. 12 Gonzaga is fairly uneventful fashion.
  • TERANCE MANN, Florida State: Mann has been Florida State’s best player this season, and he was certainly their best player on Monday, when the Seminoles went into the O-Dome and knocked off their rival, Florida, by 17 points. Mann went for 25 points in that one.
  • TRA HOLDER, Arizona State: Holder had 29 points and seven assists as the Sun Devils went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and knocked off No. 2 Kansas, 95-85, and you can make the argument that it wasn’t one of his two-best performances of the season. That’s pretty good.
  • LANDRY SHAMET, Wichita State: After going for 21 points and eight assists to lead the Shockers past South Dakota State on Tuesday night, Shamet had a career-high 30 points to help Gregg Marshall’s club come from behind to beat Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Team of the Week: Arizona State Sun Devils

David Becker/Getty Images
1 Comment

Arizona State had themselves a week, didn’t they?

It was impressive enough before they went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Sunday after. They had already beaten St. John’s in the Staples Center for the opener of the Hall Of Fame Classic. With a blowout win over Xavier and wins over San Diego State and Kansas State already on their résumé, the Sun Devils were playing with house money on Sunday.

No one would blame them if they took a loss in the Phog. All but ten teams that have played their while Bill Self has been the head coach have taken a loss. You don’t just walk into Lawrence, Kansas, and expect to leave with a win.

But … they did win.

And suddenly, there is a totally different vibe around this Arizona State program.

They’re going to be ranked in the top five on Monday. They’re going to be receiving first-place votes in both top 25 polls. They’re going to be looked at as the best team out west, the favorite to win the Pac-12, the best program in Arizona. Hell, you’ll probably start hearing people say that Bobby Hurley is the answer to the ‘who replaces Coach K?’ question.

That’s when you know you’ve got something rolling.

When people like me start talking about your next job.

Personally, I’m far more interested in seeing if Arizona State can keep this thing going. They are 154th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and while they are the second-best team in the country at getting to the foul line, their bet performances have all come when they shot the grip off the ball.

But as of now, that doesn’t really matter.

Arizona State is the most fun team in the country and totally deserving of whether they end up being ranked.

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles did something on Saturday that no one else has been able to do this season: They outplayed Duke for 35 minutes and then managed to avoid choking the game away down the stretch as Marvin Bagley III took over. Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson were nothing short of sensational.
  • ARIZONA: The Wildcats are back. They picked up a pair of impressive wins this week, knocking off Alabama at home on Saturday night after landing a marquee win over No. 7 Texas A&M in Phoenix on Tuesday night. Throw in the win at UNLV last weekend, and Sean Miller’s club has officially turned this thing around.
  • MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE: The Blue Raiders won at Vanderbilt and beat Ole Miss at home this week, meaning that Kermit Davis is now 5-0 against the SEC over the course of the last two-plus seasons.
  • TCU: The Horned Frogs moved to 10-0 on the season this week by landing their two best wins to date. They knocked off SMU at home on Tuesday night before going into LA late on Friday evening to beat No. 22 Nevada.
  • LOYOLA-CHICAGO: The MVC should be on the lookout for the Ramblers after they went into the O-Dome and landed a win over No. 5 Florida.

College Basketball Power Rankings: After a wild week, let’s start this thing over

Abbie Parr/Getty Images
1 Comment

This has been an unbelievably weird season to date, which feels about par for the course for college basketball in the era of the FBI investigation.

Arizona fell off a cliff in the Bahamas before returning stateside and reeling off four straight wins, three of which came at UNLV, on a neutral against Texas A&M and at home against Alabama. Duke lost at Boston College after playing like they deserved to lose four or five times already this season. Florida lost to Florida State and Loyola-Chicago. Kansas lost to Washington and Arizona State, who actually has a shot of being ranked as the No. 1 team in college basketball on Monday.

Seriously.

But wait.

There’s more.

Notre Dame lost to Ball State. Minnesota got blown out at Nebraska and Arkansas. Purdue lost to Western Kentucky. I could go on but you get the point. Nothing makes sense anymore. My best guess is that we’re all watching basketball in the upside-down.

I’m starting anew. Instead of trying to figure out who goes up because they beat Team A who beat Team B after Team B upset Team C who lost by 30 to Team D. I’m just going to rank who I think are the 25 best teams in the country in order.

So bear with me as I try to figure out just what to make of college basketball in the year of our lord, 2017.

