Jim Calhoun

Why UConn fans love Jim Calhoun

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The job of a sportswriter centers about one’s ability to remain — or at least appear — unbiased and impartial.

Once you pick up the pen, you put down the pom-poms because, as you all know, there is no cheering in the press box.

But the problem with that theory is that every single hack that strings words together about sports was originally a fan. They probably still are fans. There’s no possible way to build a life around watching and interpreting games without, in some way, loving those games and the teams involved and the players that take center stage.

I grew up playing basketball in Connecticut. From a sporting perspective, my state isn’t much more that the Border War between Boston and New York; between the Yankees and the Red Sox, the Celtics and the Knicks, the Patriots and the Giants or Jets. The passion of those separate fan bases for whatever team it is they root for is as intense as that of the kid that grew up in the Bronx or in Southie. We wore the jerseys. We watched all the games on Yes! or NESN. We ran our mouth when our favorite team won and jawed back even more when our favorite team lost.

And while we were always fans of those teams, they were never “our” team the way that kid from the Bronk can call the Yankees “his” team or the kid from Queens can call the Mets “his” team or the kid from Boston can call the Celtics “his” team. For many, a trip into the city to catch a Saturday afternoon game came in lieu of a vacation once you factored in the tickets, the parking, the program, Dad’s beer and your hot dog and nachos.

That’s why Jim Calhoun is so revered in the state of Connecticut.

Because he took a program that was no different that Rhode Island or UMass or, for that matter, Boston College or Rutgers and turned it into one that trails only Kansas, Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina in wins since 1989 and has more national titles since 1999 than any program in the country. In fact, the only other programs that have ever won as many three national titles in their history are all considered “blue-bloods” —  the four teams listed above, plus Indiana and UCLA.

Jim Calhoun gave us “our” team.

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I still remember the exact moment when I fell in love with the Huskies.

It was the 1996 Big East title game. Ray Allen’s UConn team was taking on Georgetown and Allen Iverson in a game that tipped off around 9 p.m. At the time, I was just a couple of weeks short of my 10th birthday and my little brother had just turned eight. Staying up late enough to watch the end of a game was not commonplace in our household.

But I bartered and I negotiated and I argued my way into convincing my dad to let us stay up until it became a 10 point game because, in my ten year old mind, a ten point game all but meant the game was over. Late in the second half, Georgetown went up 11. Possession by possession, I convinced my dad to let me watch one more possession, and slowly but surely, the Huskies trimmed the lead down until, with about 17 seconds left on the clock, Allen drove middle, found himself stuck in the air, and threw the ball at the basket.

Off the rim.

Off the backboard.

In.

UConn still had to survive a fadeaway 17 footer from Iverson and a blown layup from Jerome Williams, but they did, sending the Huskies to their second ever Big East tournament title.

We all have those moments in sports where we’ll never forget exactly where we were when we watched them. Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria in last year’s. Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius homering in the bottom of the ninth in back-to-back World Series games. Jordan crossing up Byron Russell and drilling the game-winner in 1998.

For me, nothing will ever top that shot from Ray-Ray, even if there have been hundreds of moments throughout Calhoun’s illustrious career that could be considered on par:

The scrum that led to Rip Hamilton’s game-winner over Washington in the second round of the 1998 NCAA tournament. Khaled El-Amin screaming “We shocked the world!!” after beating Duke in the 1999 title game. Taliek Brown banking in a 35-footer as UConn beat Pitt in double-overtime in the 2002 Big East title game. A second win over Duke in the 2004 Final Four, overcoming an eight point deficit in the final three minutes, en route to a second national title.  AJ Price’s emergence as a star in 2008 during UConn’s trip to Indiana. Price carried the Huskies to a 68-63 win over Eric Gordon’s Hoosiers despite having sat out for two years — laptops and brain hemorrhages — and dealing with the suspension of Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins. The six overtime game. And, of course, the UConn Fighting Kembas. I was five years old for “The Shot”, Tate George’s game-winner against Clemson in the 1990 tournament, but that would be on this list for just about any other UConn fan.

Calhoun gave us those moments.

Calhoun is the reason that we experienced those joys.

