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.

 

No. 18 Rhode Island wins first outright Atlantic-10 title

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KINGSTON, Rhode Island (AP) — At the end of the celebration, Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley was the last one to cut down the net at the basket in front of his team’s bench.

He climbed up a ladder, snipped the final strings and put it around his neck to the roars of the crowd, a small symbol for a program that has finally reached the top of the Atlantic-10’s regular season.

Jeff Dowtin scored 20 points, E.C. Matthews added 18 and No. 18 Rhode Island wrapped up its first outright A-10 regular-season title with an 81-56 victory over Dayton on Friday night.

“Just to be able to enjoy it with our fans, who have amazingly supported since I’ve been here through the climb,” said Hurley, in his sixth season with URI. “To be able to enjoy those types of moments.”

Jared Terrell had 17 points to help the Rams (22-5, 15-1) win for the 18th time in 19 games. It was their second straight after their school-record 16-game winning streak was halted by St. Bonaventure last Friday night.

In 1980-81, the Rams tied Duquesne for a share of the conference title, their only other regular-season A-10 championship.

When the game ended, blue and white confetti — the school colors — and streamers fell from the ceiling. Terrell climbed the scorer’s table, waving to the crowd.

“It was just a great feeling to embrace it with the fans,” Farrell said. “To experience this for the first time, it’s just an amazing feeling.”

Added Matthews: “It was just to give it back and show them we couldn’t have done it without them.”

Hurley said to the crowd over a microphone: “Let’s bring down this net baby, what do you say?”

Jalen Crutcher led the Flyers (13-15, 7-9) with 12 points.

“I think the cumulative effect of their pressure, I think took its toll,” Flyers coach Anthony Grant said. “Give them credit — they did a good job defensively and got it going in the second half.”

Rhode Island shot 64.3 percent in the second half and Dayton only 27.3, including missing all 10 of its 3-point attempts.

Playing for their first conference regular-season title in school history already had the sellout crowd fired up, but it picked up to a notch at the end of 7-0 spurt early in second half when Hurley walked onto the floor, waving for more noise when Dayton called timeout after the Rams went up 46-38 with 16:08 to play.

Following the timeout, URI continued its stifling, man-to-man defensive pressure and took charge with an 11-4 spurt that was capped by Matthews’ 3-pointer from the left wing that pushed its lead to 15 with 13:17 to play. The Rams had two easy breakaway baskets off turnovers in the spree.

They pushed it to 72-46 on Dowtin’s 3 with just over five minutes to play, sending Hurley to the floor again waving after another timeout.

In the opening half, the Flyers shot 58.3 percent and led most of the way despite nearly hitting their per-game average with 13 turnovers before URI closed by scoring nine of the final 11 points to take a 36-34 edge into intermission.

TURNOVER MAKERS

The Rams entered the game as one of the best in the nation, creating 16.38 turnovers per game. Dayton came in committing just 13.6 per, but finished with 22.

HOME SWEET HOME

The Rams improved to 15-0 in the raucous Ryan Center, tying the school-record for most home wins in a season. They also did it in 1987-88 when the program advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tourney.

“We wouldn’t have been able to win this championship without the absolute electric atmosphere that has been created here all year long,” Hurley said.

ROAD WOES

Dayton fell to 1-9 on the road this season.

BIG PICTURE

Dayton: The Flyers were hoping to spoil the party by winning their third straight game to reach .500 in league play.

Rhode Island: The Rams are certainly playing the rest of the regular season and conference tourney, looking for a better seed in a probable selection to NCAA Tournament – even if they don’t win the postseason A-10 tournament.

VIDEO: No. 16 Buckeyes keep title hopes alive with thrilling win at Indiana

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Ohio State guard C.J. Jackson relied on sheer instincts Friday night.

Instead of going with the Buckeyes’ designed final play, he changed it on the fly.

When Jackson finally got control of the pass in the closing seconds of double overtime, he faked another pass and spotted up for a 25-footer and that silenced Indiana’s crowd with 1.7 seconds left and gave No. 16 Ohio State an 80-78 victory.

“You dream of playing in buildings like this when you’re younger and just to have one of these moments is unbelievable,” Jackson said after scoring 13 points.

This wasn’t just another win for the Buckeyes (24-7, 15-3 Big Ten), either.

They needed this one to have any hope of claiming a share of the conference crown in coach Chris Holtmann’s first season. They still need No. 2 Michigan State to lose Sunday at Wisconsin.

And on a night Ohio State dealt with foul trouble and fatigue, Jackson’s brilliant switcheroo was exactly what Ohio State needed.

“We ran a similar action for Jae’Sean Tate at the end of the first OT or whatever it was, and we didn’t execute that real well. The presence of mind to get the shot up,” Holtmann said, shaking his head. “I think CJ may prefer to take a 25-footer rather than get it in a little deeper.”

He didn’t have much of a choice.

With both teams out of timeouts and Indiana clinging to a 78-77 lead after Juwan Morgan’s layup with seven seconds to go, the Buckeyes pushed the ball up the floor.

But rather than look for the trailing Tate or star forward Keita Bates-Diop, Jackson did the natural thing.

“I just felt like I had the best look we were going to get with the time left,” he said.

All the Hoosiers could muster was a half-court heave from Robert Johnson that came up well short at the buzzer.

Bates-Diop had 24 points and tied his career-high with 14 rebounds. Tate finished with 12 points, five rebounds and six assists.

Indiana (16-14 9-9) was led by Juwan Morgan with 18 points and Johnson, who had 17 in what could be his final game at Assembly Hall.