1. Villanova, 10-0 (Last Week: No. 4)
2. Michigan State, 9-1 (2)
3. Miami, 8-0 (7)
4. Wichita State, 8-1 (8)
5. Duke, 10-1 (1)
6. Arizona, 7-3 (22)
7. Arizona State, 9-0 (18)
8. Texas A&M, 8-1 (6)
9. Xavier, 9-1 (10)
10. West Virginia, 9-1 (17)
11. Seton Hall, 8-1 (15)
12. North Carolina, 9-1 (19)
13. Kansas, 7-2 (3)
14. Gonzaga, 8-2 (9)
15. Notre Dame, 8-2 (11)
16. Purdue, 10-2 (20)
17. Kentucky, 7-1 (14)
18. Virginia, 8-1 (16)
19. Oklahoma, 7-1 (NR)
20. Tennessee, 7-1 (NR)
21. Florida State, 9-0 (NR)
22. Florida, 6-3 (5)
23. Cincinnati, 7-2 (13)
24. Texas Tech, 7-1 (20)
25. TCU, 10-0 (21)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 19 Oklahoma, No. 20 Tennessee, No. 21 Florida State

DROPPED OUT: 12. Minnesota, 23. Texas, 24. Baylor, 25. Creighton

No. 16 Arizona State hands No. 2 Kansas second-straight loss

Kyle Rivas/Getty Images
Leave a comment

No. 16 Arizona State got a combined 72 points, 14 assists and nine steals from their three-headed monster of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans and Remy Martin as the Sun Devils went into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and handed Kansas their second-straight loss, 95-85. ASU went on an 18-0 second half run to turn a 52-47 deficit into an 65-52 lead they would never relinquish.

It’s the first time since Dec. 2013, when Kansas lost to Colorado and Florida in back-to-back road games, that the No. 2-ranked Jayhawks lost two in a row. The difference, of course, is that neither of these losses came on the road; Kansas was beaten by Washington in Kansas City on Wednesday.

Arizona State now owns wins at Kansas and over St. John’s and No. 14 Xavier on a neutral floor. They were, without a doubt, the favorite to win the Pac-12 title at this point. They are probably the best team on the west coast, and there is a valid argument to rank them as the No. 1 team in the country.

Here are four things to take away from this result:

1. YES, WE CAN RANK ARIZONA STATE NO. 1 IN THE COUNTRY

I probably won’t be the guy to do that, not when Villanova and Michigan State still exist, but there is more than enough reason to do so.

Namely: their wins.

Is there a program in the country that has put together a better trio of wins than at Kansas, Xavier on a neutral and St. John’s on a neutral? The Sun Devils also own wins over San Diego State and Kansas State, and perhaps the most impressive part of it is that each of those wins, with the exception of Kansas State, came by double-digits. They put up 102 points on Xavier despite trailing by 15 in the first half. They put up 95 points on Kansas despite trailing by 13 in the first half.

If you’re the kind of person that does your rankings based totally on the rèsumè that a team has produced – a completely valid way to rank – then putting Arizona State at No. 1 makes total sense.

So don’t be surprised when they get some of them in this week’s AP poll.

2. ARIZONA STATE’S ACHILLES’ HEEL IS NOT THREES, IT’S DEFENSE

One idea that I’ve seen bandied about is that Arizona State’s performance early on this season is something of a mirage. These guards, as talented as they are, are just tough-shot makers that are running hot right now, and there might be something to that. I’m not going to pretend that shooting 14-for-28 from three at Phog Allen Fieldhouse or 13-for-27 from three against Xavier is the kind of thing that is going to happen every single time that Arizona State plays this season, but I also don’t think that’s why their offense has been so successful this season.

The Sun Devils get to the line more than just about any other team in the country; Cal St.-Fullerton is the only program with a higher free throw rate than the Sun Devils. That has everything to do with the ability of Evans, Holder and Martin to put the ball on the floor and get into the paint. It’s why they get to the line so often, and it’s why Romello White gets to the line so often.

That is sustainable, more so than shooting nearly-50 percent from three is.

What may not be sustainable, however, is winning games like this while posting a sub-150 adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom. That’s where Arizona State has problems they need to solve. We saw it on Sunday, as Kansas had a never-ending parade of dunks. Ironically, what may have ended up being the difference is the fact that the Sun Devils had a handful of run-out layups – pick-six turnovers, if you will.