Was he gruff? Yeah. Was he a curmudgeon? Most definitely. Did he run a dirty program? Unfortunately, yes. But in the end, that doesn’t matter to us. 20 years from now, no one is going to remember who Nate Miles was and no one is going to care that Calhoun stole Wiggins from St. John’s or that there is an NCAA rule against scheduling exhibitions with AAU teams because of money that may have changed hands during Rudy Gay’s recruitment.

We’re going to remember each and every one of those moments that made growing up a UConn fan one of the most amazing experiences one could ask for.

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In recent years, my fandom has waned. For starters, I eventually ended up playing college basketball, and while it was on a level a long, long way from the Big East, it still meant that I had practice every day during and games every weekend during basketball season. Throw in the fact that I went to a college that didn’t have cable in the dorms at a time when you couldn’t find every game streaming online, and it was tough to stay connected with a team that you never got a chance to watch.

Once I started writing about hoops, it became even more difficult to keep that kind of passion alive. I found myself actively trying to disconnect during UConn games. All things equal, I want to see UConn win. That cord will never be severed, and anyone that’s ever been a fan of any team in any sport should be able to understand that. But, more than anything, the result has been that I’ve become more critical of UConn than any other program in the country. I’m much more likely to take out a chainsaw and shred the Huskies in a post than I am to glorify or hyperbolize how good the team is. (This column excluded.)

But I still get chills when I go back and watch highlights of those old UConn teams.

You can vacate wins. You can call Jim Calhoun dirty. You can say that he’s worse than John Calipari.

None of that will matter for UConn fans.

He gave us our team.

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

 

VIDEO: Jim Boeheim isn’t pleased when asked by reporter if Syracuse is ‘impatient’

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02:  Head coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orange reacts in the first half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Jim Boeheim has never been a man that’s shied away from saying what he feels, even if that results in him going after a reporter during a press conference.

On Sunday night, Boeheim did just that, when he was clearly unhappy about being asked whether or not his team was ‘impatient’:

Boeheim had reason to be upset beyond that particular line of questioning: Not only did his team lose a tough road game thanks to a pretty bad call in the final 20 seconds, but that loss might be what costs them a spot in the NCAA tournament.

With Demarcus Cousins in New Orleans, it’s time for John Calipari-to-the-NBA to heat up

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With Demarcus Cousins ending up on New Orleans – I hesitate to call that fleecing a “trade” – to join forces with another former Kentucky Wildcat, it only makes sense for the dots to get connected: John Calipari to the Pelicans!

Dan Patrick didn’t waste any time diving right in on Monday morning, opening his interview with Coach Cal with: “Can I have permission to start a rumor about you?”

Before Patrick even had a chance to define said rumor, Cal hit him with a, “Not. Happening.” He doubled down on his denials later on that morning by telling a teleconference of reporters, “that’s not going to happen.”

This is what Cal has to say. When you’re the head coach at Kentucky, an incredibly high-paying job and arguably the best in the college basketball business, you cannot be publicly campaigning for another position, even if it is an NBA gig with two of the league’s top 12 players. And while Cal isn’t exactly forthcoming when it comes to what he reveals in the media – his name gets mentioned with an NBA job roughly every six months, and he has the same answer every time – I think I believe him here.

Why?

Because I don’t think he gives up his lucrative seat as the celebrity overlord of college basketball for anything less than the perfect job: One where he can win immediately, avoiding the indignity of another NBA flameout like the one he had with the Nets 17 years ago, and one where he is given total and complete roster control. He wants to be the coach and the GM, and I’m not sure New Orleans is in a position where they would get rid of GM Dell Demps, who orchestrated The Fleecing Of Sacramento, or head coach Alvin Gentry, who was hired prior to the start of last season and could feasibly get this group back to the Playoffs this year, for a guy that last coached in the NBA in 1999 after getting fired 20 games into a season.

And all of that is before you consider that Cousins still needs to ink a long-term deal with New Orleans at some point for this theory to truly be viable, although finding a way to bring in Cal could certainly help Cousins make this decision.

I also get it.

