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.

 

Bubble Banter: Make-or-break games for Rhode Island, Clemson, TCU and Pitt

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 09: Jaron Blossomgame #5 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates a basket against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the first half in the second round of the 2016 ACC Basketball Tournament at Verizon Center on March 9, 2016 in Washington, DC.(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here. This is where the seeds you see listed below come from. This post will be updated throughout the day. 

STILL TO PLAY

No. 19 Florida State at Clemson (RPI: 61, KenPom: 37, next four out), 12:00 p.m.

No. 8 North Carolina at Pitt (RPI: 63, KenPom: 66, next four out), 12:00 p.m.

No. 25 Wichita State (RPI: 44, KenPom: 12, No. 10 seed) at Missouri State, 12:00 p.m.

No. 12 West Virginia at TCU (RPI: 53, KenPom: 43, first four out), 2:00 p.m.

Illinois State (RPI: 35, KenPom: 54, No. 12 seed) at Northern Iowa, 2:00 p.m.

VCU (RPI: 25, KenPom: 42, No. 9 seed) at Rhode Island (RPI: 47, KenPom: 55, next four out), 2:00 p.m.

Seton Hall (RPI: 48, KenPom: 57, play-in game) at DePaul, 2:00 p.m.

Mississippi State at Vanderbilt (RPI: 45, KenPom: 51, next four out), 4:00 p.m.

No. 14 Purdue at Michigan (RPI: 51, KenPom: 27, No. 9 seed), 4:00 p.m.

Marquette (RPI: 68, KenPom: 31, No. 10 seed) at Providence (RPI: 55, KenPom: 56, play-in game), 4:00 p.m.

Kansas State (RPI: 59, KenPom: 30, play-in game) at Oklahoma, 6:00 p.m.

Northwestern at Indiana (RPI: 100, KenPom: 46, bubble), 8:00 p.m.

Arkansas (RPI: 33, KenPom: 49, No. 9 seed) at Auburn, 8:30 p.m.

USF leaves two sleeping players behind at airport

HARTFORD, CT - JANUARY 25:  Troy Holston Jr. #25 of the South Florida Bulls reacts following a three-point shot in the first half against the Connecticut Huskies during the game at the XL Center on January 25, 2015 in Hartford, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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The University of South Florida’s men’s basketball season reached a new low late this week after the Bulls suffered a conference road loss at Tulsa.

USF fell to 7-20 overall and 1-15 in AAC conference play after Thursday’s loss. Somehow, the program made matters worse by leaving two players behind who fell asleep in the airport as the team waited for a connecting flight home.

According to a report from Collin Sherwin of the Daily Stampede, USF leading scorer Geno Thorpe and third-leading scorer Troy Holston were sleeping as the Bulls waited for a connecting flight at a Houston airport to help get them home to Tampa.

While the rest of the USF team and support staff boarded the connecting flight home, nobody woke up Thorpe and Holston until it was too late and they missed the flight. The school later made sure to get a new flight for the duo so they could make it back to campus.

USF is already facing an NCAA investigation for academic violations and head coach Orlando Antigua was fired from the program on Jan. 3.

Interim head coach Murry Bartow released a statement on USF leaving two players behind.

“Yesterday, as our team traveled back from Tulsa, two of our players were separated from the rest of our team when we boarded a connecting flight in Houston. This unfortunate circumstance, for which I apologize, was recognized by our staff as the plane was leaving the gate and not in time to get the players on the commercial flight. We immediately began to make arrangements to get the players on the very next flight to Tampa, and were in communication with them as soon as was possible. Both players arrived safely home in Tampa later that afternoon, at approximately 4:25 p.m., where a staff member met them at the airport. They are joining the rest of the team in a charity activity today.”

The mother of Troy Holston, Monique Holston-Greene, was not happy about USF leaving her son behind at the airport and made sure to express that on Twitter.

It’s hard to say what the fallout from this might be but don’t be surprised to see a massive amount of transfers from USF this offseason.

USF also might want to consider changing the headline and team photo from its game story from the Tulsa loss. The tweet of the story from the USF men’s basketball account shows a picture of Troy Holston inbounding to Geno Thorpe as the headline mentions that USF is “short-handed” during the loss.

VIDEO: Fairfield knocks off Canisius on Tyler Nelson buzzer-beating three

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Fairfield captured a buzzer-beating win over Canisius on Friday night as junior guard Tyler Nelson hit a pull-up three-pointer for the win.

With the game tied at 55 with under a minute left, Canisius worked the clock to try and get a shot close to the final horn. After a Jermaine Crumpton missed jumper, Fairfield’s Matija Milin corralled the rebound and got the outlet pass to Nelson, who pulled up and made the game-winning three.

Nelson led the Stags with 17 points as Fairfield improved to 15-13 (10-9 in the MAAC) with the road win.

 

VIDEO: Half-court buzzer-beater lifts DIII Ramapo College to conference title

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The Division III ranks had one of the best buzzer-beaters of the season on Friday night as Ramapo College clinched a conference championship in memorable fashion.

Ramapo College was facing New Jersey City University in the title game of the New Jersey Athletic Conference tournament on Friday night when the game became tied at 64 after a NJCU free throw with 3.1 seconds left.

On the ensuing inbounds play, Ramapo had to go the full length of the floor. Josh Ford caught the Ramapo inbounds pass near mid-court and found a trailing Thomas Bonacum, who launched a half-court shot and nailed it for the win.

Bonacum finished with 20 points and nine rebounds on the night as he was mobbed by fans for helping the Roadrunners clinch its sixth automatic NCAA tournament berth under head coach Chuck McBreen.

Here’s another angle of Bonacum’s ridiculous shot

 

De’Aaron Fox a ‘game-time decision’ for Saturday showdown

LEXINGTON, KY - NOVEMBER 23:  De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats shoots the ball during the game against the Cleveland State Vikings at Rupp Arena on November 23, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Kentucky star guard De’Aaron Fox is a game-time decision when the No. 11 Wildcats take on No. 13 Florida on Saturday afternoon.

He didn’t practice on Thursday and was limited on Friday due to a knee contusion he suffered on Wednesday night against Missouri.

“He hit his knee,” head coach John Calipari said, according to SEC Country. “It’s not sprained or anything like that. It’s a bruise.”

Fox is averaging 15.5 points and 5.3 assists on the season. He missed one game earlier in the year due to an illness.

Kentucky’s game against the Gators in Rupp Arema will be for first place in the SEC and, in all likelihood, the SEC regular season title.