Bobby Hurley’s team allowed 1.39 points-per-possession on possessions where Kansas did not turn the ball over. That, quite simply, has to improve if you assume that Arizona State doesn’t shoot 50 percent from three every night.

3. KANSAS DESPERATELY NEEDS THEIR REINFORCEMENTS

We talk about it over and over again, but it’s the truth. Right now, Kansas goes seven-deep. One of those seven is Mitch Lightfoot, a 6-foot-9 back-up center that is the only big man on the Kansas roster not named Udoka Azubuike. He’s fine as a back-up. He’s not fine as a guy that is going to have to provide 15-18 minutes a night as the only big man on the floor. He doesn’t provide rim protection. He doesn’t provide post scoring. He’s not a great rebounder. He can commit five fouls and but Bill Self some time with Azubuike on the bench. That’s it.

They need Silvio De Souza to get his test score and enroll early. They need to find a way to get Billy Preston cleared to play this season. If they don’t, we probably need to start entertaining the idea that this might be the Kansas team that sees their Big 12 title streak come to an end.

The other issue is that the only other player on the KU bench is Marcus Garrett, who is a freshman that doesn’t quite seem ready for the minutes he’s getting. Malik Newman has not been as good as advertised this season, and on Sunday, Svi Mykhailiuk reverted back to the Svi Mykhailiuk of the last three years. What that means is that …

4. … KANSAS HAS ONE GUY THAT CAN CREATE FOR HIMSELF RIGHT NOW

And I’m not quite sure when that is going to change.

I just don’t think Newman is all that good. Svi is at his best as a spot-up shooter and a guy that attacks close-outs. Garrett, as of now, cannot be relied upon, and I’m not convinced that Sam Cunliffe or Lagerald Vick are guys that can be more than finishers; at the rim, as a spot-up shooter, etc.

Even Azubuike is someone that has to more or less rely on getting the ball in a position where all he has to do is catch it and dunk it.

That’s a massive burden to ask Devonte’ Graham to carry, especially when he has to do so while playing every second.

Ayton leads Arizona to 88-82 win over Alabama

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Leave a comment

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Deandre Ayton had 29 points and 18 rebounds, Allonzo Trier scored 20 of his 25 points in the second half and Arizona outlasted Alabama 88-82 Saturday night.

Arizona’s first real home test and the fans were ready, making McKale Center louder than it’s been all season.

The Wildcats (7-3) responded with their second quality win of the week, backing up a victory over No. 7 Texas A&M with a strong all-around performance to win their 45th straight nonconference home game.

Alabama (7-3) matched Arizona nearly shot for shot in one of college basketball’s toughest road environments, pulling within 84-80 on Riley Norris’ 3-pointer with 38 seconds left.

Trier, who took just six shots, hit three free throws in the final 34 seconds to seal it for Arizona.

Freshman Collin Sexton scored 21 of his 30 points in the second half to keep the Crimson Tide close.

Arizona’s defense was a sore spot to start the season, leading to three straight losses in the Bahamas that dropped the Wildcats out of the AP Top 25 from No. 2 — a first since Louisville in 1986.

Even when the Wildcats rolled over Long Beach State, coach Sean Miller lamented their defensive effort in a 25-minute postgame rant.

Arizona shored up its defense on Tuesday, when it grinded out a 67-64 victory over No. 7 Texas A&M in Phoenix.

For their first big home test, the Wildcats got back sophomore guard Rawle Alkins, a tough, emotional player who Miller hoped would give them a lift.

Arizona had a spark before Alkins even entered the game, efficiently working its offense during a 10-0 run that put the Wildcats up 24-13. The Crimson Tide fought back behind their defense, using a 13-2 run to tie it at 26-all.

Alabama had no one who could stop Ayton in the first half — 15 points and nine rebounds — but Sexton banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to put the Tide up 40-38.

The Crimson Tide went on a quick run to start the second half, but Arizona rallied and the teams traded athletic plays, neither to gain much separation.

Alabama closed in around Ayton to limit his shots, but Trier got free multiple times to keep the Wildcats around the lead.

Sexton was Alabama’s go-to player, confidently stroking in long 3-pointers and driving to the basket.

BIG PICTURE

Alabama came up short, but handling a hostile environment at McKale Center and keeping it close against a good team should only help the Crimson Tide later in the season.

Arizona could find itself back in the AP Top 25 next week after two quality wins.

UP NEXT

Alabama hosts Mercer on Dec. 19.

Arizona plays at New Mexico next Saturday.