A Fam­ily Mat­ter

How changes within pro­gram af­fect bonds with ex-play­ers re­mains to be seen

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - SPORTS - By David Borges

The UConn fam­ily. May sound a bit sappy or even pre­ten­tious, but it’s a real thing.

It’s the rea­son dozens of for­mer play­ers and coaches re­turn ev­ery cou­ple of years to play in the Jim Cal­houn Celebrity Clas­sic All-Star Game. When fans can see Ryan Boa­tright hit­ting Cliff Robin­son for a layup at the bi­en­nial event at Mo­he­gan Sun Arena, the bond be­tween for­mer UConn play­ers that ex­tends through gen­er­a­tions is ap­par­ent.

But has that bond been frac­tured a bit? Has the fir­ing of Kevin Ol­lie, the for­mer stand­out player who coached the Huskies to their fourth na­tional ti­tle, cre­ated some dys­func­tion in the fam­ily?

Or will for­mer play­ers still feel wel­come re­turn­ing to Storrs, or play­ing in Cal­houn’s All-Star Game — which will be held again on Aug. 10?

“I hope so,” said Tom Moore, one of new coach Dan Hur­ley’s as­sis­tants. “That’s the hope. I think they will, if they’re will­ing to come back, hear us out, meet Dan.”

Moore, of course, is one link to UConn’s cham­pi­onship past that has been wel­comed back with open arms. He was an as­sis­tant on Cal­houn’s staff from 19942007 be­fore tak­ing over the head coach­ing reins at Quin­nip­iac for 10 sea­sons. He spent last year as Hur­ley’s as­sis­tant at Rhode Is­land be­fore ac­com­pa­ny­ing him to Storrs.

“The good thing about Dan — and I’m a lit­tle bi­ased — is he’s not ego guy, he gets it,” Moore said. “The last thing he’s gonna do is try to turn any­one from the past away. You need to em­brace those guys. He’s not phony. He’s pretty gen­uine, and he’ll pay homage to the older guys. He ap­pre­ci­ates his­tory. If you’ve bled for this uni­form, he val­ues that.”

Hur­ley is the first UConn coach to be hired with no di­rect ties to the school since Cal­houn in 1986. When Cal­houn abruptly re­tired in 2012, he handed over the reins to Ol­lie, who played for the Huskies from 1991-95 and was hired as a Cal­houn as­sis­tant in 2010.

But while Hur­ley had never played or coached at UConn be­fore, he does have ties to the pro­gram. Ge­orge Blaney, Cal­houn’s long­time top as­sis­tant, was a coach and men­tor to Hur­ley at Seton Hall in the mid-1990s. Hur­ley’s fa­ther, Hall of Fame high school coach Dan, Sr., has a long re­la­tion­ship with Cal­houn, and Hur­ley him­self pro­fessed that the Huskies were al­ways his fa­vorite team as a kid.

It also doesn’t hurt that Moore and Kevin Free­man, the for­mer stand­out player who was re­tained on Hur­ley’s staff as di­rec­tor of basFormer

ket­ball ad­min­is­tra­tion, are still with the pro­gram. (Ricky Moore, an­other beloved for­mer UConn player, was not re­tained as an as­sis­tant coach).

In fact, the po­ten­tial fray­ing of the UConn fam­ily may have noth­ing at all to do with Hur­ley.

“I think lit­tle by lit­tle, it’s been go­ing away,” said Scott Bur­rell, the for­mer Husky stand­out who now coaches South­ern Con­necti­cut State. “I think the bond is there for the su­per­stars. It’s the lit­tle guys that are get­ting pushed out, not the NBA su­per­stars. I’ve never met the AD (David Bene­dict), and I live an hour away.”

Bur­rell said sev­eral other for­mer play­ers — Oliver Mack­lin, Mur­ray Williams, Ly­man DePri­est, Chris Smith, John Gwynn — have ex­pressed sim­i­lar con­cerns.

“I don’t know any­one up there to call any­more,” he said. “It’s just a dif­fer­ent feel. We had a re­la­tion­ship when Kevin (Ol­lie) was there. We knew Kevin. I think Danny will do a great job there, but I don’t know Danny well enough to call and get tickets. I know Tom real well, but he’s gonna have a mil­lion calls from other peo­ple. I don’t want to bother Coach Moore, it’s their job to win games.”

And make no mis­take, for­mer play­ers and oth­ers with ties to the pro­gram aren’t happy with Ol­lie’s fir­ing — or at least how it went down.

