Ex-UConn coach Jim Calhoun wins 900th game

AP Photo/Jessica Hill

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — Jim Calhoun’s 900th win looked like so many others during a Hall of Fame coaching career.

He stomped. He screamed. He slammed objects.

The only real difference is the sideline he now controls.

The longtime Connecticut coach added another milestone Friday night when the University of Saint Joseph beat Pratt Institute 105-61.

Now in his second season coaching in Division III, Calhoun joined Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim and Bob Knight — all former rivals and national champions at college basketball’s highest level — as the only coaches to coach at least 10 seasons in Division I and reach 900 victories.

The 77-year-old coached just like the guy who took UConn from the Big East basement to the top of the nation, with NCAA titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011.

Now he’s trying to build another program from the ground up.

His return to coaching in 2018 came the same year the former all-women’s school became fully coeducational, with Calhoun’s hiring bringing not only attention but needed funds for improvements.

He has led fundraising for a new gymnasium that’s expected to open next year and replace the 500-seat O’Connell Center.

Calhoun improved to 900-394 in a 42-year career that appeared over in 2012. He had battled problems with his health and with the NCAA, having been suspended three games in his final season in Storrs for recruiting violations. It seemed the right time to walk away.

But he didn’t stay away.

After watching former player and assistant Kevin Ollie guide the Huskies to a fourth title in 2014, Calhoun welcomed the chance to lead his own team again, even one that’s close to home geographically but miles away from where he coached under the brightest lights in college basketball.

He’s now in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference, with no NBA lottery picks such as Ray Allen, Kemba Walker or Donyell Marshall — who was at the game — on his roster. No. 900 showed how much of a turn Calhoun’s career has taken toward the end, as No. 800 was in one of those Big East showdowns in which he so often took part. His second-ranked Huskies beat No. 8 Marquette 93-82 in February 2009, the only season in which Calhoun would reach the Final Four but not win the championship.

This one came in a gym whose wooden bleachers weren’t fully filled, and with the parking lot outside closed for the construction on the Blue Jays’ future home.

Calhoun emerged about five minutes before the game and slowly walked toward his bench — specifically, to his higher chair next to the bench from where it’s easier to sit down and get back up.

And he did, often.

Such as when the Blue Jays allowed a layup on a back cut that tied it at 8 after a little more than four minutes. Or any other time he needed to scream at someone, whether a player, referee or both.

He clutched a bottle of water in his hands for the first five-plus minutes, until angrily slamming it to the ground behind him and leaping off his chair after a turnover in transition.

Calhoun finally calmed down at the end, with a wave to the cheering crowd when his milestone was announced as he walked off the court.

His team plays like his early squads after arriving at UConn in 1986, utilizing full-court pressure to wear down and eventually pull away from its opponent. That style sent him on his way to 625 wins in Storrs, after winning 248 in 14 seasons at Northeastern to begin his career.

And now 27 at Saint Joseph, where a career that once looked finished is still going strong.