Cal, better than anyone else since Cousins first touched a basketball, found a way to channel Cousins’ immense talents. If anyone can find a way to get Boogie to shed his baggage, it’s probably Cal. Then factor in the chance that he would find a way to be able to reel in, say, John Wall, and those are dots that are just screaming to be connected.

A Kentucky reunion in the Big Easy. Big Blue Nation would buy every ticket available at the Smoothie King Center. Who wouldn’t love that?

Maybe it happens. But at this point, I have a hard time seeing Coach Cal giving up his throne atop Lexington.

Coaches Poll: Gonzaga remains atop the top 25, Baylor and Virginia tumble

SPOKANE, WA - DECEMBER 10:  Head coach Mark Few of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts to a call in the second half of the game against the Akron Zips at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 10, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  Gonzaga defeated Akron 61-43.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
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Once again, undefeated Gonzaga finds themselves sitting al alone atop the Coaches Poll. The Zags are also No. 1 in the NBC Sports top 25 and the AP Poll.

Villanova and Kansas are two and three again, while Arizona and UCLA round out the top five.

Here is the full poll:

1. Gonzaga
2. Villanva
3. Kansas
4. Arizona
5. UCLA
6. Louisville
7. Oregon
8. North Carolina
9. Baylor
10. Kentucky
11. Duke
12. Florida
13. West Virginia
14. Purdue
15. Wisconsin
16. Cincinnati
17.Notre Dame
18. Saint Mary’s
19. Virginia
20. Florida State
21. SMU
22. Butler
23. Creighton
24. Maryland
25. Wichita State

AP Poll: Gonzaga remains No. 1, Baylor falls to No. 9

Baylor forward Johnathan Motley (5) reacts to a play against Texas in first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, in Waco, Texas. Baylor won 74-64. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald via AP)
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The Zags remained alone atop the AP Poll on Monday morning, amassing 59 of a possible 65 first-place votes.

Villanova remained at No. 2 and Kansas stayed steadfast at No. 3. Baylor dropped from fourth to ninth after a pair of losses, while Virginia went from 14th to 18th after losing to Duke and North Carolina in the same week.

Here is the entire poll:

1. Gonzaga (59 first-place votes)
2. Villanva (5)
3. Kansas (1)
4. Arizona
5. UCLA
6. Oregon
7. Louisville
8. North Carolina
9. Baylor
10. Duke
11. Kentucky
12. West Virginia
13. Florida
14. Purdue
15. Cincinnati
16. Wisconsin
17. SMU
18. Virginia
19. Florida State
20. Saint Mary’s
21. Notre Dame
22. Butler
23. Creighton
24. Maryland
25. Wichita State

Bracketology: Tar Heels vault to top line

WINSTON-SALEM, NC - JANUARY 11:  Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after a shot against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during their game at LJVM Coliseum Complex on January 11, 2017 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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If today were Selection Sunday, and North Carolina was the ACC champion, the Selection Committee would likely be inclined to reward the Tar Heels with a No. 1 seed over a very strong Baylor team whose profile is equally impressive but lacks a conference title. In the world of splitting hairs, we just did.  On that note, two interesting twists await.  First, UNC hosts Louisville on Wednesday, and the Cardinals are No. 6 on the Seed List.  If Louisville wins in Chapel Hill, the Cards could make a strong case for the top line on Thursday.  Second, the Tar Heels close with an incredibly tough slate, going to Pittsburgh and Virginia before finishing at home with Duke.  Baylor can easily play its way back up.

In the race for No. 1 seeds, Villanova and Kansas are sitting in strong positions as the regular season comes to a close. Should Gonzaga finish unbeaten, it would hard to drop the Zags from their No. 1 perch in the West.  Which leaves, at least for now, one top seed up for grabs, and it could go any number of ways.

Another meh and blah weekend along the cutline.  Should we lose solid mid-major programs like Middle Tennessee State, UNC Wilmington, and say, Monmouth or Illinois State during their conference championships, the Committee will have to heavily weigh a bunch of mediocre power teams versus some solid programs who have fewer chances for marquee wins.

