Cal­houn a win­ner in re­turn to side­lines

Connecticut Post - - SPORTS - By David Borges david.borges @hearst­medi­act.com

HARTFORD — Jim Cal­houn emerged from the locker room about 10 min­utes be­fore open­ing tap Fri­day night — a lit­tle ear­lier than usual.

The bow-legged gait was fa­mil­iar, as was the stern game face he wore while mak­ing his way to his high­back stool on the side­lines to watch his team warm up.

About 11 min­utes later, he was off his stool, call­ing a time­out less than a minute into the game and pulling Bloom­field’s Mike Sa­gay af­ter he got dunked on. Four min­utes af­ter that ... yup, Cal­houn drew a tech­ni­cal foul — from Jawaan Wil­liams, a UConn alum no less!

“In all hon­esty,” Cal­houn in­sisted, “I’ve said a lot worse than what I said to him.”

Later, that high-back stool was thrown to the floor in frus­tra­tion.

“I tripped on the chair,” he said with a wry smile.

Jim Cal­houn was back. In vastly dif­fer­ent en­vi­rons, but back — as coach of Divi­sion III Univer­sity of Saint Joseph in its in­au­gu­ral sea­son. And he willed his team to a vic­tory. Seemed like old times.

The last time Cal­houn had pa­trolled the side­lines of a col­lege bas­ket­ball game, he was a reign­ing na­tional cham­pion with three fu­ture NBA play­ers on his side: An­dre Drum­mond, Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier. John Cali­pari, whose Ken­tucky team awaited the win­ner, was among the crowd of 22,131 in­side the KFC Yum! Cen­ter in Louisville, Ken­tucky for what turned out to be UConn’s NCAA tour­na­ment sec­ond-round loss to Iowa State. When Lamb’s thun­der­ous — if mean­ing­less — dunk at­tempt car­omed off the back rim in the fi­nal sec­onds, it was a fit­ting end to an up-and-down, frus­trat­ing sea­son for the de­fend­ing champs.

That was March 15, 2012. Fast for­ward 61⁄ years later and the scene was re­mark­ably dif­fer­ent in­side Trin­ity Col­lege’s Fer­ris Ath­letic Cen­ter on Fri­day night.

A sell­out crowd of 1,800 packed into Ray Oost­ing Gym­na­sium as Cal­houn led the Blue Jays against a school called Wil­liam Pater­son. USJ trailed by 14 just be­fore half­time, went on a 20-2 run to start the sec­ond half and held on for a 79-74 win.

Was there ever any doubt?

“My ride home will be pretty good,” Cal­houn said, a con­tent smile on his face. “I’m proud, beyond words, of the way they stood up.”

There were some fa­mil­iar UConn faces scat­tered around the build­ing. Glen Miller, an as­sis­tant on that 2012 team, was back at Cal­houn’s side on the bench. So was Cal­houn’s son, Jeff, and Rashamel Jones. Dee Rowe, an­other leg­endary for­mer UConn coach, was in the crowd, as were long­time UConn ath­letic trainer James Doran and video co­or­di­na­tor Dave “Kappy” Ka­plan. Joe D’Am­bro­sio was on the ra­dio call.

But it was en­tirely new en­vi­rons for Cal­houn, a Nai­smith Hall of Famer and win­ner of three na­tional ti­tles in his 26 sea­sons at UConn. And it looked like there was nowhere in the world he would have rather been.

“He truly does love to coach,” Miller said prior to the game.

“I know that he is very happy to be here,” added USJ pres­i­dent Dr. Rhona Free.

Just like the old days, coach­ing Ray and Caron and Kemba?

“Nah, th­ese are my guys,” Cal­houn re­sponded. “This is my team.”

Cal­houn was Cal­houn. As per his cus­tom for years at UConn, he spun around to bark at his as­sis­tants — namely, Miller — through­out the game.

As for that tech­ni­cal? “I’m just try­ing to help with my 1,400 games (coached),” he quipped. “I think I men­tioned that to him one time. He tried to tell me, ‘I see that block all the time.’ I said, ‘I’m sure you do — in high school.’ I can’t un­der­stand, I was just try­ing to make an ob­ser­va­tion. I’ve said other things that might have been more de­serv­ing than that. I could have got one for a cou­ple of other things, but cer­tainly not that. But, I got it ... I was frus­trated, no ques­tion.”

Still, he wasn’t the side­lines mad­man of years past. At 76, it’s a kindler, gen­tler Jim Cal­houn — cer­tainly more so than even that NCAA tourney game 61⁄ years ago, when he unleashed a not-safe-for-work bar­rage of ex­ple­tives through­out a game where the Huskies were down 22 in the first half and never re­ally threat­ened to win.

Per­haps Cal­houn re­al­izes that, at a school that just went co-ed this year, his team will have some grow­ing pains. Of the 20 play­ers on the team, 17 are fresh­men (the other three are trans­fers).

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