Calhoun a winner in return to sidelines
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).