UPDATED: February 20, 2017

Regarding bracketing principles, can read them for yourself at http://www.ncaa.com. For example: teams from the same conference may now meet before a Regional final, even if fewer than eight teams are selected. The goal is to keep as many teams as possible on their actual seed line.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Takeaways | Top 25

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FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Georgia Tech vs. Marquette | South Region
  • Seton Hall vs. TCU East Region
  • NORTH DAKOTA vs. UC-IRVINE | Midwest Region
  • MT. ST. MARY’S vs. NEW ORLEANSE | East Region

BRACKET PROJECTION …

EAST New York MIDWEST Kansas City                   
Buffalo Tulsa
1) VILLANOVA 1) KANSAS
16) NEW ORLEANS / M.S. MARY’S 16) NO. DAKOTA / UC-IRVINE
8) Dayton 8) Minnesota
9) Miami-FL 9) Arkansas
Milwaukee Milwaukee
5) Virginia 5) Notre Dame
12) UNC-WILMINGTON 12) ILLINOIS STATE
4) PURDUE 4) Butler
13) AKRON 13) UT-ARLINGTON
Indianapolis Orlando
6) Saint Mary’s 6) Wisconsin
11) Seton Hall / TCU 11) Kansas State
3) Kentucky 3) Florida State
14) PRINCETON 14) BELMONT
Indianapolis Salt Lake City
7) Northwestern 7) Iowa State
10) Wichita State 10) Michigan
2) Louisville 2) ARIZONA
15) BUCKNELL 15) NO. DAKOTA ST
SOUTH – Memphis WEST – San Jose
Greenville Salt Lake City
1) NORTH CAROLINA 1) GONZAGA
16) NC-CENTRAL 16) TX-SOUTHERN
8) Xavier 8) Virginia Tech
9) VCU 9) USC
Sacramento Buffalo
5) Creighton 5) CINCINNATI
12) VALPARAISO 12) MONMOUTH
4) UCLA 4) West Virginia
13) NEVADA 13) VERMONT
Orlando Greenville
6) SMU 6) Maryland
11) Georgia Tech / Marquette 11) MID TENNESSEE ST
3) FLORIDA 3) Duke
14) UNC-ASHEVILLE 14) FLA GULF COAST
Tulsa Sacramento
7) South Carolina 7) Oklahoma State
10) California 10) Michigan State
2) Baylor 2) Oregon
15) FURMAN 15) CSU-BAKERSFIELD

NOTES on the BRACKET: Villanova is the No. 1 overall seed, followed by Kansas, Gonzaga, and North Carolina.

Last Four Byes (at large): California, Michigan State, Wichita State, Kansas State

Last Four IN (at large): Seton Hall, TCU, Marquette, Georgia Tech

First Four OUT (at large): Providence, Syracuse, Clemson, Tennessee

Next four teams OUT (at large): Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, Indiana, Texas Tech

Breakdown by Conference …

ACC (9): NORTH CAROLINA, Louisville, Duke, Florida State, Virginia, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Miami-FL, Georgia Tech

Big 10 (7): PURDUE, Wisconsin, Maryland, Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State

Big 12 (7): KANSAS, Baylor, West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, TCU

Big East (6): VILLANOVA, Butler, Creighton, Xavier, Seton Hall, Marquette

Pac 12 (5): OREGON, Arizona, UCLA, USC, California

SEC (4): FLORIDA, Kentucky, South Carolina, Arkansas

Atlantic 10 (2): VCU, Dayton

American (2): CINCINNATI, SMU

West Coast (2): GONZAGA, Saint Mary’s

Missouri Valley (1): ILLINOIS STATE, Wichita State

Mountain West (1): NEVADA

ONE BID LEAGUES: Monmouth (MAAC), Middle Tennessee State (C-USA), UT-Arlington (SBELT), Princeton (IVY), North Dakota (BSKY), Valparaiso (HORIZON), New Orleans (SLND), Furman (STHN), UC-Irvine (BWEST), Akron (MAC), Florida Gulf Coast (ASUN), Belmont (OVC), UNC-Wilmington (CAA), Winthrop (BSO), NC-Central (MEAC), North Dakota State (SUM), CSU-Bakersfield (WAC), Vermont (AEAST), Bucknell (PAT), Mt. St. Mary’s (NEC), Texas-Southern (SWAC)