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.

 

UT Arlington coach Scott Cross wins the #DriveByDunkChallenge by dunking over his son

(Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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UT Arlington head coach Scott Cross is the current leader in the #DriveByDunkChallenge, the latest social media craze that endorses dunking on random hoops while cruising through a neighborhood.

After Kentucky head coach John Calipari set the bar for college head coaches in the challenge with his dunk on late Friday night, Cross came in strong by putting on some Lil Jon and taking flight over his own son on a random hoop.

Between the soundtrack selection and using his own son as a prop in his dunk, Cross has set a strong standard among college coaches for this challenge.

(H/t: Mid-Major Madness)

Mississippi State stays hot with commitment from four-star 2018 guard D.J. Stewart

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Mississippi State stayed hot on the recruiting trail on Monday as they scored an in-state pledge from four-star shooting guard D.J. Stewart.

The 6-foot-5 Stewart is the second major commitment to the Bulldogs and head coach Ben Howland this July as five-star forward Reggie Perry announced his intentions to go to Mississippi State last week.

After not having a single Division I scholarship offer entering April, Stewart exploded on the national landscape with his play with Mississippi Express in the Nike EYBL.

Regarded now as the No. 106 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2018 rankings, Stewart has some upside as a wing scorer and defender at the college level.

Four-star forward Joey Hauser gives Marquette important Class of 2018 commitment

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Marquette earned an important commitment on Sunday as four-star Class of 2018 forward Joey Hauser pledged to the Golden Eagles.

The 6-foot-8 Hauser will join his brother, Marquette sophomore forward Sam Hauser, for two seasons in Milwaukee as he’s regarded as the No. 43 overall prospect in the national Class of 2018.

A tough and versatile forward who can play either spot in the frontcourt, Hauser is Marquette’s first Class of 2018 pledge as head coach Steve Wojciechowski has kept another talented player at home.

Now that Hauser has committed, Marquette can look for more perimeter threats in the class since they will also get former four-star wing forward Brendan Bailey coming in for that class. Bailey is on a two-year mission trip and will be another talented piece for that group as the Golden Eagles will try to compliment them with another guard.

Five Takeaways from the Under Armour All-America Camp

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PHILADELPHIA — The Under Armour All-America Camp might have had the best overall collection of talent in the country during the second week of the July Live Evaluation Period as top-100 players from multiple classes took part in a three-day camp at Philadelphia University.

With a few Class of 2018 five-star prospects in attendance, and some others making names for themselves, it was a great chance to see some of the best players that will be entering college basketball for the 2019-20 season. Here are five takeaways from the camp.

1. Four-star point guard Devon Dotson is coming on strong in the Class of 2018

The crop of point guards in the Class of 2018 is strong when it comes to players who could have a major impact at the college level. While we’ve spoken about players like Immanuel Quickley, Tre Jones and Darius Garland as the best in the class, the second tier of guys is also strong.

One of the players who will push five-star status after July is North Carolina native Devon Dotson. The 6-foot-1 native of Charlotte was the best player overall at the Under Armour All-America Camp as he was unstoppable off the dribble. Scoring in multiple ways around the basket, including some thunderous dunks, Dotson is a very good athletic if he gets a full head of steam going towards the rim.

Dotson can occasionally get tunnel vision when he has the ball in his hands, but coaches also have to like the ultra-aggressive way that Dotson plays the game. Always putting pressure on the defense with the way that he plays, Dotson is a consistent three-pointer away from being a major problem in college.

Back in June, Dotson named a top eight of Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Miami, Ohio State, USC and Wake Forest as it’ll be interesting to see if things heat up after his strong camp performance.

2. The upside of Class of 2018 center Moses Brown is scary

The Class of 2018 has a glaring lack of potential one-and-done players and a short supply of big men. As a fluid 7-foot-1 big man with a rapidly rising skill level, you can see why New York native Moses Brown has positioned himself as a consensus top-ten player in this class.

Moving very well for his size, Brown is still learning how to be productive at all times as he continues to add strength and coordination, but he’s now learning how to also use his extreme gifts to his advantage. Brown has now become a consistent presence at the rim thanks to his length and defensive IQ and he’s also rebounding near rim level at every play. Also improving as an offensive player, Brown showed some versatility by pushing off of rebounds and making more plays as a passer.

