The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Calcaterra’s father has traveled far and wide to watch his son this season with Huskies
But for a last-minute phone call from Dan Hurley, “Joey California” may never have entered UConn men’s basketball fans’ lexicon.
Joey Calcaterra, having finished his four seasons at San Diego, was just about to sign on with Vanderbilt as a grad transfer last spring. His parents, Rich and Wendy, liked what Nashville had to offer. After spending a few days with head coach Jerry Stackhouse and his staff, Joey did, too.
“Joey loved the feel of the SEC. He loved where Vanderbilt was,” Rich Calcaterra reported. “But then we came up, per Hurley’s request, to come visit (UConn). Joey watched one practice and he realized that he wanted to be in the Big East, he wanted to play for Hurley. He saw the intensity level, met some of the guys, and that kind of sealed the deal.”
And let’s face it, Joey California, the nickname Hurley quickly bestowed upon the 6foot-3 guard, has a better ring to it than “Joey Vanderbilt” or “Joey Commodore.”
“It was just a better option for Joey,” Rich said.
It wasn’t necessarily a better geographical option. For those who think driving all the way to Storrs for a UConn game is too much of a hassle, Rich Calcaterra might want a word with you.
Calcaterra lives in Novato, Calif., about 20 minutes outside of San Francisco, 10 minutes from Sonoma and 15 from Napa Valley. And yet, he has been to all but two of the Huskies’ games this season.
In fact, Calcaterra hasn’t been home in a couple of months. Part of that is because of Enterprise Events Group, the corporate events company he owns which runs some 200 events a year all over the map, from 45,000-person conventions to 200-person African safaris.
But mostly, it’s because of Joey. For a kid from up near California’s wine country, UConn has somehow been a perfect fit. “Joey California” apparel has been quite lucrative for Joey in this name, image and likeness age and helped make him a fan favorite, even as his minutes and production have been
greatly reduced lately.
“‘Joey California’ has really been something special, for him and his family,” Rich said. “He’s embraced it, in a fun way.”
In fact, the nickname has gone nationwide. Friends and neighbors have taken to calling Joey’s parents Richie and Wendy California. In Milwaukee on Jan. 11 against Marquette, Wendy, a Milwaukee product, was in the house with about 20 family and friends, all sporting “Joey California” gear.
That game, along with a Dec. 10 home win over lowly LIU, are the only two games Rich Calcaterra has missed this season.
“I’ve had three boys play college basketball, and I didn’t miss too many over the years,” Rich noted. “I know it’s kind of a short stint.”
His oldest son, Nick, who runs things at Enterprise Events Group while Rich is watching where those Huskies go, played at Division II San Francisco State. Middle son Frank played at Division III Cal Lutheran.
On Wednesday, Joey Calcaterra will play his final game at Gampel Pavilion as No. 18 UConn holds its Senior Night festivities prior to a grudge match with No. 20 Providence. True, Calcaterra has only been at UConn for one season. True, the Huskies will play another home game a week later against DePaul in Hartford. True, UConn hopes to have at least another month’s worth of games remaining.
But as the third and final college career of Rich Calcaterra’s boys winds down, the well-traveled father will likely be pretty emotional on Wednesday night.
“For me, it’s gonna be a tough one,” Rich noted. “I’ve been taking all three boys over to Oakland ever since second, third grade with AAU games and tournaments. This has gone on for 20-plus years. So, to see the last boy go through his last home game on campus … yeah, it’s gonna be a little rough. Don’t worry, I’ll have a little handkerchief with me, for sure.”
‘That’s the type of boy he is’
This past week has been a fairly typical one for Rich Calcaterra. He was in Las Vegas last week with a corporate group of about 3,000 people. He flew out Friday morning and arrived in Hartford late Friday night for UConn’s Saturday noon game against Seton Hall at Gampel, where Rich sat a few rows behind the courtside season tickets he purchased but lent that game to Donovan Clingan’s father, Bill.
“I don’t like to sit there,” said Rich, who also bought season tickets at XL Center as a way to help out the program. “I’ll use Joey’s tickets (given to players) and give mine to fans. Bill sits there sometimes. My wife and I will find a couple sitting way up top and give them the seats. It’s really worked out well.”
Rich had to leave the game a little early to catch a 4:30 p.m. flight out of Hartford back to Vegas. After a delay in Chicago, he didn’t arrive back in Vegas until about 1 a.m.
He’ll make the trip back to Storrs on Tuesday.
Rich’s travels have been eased by the fact that Joey was able to secure a twobedroom apartment, just a five-minute walk from Gampel, that allows Rich and/or Wendy to stay for two or three nights when they’re in town, before Rich gets back on the road for business. Wendy hasn’t been to as many games, largely to be with the Calcaterra’s “fourth son,” Rocky — a 16-yearold Shih Tzu who’s had health issues.
The Calcaterras are a tight bunch. Nick and Frank live on the same street as their parents, just a matter of feet away from mom and dad.
“It’s an Italian thing,” Rich quipped. “We like to keep ‘em close.”
In fact, the family will take a trip to the “homeland” of northern Italy this spring to visit Cuggiono, a small town outside of Milan that was the birthplace of the Calcaterra family. Joey also has a couple of agents, one who represents the Italian professional league, another who reps leagues in Spain and Greece, if he chooses to continue his hoops career after college.
But first things first. This season is far from over. The Huskies won’t win the Big East regularseason title, but would seem to have as good a chance as any to make a run through the Big East tournament. Then comes the NCAA tournament, where UConn, which already showed how dangerous it can be in tournament play while cruising to the PK Invitational title in November, could be a team no one wants to face.
Joey Calcaterra, who didn’t play at all on Saturday against Seton Hall, could still be a factor. Though he’s struggled with his shot for a while now, he’s still the Huskies’ top 3-point shooter at 42.3 percent.
“They’re going to need him down the stretch run,” Dad promised. “They’re going to need his scoring, and his swagger, for sure.”
Ah yes, “swagger.” Joey Californa’s got it, in spades.
“He brings that to the table,” Rich continued. “Obviously in the Big East, with passion, intensity, you’ve got to have a little bit of that. If you don’t have the Andre Jackson God-given talents, you’ve got to have a little bit of that, play with an edge a little bit. He definitely does that. But he also understands the bigger picture, which makes his parents very proud. He knows basketball is basketball and there are other issues going on in the world, so when he gets in those environments, he understands the impact.”
On Wednesday night, Rich, equipped with handkerchief, will be at Gampel one last time. So will Wendy, Nick and Frank, the first time at Gampel for the latter two and the first time the family has been together for one of Joey’s games since the PK Invitational in Portland, Ore. It won’t be the last: the family will be at Madison Square Garden for the Big East tournament, and plan to get to wherever UConn lands in the NCAA tourney, as well.
Meanwhile, fans at Gampel will say goodbye for the final time to Joey California, who has only been in Storrs for one season but has made it feel like far more.
“He really does have a huge impact on everybody he comes in contact with,” Rich Calcaterra said. “That’s the type of boy he is, I’ll be honest. From a father perspective, I’m not just proud of his stats … but more importantly, the intangibles we’re talking about. He brings a swagger, a passion, intensity, unselfishness, leadership. He had that effect on San Diego. The coaches, players and fans all loved him. It’s really a nice feeling to see the Husky crowd embrace him the way it has.”