“It’s scary, the way it was han­dled,” Bur­rell said. “I’m in coach­ing, and I look at it like, ‘Are they gonna do that to try to get out of any­one’s con­tract?’ They could have done it in a dif­fer­ent way if they wanted to go in that di­rec­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to Peter Gold, whose mar­ket­ing firm runs many of Cal­houn’s spe­cial events, it makes a dif­fer­ence that Ol­lie’s fir­ing was ini­ti­ated by Bene­dict.

“If Coach Cal­houn had fired and re­placed the coach­ing staff, I think that’s one thing,” said Gold. “Since the de­ci­sion was made by an AD that’s rel­a­tively new to the univer­sity — out­side of the fam­ily, if you will — it lessens the im­pact on the health of re­la­tion­ships within the group.”

SOAP OPERA AT MO­HE­GAN SUN?

The real in­di­ca­tion of how tight the UConn fam­ily re­mains, of course, will be at Cal­houn’s all-star game on Aug. 10.

“That’s gonna be so in­ter­est­ing,” Bur­rell said. “Who comes, who doesn’t? I’ve talked to my friends, it’s an in­ter­est­ing dy­namic. Does Kevin (Ol­lie) come, does he not come?”

Ac­cord­ing to Gold, Ol­lie will be in­vited to the game.

While the game is still four months away, Gold said he an­tic­i­pates a strong turnout of for­mer play­ers. It’s a good bet that most of the pro­gram’s more re­cent stars will be there. Or­ga­niz­ers are also reach­ing out to some new names from the dis­tant past like Gerry Bes­selink, the cap­tain of Cal­houn’s first UConn team.

“It’s shap­ing up re­ally well,” Gold re­ported. “It’ll be a great mix of play­ers from all gen­er­a­tions. Is there a tear in the fab­ric? I think folks were very sad to see Coach Ol­lie treated the way he was. Per­son­ally, I was very sad to see it go down in the fash­ion that it did. But there’s so much we don’t know. The process hasn’t been pub­lic, so it’s im­pos­si­ble to know what’s go­ing on be­hind the scenes.”

Ol­lie, who is fight­ing to be paid the nearly $11 mil­lion left on his con­tract, had a hear­ing be­fore Bene­dict last Thurs­day. He and his rep­re­sen­ta­tives now have a week to re­spond in writ­ing to the ev­i­dence be­hind his March 10 fir­ing.

Ol­lie is close with sev­eral big names from UConn’s past, in­clud­ing per­haps the big­gest of all — soon-to-be Hall of Famer Ray Allen. Allen posted some pos­i­tive mes­sages about Ol­lie on so­cial me­dia shortly af­ter he was fired. Of course, he and Donny Mar­shall are also on UConn’s board of trus­tees.

Moore said that both he and Hur­ley have re­cently spo­ken with Allen. Moore has also talked to Hamil­ton, Char­lie Vil­lanueva and Rudy Gay. New as­sis­tant coach Ki­mani Young has a re­la­tion­ship with Kemba Walker that dates back years.

Of course, as Bur­rell noted, those play­ers will al­ways have a seat at the ta­ble in Storrs.

“Their names are on the wall,” Bur­rell said, “so they don’t have worry about any­thing. And right­fully so.”

It’s the other guys, the one who weren’t su­per­stars, who are wor­ried about their con­tin­ued place in the fam­ily.

“I think there’s some sad­ness in the Cal­houn fam­ily,” Gold noted. “Will that cause ir­repara­ble harm? I don’t think so.”

RIM RATTLINGS

⏩ As for UConn’s fu­ture, all signs seem to in­di­cate that Jalen Adams will stay for his se­nior year and not turn pro. Adams has been both­ered by a mi­nor wrist ail­ment the past cou­ple of weeks and has had his work­outs cur­tailed a bit. It doesn’t ap­pear that he will test the NBA draft wa­ters with­out an agent, as many play­ers are al­lowed to do.

⏩ UConn has one more open schol­ar­ship for next sea­son, at least for now, and will likely fill it with an­other grad trans­fer. UConn will look for the best avail­able player, prefer­ably a big man or a wing but also a shooter, if one is avail­able.

Jes­sica Hill / As­so­ci­ated Press file photo

For­mer UConn play­ers Rudy Gay, left, and Ray Allen, right, talk with their for­mer coach Jim Cal­houn prior to the 2010 Jim Cal­houn Celebrity Clas­sic Char­ity All-Star bas­ket­ball game in Un­casville.

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