Coaching legend Calhoun returns to Paradise
Published: November 16, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - Take away the limp in his step and the cane aiding the 70-year-old retiree, and one could a find a very relaxed, even jovial, Jim Calhoun on Thursday.
Sitting in the University of Virgin Islands Sports and Fitness Center, the Hall of Fame coach was almost in the same familiar position he enjoyed during the previous 26 seasons as men's basketball coach at the University of Connecticut.
Kevin Ollie has the whistle now. Calhoun still helps in any way he can, despite having surgery in August to repair a fractured hip suffered in April.
"If I couldn't get my sniff and hear the ball bounce I'd feel kind of funny," said Calhoun, who retired two months ago.
His wife, Pat, was having dinner with her friends, so Calhoun was content taking in the Huskies' first practice at the UVI.
No. 23 UConn plays at 7:30 p.m. today against Wake Forest in the first round of the Paradise Jam. The last time Calhoun was on St. Thomas, he led the Huskies to the 2008 Paradise Jam title. That squad was loaded with future NBA talent and advanced to the NCAA Final Four the following March.
"This team is not as good, but it has some things about it I really liked in the first two games," Calhoun said.
He recruited every player on the current team, and some joined him in hoisting the NCAA Championship Trophy in 2011. When he decided to step down in September, Calhoun picked Ollie as his successor. Calhoun accepted a position as a special assistant to university president Susan Herbst.
One of his jobs will be ensuring that UConn isn't playing its only tournament of the season in November.
Huskies' 2013 ban
UConn is ineligible for this season's NCAA and Big East tournaments because of poor academic performance. The program failed to reach the minimum score of 925 in the Academic Progress Rating, which calculates a team's academic standing through each semester in a four-year cycle. The team didn't measure up between 2007 and 2011.
"It happened and I was the head coach, and I felt responsible, without question," Calhoun said.
He said that his team's APRs in each of the previous two seasons are acceptable, but he emphasized that more could have been done to comply with an imperfect system.
"Our past two APRs are close to 1,000, so the way the NCAA, as you know, does things now is kind of retroactive, and to be honest, it was a lose going forward," Calhoun said.
The system has been criticized for including the performance of athletes who leave school early for professional contracts. Calhoun coached 29 future NBA players during his career, which produced three national titles. Points are awarded for players staying in school.
Since 2006, 11 UConn players have been drafted by the NBA. More than half left before their senior seasons.
The NBA requires that players entering the draft complete one year of college. Many players who feel ready to turn pro early in their careers are enticed by programs such as UConn, Kentucky and North Carolina because of the schools' pedigrees for producing NBA talent.
Calhoun is optimistic about the program's academic future as the school is starting anew in many departments. The president took office last summer, and the athletic director and provost are less than a year into their positions.
"It takes a village to build anything good. It takes a village to make some mistakes," Calhoun said.
Calhoun emphasized the importance of integrating programs designed for college athletes and improving academic support for athletes at the highest level.
"Well, if we're gonna ask our kids to go to Germany, you know, right before midterms, have 'em come back, do their midterms and head here, then we gotta make sure that we have an understanding about that," he said. "Hiring more tutors, putting more monies into all that kind of thing. And, by the way, that's going forward."
'Tournament every game'
Calhoun believes the NCAA and Big East sanctions will end up being a good thing for his former players.
"This team, in some sort of ways, has the purist approach to basketball," he said. "They're playing to win games and then keep right on going. The only tournament is every single game they play."
Calhoun already shared in what will be a definite high point in the season. The Huskies upset then-No. 14 Michigan State 66-62 to open the season. The game was played at a U.S. Air Base hangar in Ramstein, Germany, last week. Calhoun was the color commentator for the team's radio broadcast. Junior guard Shabazz Napier put the game out of reach in the closing seconds with a pair of free throws. Napier also hit key free throws late in the team's 2011 Final Four win over Kentucky.
"You know, coming down the stretch, my palms got a little bit sweaty and that kind of thing," Calhoun said.
Napier and his teammates embraced Calhoun following the game.
The former coach says he's not sticking around to look over Ollie's shoulder and wouldn't have picked the 13-year NBA veteran if he was not positive it was the right choice.
"My role, as a guy who loves the game, is to hopefully be a resource for Kevin," Calhoun said. "We're two different kind of coaches. I'm a guy that'll get on you pretty good and then later on let you know how much I love you. Kevin's more positive. â¦ I love him like a son, really. He's a special guy."