CATCHING UP WITH UCONN HALL OF FAME HEAD COACH JIM CALHOUN
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The Nike Global Challenge last week had a who’s who in the college basketball coaching fraternity present. With many new faces on the trail, one familiar face was known to all, that of Hall of Fame Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun. Just a few weeks past his 70th birthday the UConn icon was on the road recruiting trying to secure the future of Husky basketball. His presence is still noticed by high-caliber prospects.
“I saw Jim Calhoun sit down with Kevin Ollie [to watch my game] so that’s good,” highly regarded Class of 2013 forward Kuran Iverson told NBE Sports’ Matt Whitfield this weekend, reminding us all of the recruiting power Calhoun has brought to Storrs during his tenure.
With three national championships under his belt as well as producing 18 1st round NBA draft picks, 13 of which were selected in the lottery, recruits know that he has the track record of helping players reach their ultimate basketball goals. While we know what the players are looking for in their college opportunity and what attracts them to Calhoun’s program, NBE’s Matt Whitfield asked the Hall of Fame coach what it is he is looking for in a player when he attends these summertime events during the live recruiting period.
“Well you look for athleticism certainly,” said Calhoun. “You look for attitude and competitiveness.”
In many instances evaluating talent on the AAU circuit can be difficult because of the style of play and atmosphere surrounding these events, the Nike Global Challenge brought out a very competitive field with something to play for. Prior to chatting with NBE, Coach Calhoun, along with his top assistant Kevin Ollie, took in the action with USA-East taking on Canada in a game won by those hailing from North of the Border in overtime. It was a high level contest where coaches welcomed the opportunity to get to evaluate players in such a setting.
“In this game you just watched [Candada’s win over the USA East team in OT] you saw all three [traits],” said Calhoun. “It was a heck of a game to evaluate. Those are the better games to evaluate in many, many ways because you find out what a guys got.”
While Calhoun is out on the recruiting trail this July looking ahead to the UConn future, the question that fans are wondering is what does the Connecticut team of the present got?
Gone from last year’s team are Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb, both taken in the lottery portion of the 1st round of June’s NBA Draft, and transfers Alex Oriakhi (Missouri), Michael Bradley (Western Kentucky) and Roscoe Smith (UNLV). That is a lot of talent to replace, but in Storrs, expectations are never too far away from winning championships. However, with the team barred from the NCAA Tournament under the NCAA’s APR penalties this is a very unique season ahead for the Huskies. Still, they will suit up and compete, night in and night out because their coach would not have it any other way.
“Obviously we’ve lost five guys, two lottery selections and are expectations are, whatever other things are around us, just to play basketball,” Calhoun told Matt Whitfield. “That’s what you always do. A year ago when we won the National Championship [and] the focus of the team was to play and that’s exactly what we’re doing now.”
The UConn cupboard may be down in numbers due to NCAA sanctions limiting their number of scholarships, but it is far from bare. Returning talents are led by Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels, three players with all-league potential and a four-man recruiting class entering the picture as well, led by Omar Calhoun and Holy Cross captain R.J. Evans. Post-season eligibility or not, you know this team will compete and Calhoun told Matt Whitfield he is looking forward to developing this group and is looking for a couple newcomers to step right in and contribute early.
“Omar Calhoun, I think, is going to be a very good player for us,” he said. “I think from the ability standpoint, R.J. Evans, who was the captain of Holy Cross, got hurt one year and is going to Graduate School at UConn and we’ll have him for a year [will contribute].”
With Drummond, Oriakhi and Smith all moving on, Calhoun is looking for big improvements from a pair of front court players and maybe the increased roles for each will bring their games forward this year.
“Quite frankly, hopefully, we’ll have the emergence of Tyler Olander, who I think should be a better player than what he [has shown],” Calhoun said. “It’s only a matter of confidence. I think there are some kids within our program like, DeAndre Daniels [too], it’s going to come a lot from those guys.”
While they will not be a factor in the NCAA Tournament next season, Connecticut will set their sights on the BIG EAST. It will be a different looking conference next season with West Virginia already gone to the Big 12 and Syracuse following the Mountaineers out the door next summer. UConn has enjoyed a strong rivalry with Syracuse for many years and in the last decade Pitt has also emerged as a BIG EAST regular season rival. The Panthers and Orange will both be calling the ACC home very soon. As the UConn head coach since 1986, Calhoun remembers the simpler time when there was no conference shuffling and expansion and he definitely misses that era.
“This will be my 27th year coaching in the Big East,” he said. “[I remember when] we had eight guys, Rick Pitino, Rollie Massimino, John Thompson II, etc., we sat down around one group [and] we played each other home and home. It was wonderful.
Now, obviously it’s much different, and I’d love to go back, [but] I don’t think they’re going to go back.”
So while the season ahead they will say good-bye to more conference rivals, traditional rivals, new teams are coming in. Calhoun speculated that the BIG EAST could look to forming divisions based on those schools that play football and those that do not, however, the ol’ New England Irishman does not seem to care. Bring it on he implored.
“Put the teams down that we have to play and let’s play them,” he said.
70 years young, Jim Calhoun is still ready to go. He will bring his young team to battle next season and he will compete. He will hit the recruiting trail this summer and he will compete. After all, he knows no other way.