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Paralyzed ex-UConn hoops player now a curling Paralympian

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NORFOLK, Conn. (AP) — Steve Emt was rolling himself up a hill to a pie shop in Falmouth, Massachusetts, when the coach of a wheelchair curling team noticed the former UConn basketball player.

The shop’s name was Pie in the Sky. An interesting coincidence, Emt thought, when Tony Colacchio approached him and suggested that within a year he could turn Emt into a Paralympic athlete in a sport he’d never heard of.

It took a few years, but next month, Emt will compete in the Paralympic Games in South Korea as the vice skip of the United States curling team.

“The sport just bit me,” he said. “With everything that has happened to me in life, I’ve learned to stop asking why. Everything happens for a reason.”

He was a student at the U.S. Military Academy in when he lost his father, a man he says was his best friend, mentor and coach. His dad’s death, he said, led to falling grades at West Point and a decision to come home to Hebron, Connecticut, where he was a basketball and soccer star in high school.

Jim Calhoun said he learned from his players about this big, tough kid playing intramural games at UConn. Calhoun, who also had lost his father at a young age, gave the 6-foot-4, Emt him a chance to walk on to the Huskies. He played with the likes of Ray Allen, Donyell Marshall and current coach Kevin Ollie from 1992 to 1994.

“Coach Calhoun stepped right in as a father figure,” Emt said. “He became a person I could talk to, a person who demanded the most out of me, showed me what it was to never give up, to give 100 percent every day.”

Emt said he needed those values, instilled by his dad and drilled home by Calhoun to help him survive what came next.

A year removed from UConn, Emt lost his ability to walk when he decided to get into his truck after a night of watching basketball and drinking with friends at a bar in East Hartford. He drove off Interstate 84, flipped five times into a bridge abutment going about 80 mph. He broke most of his ribs and his back, severing his spinal cord.

What followed were surgeries and months of rehab, learning to open a door by himself, put clothes on, make toast.

“There were two days at the beginning I couldn’t get out of bed. I hit bottom. I was questioning a lot of things,” he said. “I was 25. I could have played professional basketball in Europe. I could have played professional soccer. All that was gone. I messed up. What now?”

Calhoun gave him some advice.

“I didn’t want people telling him how tough he had it,” Calhoun said. “I told him, no, you’re not going to play in the NBA, but you weren’t going to do that anyway. So, why not put those good things you do have, your mind, your toughness, into something positive.”

A while later a friend asked Emt to mentor a troubled teen. That gave him some direction. He wanted to work with kids; he wanted to be an example. Emt eventually went back to school, became a math teacher and for 20 years, a high school basketball coach.

He said he never had the desire to play wheelchair basketball. He has tried several other adaptive sports, even racing a hand cycle in the 2010 New York marathon.

But then in July 2012 he went on vacation to Cape Cod, and decided to get some pie.

About a week after their meeting at the pie shop, Colacchio convinced Emt to come watch an international tournament, called a bonspiel, which was being held on the cape. During that tournament, the coach called to say a Canadian team was missing a player and asked if Emt would be willing to drive from his home in Connecticut to fill in. He’d have to learn the game between midnight and 4 a.m., after the curling tournament had ended for the day.

No problem. The math teacher fell in love with the angles of the game, figuring out how hard to throw the stone down the ice and how much curl was needed to make a shot.

Colacchio said he was immediately impressed by Emt’s dedication. His star pupil now practices about 20 hours a week, either making the five-hour round-trip drive to Cape Cod or two hours to clubs in Norfolk, Connecticut or Bridgeport.

“The day they put that USA jacket on him, he cried,” Colacchio said, choking up himself. “I still get emotional thinking about it.”

Emt’s team leaves this week. They will spend some time in Japan practicing before the games. The curling begins March 10.

Calhoun said he’s convinced Emt can help bring home a medal.

“When things don’t always go your way, it takes more than the average person to overcome it,” Calhoun said. “Steve’s always done that. So, I think he can help his teammates, who have all been through similar things, realize, maybe when the times get tougher, ‘Hey, we can do this.’ You know how people ask, ‘Who would you want in your foxhole? I would like to have Steve Emt in my foxhole.”

Follow Pat Eaton-Robb on Twitter @peatonrobb

Wake Forest guard Keyshawn Woods to transfer or go pro after graduation

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Wake Forest will be down a key player next season as the school announced that guard Keyshawn Woods will either transfer or go pro after graduation.

The 6-foot-3 Woods was the team’s second-leading scorer this season as he put up 11.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. Woods shot 43 percent from the floor and 37 percent from three-point range for the 2017-18 campaign.

Also a key member of last season’s NCAA tournament team for the Demon Deacons, Woods transferred to Wake Forest after spending his first season at Charlotte.