“Really disappointed for our fans and our seniors in particular,” coach Archie Miller said. “I thought we did enough at the end and we just had a breakdown at the end to contest the shot.”

But from the moment Indiana took a 61-59 lead on Josh Newkirk’s layup with 3:54 left in regulation, it was a cliffhanger.

Neither team scored after Indiana’s Justin Smith made two free throws left with 2:18 in regulation.

Neither team led by more than two in the first overtime, which ended tied at 70.

And neither led by more than one in the second overtime — until Jackson’s knocked down the long 3.

KEY STATS:

Ohio State: Kam Williams scored 15 points and Kaleb Wesson had 12 before fouling out. … Bates-Diop also finished with four blocks in 45 minutes. … Four of the Buckeyes’ starters played at least 40 minutes. … Ohio State had a 41-35 rebounding edge.

Indiana: Smith had 16 points for Indiana. … Josh Newkirk added nine points and six assists with only one turnover. … The Hoosiers scored only four points during over a stretch of 9:50 in the first half and missed their first seven shots to start the second half. … Indiana committed 12 turnovers and was 13 of 23 at the free-throw line.

HE SAID IT

“Rest,” Holtmann said when asked what his team needs now. “They are exhausted. We just rode some guys because we had too. Jae’Sean Tate literally couldn’t function, that’s why I called one of those timeouts. He couldn’t move. He (Bates-Diop) needs rest in the worst way.”

BIG PICTURE

Ohio State: No, the Buckeyes aren’t going into the conference tournament with the momentum they had hoped. And they may not get even a share of the league crown they craved. But they will be one of the top three seeds and they’ll have a few days to get things fixed.

Indiana: Fans who watched the Hoosiers season opening loss to Indiana State may not have recognized the team they saw Friday night. Indiana has progressed steadily all season, understands what coach Archie Miller expects and have learned how to challenge everyone.

Report: FBI wiretaps shows Sean Miller discussing payment for Deandre Ayton

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Sean Miller was caught on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for his freshman star Deandre Ayton, according to a report from ESPN.

The conversations that were intercepted were between Miller and Christian Dawkins, a former runner for ex-NBA agent Andy Miller, in which the pair discussed a $100,000 payment that would ensure Ayton’s commitment to and enrollment with Arizona.

According to ESPN, when asked by Dawkins if he should work through former Arizona assistant coach Emanuel ‘Book’ Richardson to finalize a deal, “Miller told Dawkins he should deal directly with him when it came to money.”

Richardson was fired by Arizona after he was caught up in the original FBI complaints in September. He had worked for Miller for 10 years at Xavier and Arizona. He was alleged to have accepted $20,000 in bribes to steer players to Dawkins and another financial advisor.

Ayton committed to Arizona in September of 2016. He is currently averaging 19.6 points and 10.9 boards for No. 14 Arizona and is considered by many to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

There has been speculation all season long that Arizona’s ties to this investigation could cost Miller his job.

CBT Podcast: Michael Porter Jr. is back, Duke and Kentucky might be back, Allonzo Trier’s gone

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Fun episode today. Rob Dauster was joined by one of the up-and-coming stars at ESPN, Dalen Cuff, to talk through the changes that Duke and Kentucky have made in recent weeks and whether or not that changes our perception of those teams moving forward. They also discussed Trae Young’s regression as well as the root of their soccer fandom, and all of that happened roughly 90 minutes before news broke that Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. was cleared by doctors to play while Arizona’s Allonzo Trier was once against ineligible for a positive PED test, so Travis Hines of NBC Sports jumped on the podcast to talk through all of that. The rundown:

OPEN: Should Michael Porter Jr. play this season?

10:05: Did Allonzo Trier get screwed by the NCAA?

16:55: Why did Dalen Cuff sully his name by becoming an Arsenal fan?

26:20: Why has Duke been better without Marvin Bagley III?

34:05: Is Jarred Vanderbilt the key to unlock Kentucky’s potential?

39:25: Have you changed your outlook on Duke or Kentucky in the long-term?

43:45: Texas Tech losing Keenan Evans was a bummer.

48:00: So let’s talk about this Trae Young slump.

Duke, Michigan State and Kentucky respond to report connecting players to agent payments

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Duke, Michigan State and Kentucky are the three most visible programs that have had their program connected to today’s report from Yahoo Sports that linked current players to potential NCAA violations involving ex-NBA agent Andy Miller and a former employee, Christian Dawkins.

According to the report, the mother of Duke freshman Wendell Carter had lunch with Dawkins at a Longhorn Steakhouse where Dawkins spent $106 on the meal. The parents of Michigan State sophomore Miles Bridges are alleged to have received a mean with $70 from Dawkins as well as a $400 cash advance. Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox or a member of his family is listed as receiving a meal from Dawkins, although his father has already denied that this happened.

All three programs have denied wrongdoing.

“Duke immediately reviewed the matter and, based on the available information, determined there are no eligibility issues related to today’s report,” read a statement released by Duke AD Kevin White.

“We are aware of the report in Yahoo! Sports,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said in a statement. “While we will cooperate with any and all investigations, we have no reason to believe that I, any member of our staff or student-athlete did anything in violation of NCAA rules.”

“I have no relationship with Andy Miller or any of his associates,” John Calipari’s statement read. “Neither my staff nor I utilized any agent, including Andy Miller or any of his associates, to provide any financial benefits to a current or former Kentucky student-athlete. We will cooperate fully with the appropriate authorities.”

Cal also said in a press conference that he believes Knox will play on Saturday against Missouri.