Still a tad inconsistent in terms of overall motor and offensive production, Brown could stand to work more on his post game beyond a hook, but he’s also the type of big man who should fit in well with the new age of basketball. Brown wasn’t tested a lot defending high ball screens in Philadelphia, but he has a chance to be a very disruptive defender at all levels of basketball if he continues to get better. 

3. Class of 2018 point guard Jahvon Quinerly continues to impress

It wasn’t the strongest camp showing in terms of production from five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, but he also displayed the ball handling, passing and leadership that made him one of the best players in the nation this spring.

Possibly having the tightest handles in the class, Quinerly has the ball on a string at all times and it enables him to make a lot of difficult passes for easy buckets off of drives. Also gifted as a perimeter shooter, Quinerly should be a gifted enough floor spacer to play a bit off the ball and still be a weapon on the three-point line.

Something to keep an eye on with Quinerly’s development will be how he adjusts to long and athletic defenders at all positions. Without elite burst, Quinerly will have to use some counter moves the get open and scoring over length is another area that Quinerly can work on. But with his combination of overall basketball savvy and skill level, Quinerly should be a great college player.

Still considering Arizona, Kansas, Stanford, UCLA, Villanova and Virginia, Quinerly had an official visit to the Wildcats already.

4. Class of 2018 big man Riley Battin opens eyes with production

Opening eyes with his play at the Under Armour All-America Camp with his overall skill and production was three-star Class of 2018 big man Riley Battin. Shooting 59 percent from the field during the week while finishing near the top in overall camp scoring, the 6-foot-8 Battin is an intriguing player at the next level even if he isn’t the greatest athlete.

With great footwork and good touch on his jumper from all three levels, Battin can knock down three-pointers (42 percent this spring in the UAA) while also scoring in the post or the mid-range. Already taking an official visit to Vanderbilt towards the end of August, Colorado, Davidson, Georgia Tech, Northwestern, Utah and Wichita State are also involved.

Battin is the type of player who won’t get a lot of hype in national recruiting rankings but he could very well be a damaging player in the right system. A tough cover because of some unconventional moves, Battin could be a lot of fun to watch at the next level.

5. The second week of the July live period needs a major overhaul

The Under Armour All-America Camp was a strong event during a weak second week of July and it’ll be curious to see if any changes are made to fix the timing of this on the recruiting calendar.

With all three major shoe companies having major summer championships the week before many of the nation’s elite players played in high-profile events last week before getting injured or sitting out the second week

Since the first week of the recruiting calendar is heavy in Georgia and South Carolina and the third week mostly goes to Las Vegas, the second week is also way more spread out than any other time during the July period. The coast-to-coast nature of events during the second week of July makes it tough for college coaches traveling because the talent is so diluted at most events.

It’ll be interesting to see if any changes occur with how events are run or how the calendar looks because the second week featured a lot of watered-down play.

Buffalo sophomore arrested, charged with strangulation, witness intimidation

City of Tonawanda Police
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Buffalo sophomore Quate McKinzie is facing a litany of charges stemming from an incident in which he allegedly attempted to strangle a female acquaintance.

McKinzie, who is 20 years old, was later handed more charges after he made threatening phone calls to his accuser from jail.
From the Buffalo News:

The original charges placed against the UB sophomore were second-degree strangulation, a D-felony; misdemeanor counts of criminal obstruction of breathing, assault, menacing, harassment; and stealing the victim’s vehicle.

The latest charges are third-degree witness intimidation and first-degree criminal contempt, both E-felonies; and two misdemeanors, aggravated harassment and disobeying a court mandate, according to Tonawanda Police Patrol Capt. Fredric Foels.

“University Athletics is aware of the alleged incident and is in communication with university and local authorities,” Buffalo released in a statement. “Quate McKinzie is currently enrolled at the University at Buffalo and is suspended indefinitely from the university’s basketball team. Due to the ongoing investigation and federal protections on student information, we will have no further comment on the matter at this time.”

McKinzie is a 6-foot-8, 195 pound forward that played in 17 games last season. He averaged 3.9 points and 4.3 boards.