“I appreciate the opportunity that Coach Manning gave me to be a part of this program and to graduate from this great university,” said Woods in the release. “I am proud that I was able to help the coaches change the culture of the program and build a foundation for the future.”

The loss of Woods won’t be easy for Wake Forest, but the team is scheduled to return some talented guards like Bryant Crawford and Brandon Childress next season. Incoming freshmen like Jaime Lewis and Sharone Wright Jr. are also signed to add to the perimeter depth.

David Padgett not retained as Louisville coach

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Louisville announced on Wednesday afternoon that interim head coach David Padgett would not be retained.

Padgett, who is 32 years old, stepped in and took the program over in the wake of a scandal that cost Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino his job.

“We all owe a great debt of gratitude to David for his leadership and poise this season,” said U of L Interim Director of Athletics Vince Tyra. “He took over during incredible circumstances, has handled himself respectfully throughout the season and I believe he has a bright future in coaching. We expect to determine a new head coach in a short period to build upon the great basketball tradition of this university.”

Pitino was fired because an FBI complaint contained an allegation that he and his staff had arranged for a $100,000 payment to be funneled to Brian Bowen from Adidas.

In his one season with the Cardinals, Padgett went 22-14 and reached the quarterfinals of the NIT.

Louisville will now conduct a search for their next head coach, and current Xavier coach Chris Mack has long been considered the favorite to take that job.

Kansas State’s injured star hoping to play Thursday

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One of the most surprising parts about Kansas State’s run to the Sweet 16 is that they have done it without the services of their leading scorer, Dean Wade.

Wade injured his foot prior to the Big 12 tournament loss to Kansas. He did not play in that game or in either of Kansas State’s first two tournament games, but it is looking more and more like he’ll be on the floor on Thursday night when they play Kentucky.

“I don’t play percentages very well, but I’m feeling good,” Wade said, via SEC Country. “I’m very positive about it. It’s getting better every day and today I felt great out there, doing a little more than usual. It felt good.”

Wade averaged 16.5 points per game, but the big question is going to be whether or not he is actually healthy when he takes the court. Just because he’s on the floor doesn’t mean he’s at 100 percent.

“Really just trying to get it out of my mind that it’s not hurt,” Wade said. “Just more of a mental thing, just getting out there and running around. I think I got moved past that and it’s feeling better.”

Arizona’s Sean Miller: ‘I am not a candidate’ at Pitt

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With speculation mounting about who Pitt will hire to replace Kevin Stallings as their new head coach, current Arizona head coach Sean Miller released a statement saying that he is not in the running to fill the opening.

“I am not a candidate for the University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball head coaching vacancy. I wish them well in their search for a new coach,” the statement read.

Miller is a native of Pittsburgh and an alumni of the school — he’s the guy that had the assist on Jerome Lane’s famous dunk — and with the issues that are currently swirling around him and the Arizona program, there was speculation that he was looking for an escape plan.

Maybe he wasn’t.

Maybe he was and the Pitt administration decided they couldn’t risk hiring someone who had an assistant coach arrested in the FBI’s sweep of college basketball and who himself may be on wiretaps talking about who knows what. Releasing this statement would then be a way for him to save face and say he was never interested.

And then maybe there’s option No. 3: Pitt has won the Dan Hurley sweepstakes.

As it stands, both the Panthers and UConn are in the process of chasing after the Rhode Island head coach, and it’s not uncommon in coaching searches for a coach to announce that he is not a candidate for the job after the job decides they want someone else. Call it a professional courtesy.

But that’s neither here nor there.

What we do know now is that Sean Miller will not be the next head coach at Pitt.

Report: Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson suffers another fracture in foot

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Bonzie Colson rushed back from a broken foot to try and help his Notre Dame team get into the NCAA tournament this season.

They were bumped out of the field when Davidson upset Rhode Island and earned the Atlantic 10’s third bid to the league tournament. The Fighting Irish were NIT bound, and in their second round loss to Penn State late last week, Colson reinjured the left foot that held him out of action for eight weeks.

On Wednesday, Yahoo reported that Colson suffered another fracture in the foot.

“I’m sitting there and he’s limping off and I’m going, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” coach Mike Brey said after the game. “Everything we’ve been through? I thought we were out of the woods with him.”

There was a poignant moment at the end of the game.

Colson’s injury came during the third quarter. He returned to the bench at Purcell Pavilion with ice on his foot after going into the locker room. With 30 seconds left and a loss imminent, Colson walked right past Mike Brey, said “I’m going in”, and finished his college career on the court.

Colson is a potential second round pick. He was an all-american last year and a preseason selection this year. He was averaging 19.7 points, 10.2 boards and 2.2 blocks when he was injured.