Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Big East Bouillabaise

Lots of stuff from today's Big East Media Day at Madison Square Garden. As you likely know by now, UConn has been picked to finish third in the Big East, being Villanova and West Virginia.

That comes as a surprise to Jim Calhoun.

"My fellow coaches have made a vow going back 12 years of making sure I never got coach of the year by making us third or better preseason," Calhoun said. "There seems to be a pact. New coaches come in and are told that, I think."

He was kidding. Pretty much. We think. (Calhoun has, incidentally, won the league's Coach of the Year award four times -- but not since 1997-98).

Calhoun was equally astonished that the Huskies even got a first-place vote from one coach.

"I couldn't believe that someone picked us first in the league, after losing the No. 2 guy in the draft and the most dominant defensive player in the league," he said, before adding, "I'm not saying we can't (be the best team)."

***Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker have been selected to the preseason All-Big East second team. Stanley Robinson made Honorable Mention.

Dyson said he knew Jasper Howard, largely through Dyson's cousin, Anthony Davis, who is on the UConn football team.

"He just went out to have a good time after winning a game, and to have that happen is just tragic. It leads you to question what can you do on your own campus? Do you have to watch your back at every moment?"

***Could UConn have gone to last year's national championship game if Dyson had been healthy? Dyson thinks so.

"I think we could have beat Michigan State. It would have been a great game between us and North Carolina. I really can't say who would win that game, because we both had great players."

***Most people probably know that Dyson was a standout football player at Proctor Academy, but did you know he also played baseball? Center field, to be exact.

"I was alright," Dyson reported. "I liked playing."

He's a Yankees fan, if you care to know.

***Robinson said he's had surgery on a deviated septum a short while ago. He's tried to keep it somewhat under wraps, however.

"I don't want anybody aiming for my nose," said Sticks.

And he doesn't want to play with the face mask, a la Richard Hamilton.

"I'm not coming out with a mask. Can't do the 'Rip'."

***Calhoun said that Tuesday was the first time so far that Dyson and Robinson have dominated in practice. The Portland Trailblazers and Charlotte Hornets were at practice, monitoring Robinson in particular.

"I guess they watched TV last spring," Calhoun said, referring to Robinson's superb run through the NCAA tournament.

*** Calhoun said he's quickly coming to the realization of "how much the big fella (Hasheem Thabeet) meant so us. Jeff (Adrien) was a good player, A.J. (Price) was a very good player, Craig (Austrie) was a solid veteran. But any game we went into, the other team's power forward or center, most times was negated, if not eliminated. So, that's a great concern of mine.

"It's a whole new group, a whole different kind of team. This is the first team in a long time where I don’t even know how many shots we're going to block. I used to book it with most of our teams, a lot (of blocked shots)."

Charles Okwandu? No-can-do. At least not yet.

"He hasn't put together a practice yet," Calhoun noted. "He hasn't even put in a solid hour together yet. He's got to be better. He's big, strong, he's in the best shape of his life. He should be getting more done than what he is. Some of that's confidence."

Is it unfair to expect Okwandu to step in and be that 7-foot, shot-blocking presence in the middle the Huskies have had for much of the past decade?

"It is (unfair). He should be close to it. I don't think he'll be a double-figure scorer, but he should be that guy who plays 15, 18 minutes a game, along with Alex (Oriakhi). Alex has looked more ready than he has, and Alex is a freshman."

***Calhoun said Oriakhi has been the team's best newcomer so far. He.was asked if Oriakhi compares to Jeff Adrien.

"No. He's more of a post player. I think he'll be a better shooter than Jeff. And … I don't remember anybody coming in with as good post moves. He's got to be more assertive. He's a really nice kid, which really doesn't count much in the Big East. "

***Over the first four days of practice, freshman Jamaal Trice has been the biggest surprise so far.

"Of our six perimeter players, he might be the best defensive player," said Calhoun.

***Naturally, Rick Pitino drew a huge crowd of reporters. His offseason travails – a revealed extramarital affair, which resulted in an alleged extortion attempt – were, of course, brought up.

"You all have tough periods in your life, as I do in my life," Pitino said. "We all know how to get through tough periods the right way. The best part about basketball is, we're so tuned into our goals right now, these players – Sosa, Smith, Reggie Delk – it's their last opportunity. Six months from now, they'll never put on another college basketball uniform in their life again."

Addressing the media, Pitino insisted "I like and respect all of you, and I really do. That's not patronizing in any way. You have a job to do."

However …

"In case you all misread my press conference, that's the only mistake you've made, because I wasn't chastising you at all, in the slightest way. I had just had enough, my family had had enough, and I needed to step up for my family and for myself, get something off my chest. It's your job to evaluate me, it's not my job to evaluate you."

Pitino was asked if his situation will result in distractions for the team.

"It won't be. There'll be no more distractions. I owe it to my team. There may be, for a few hours one day, a personal distraction on my part. But there won't be any team distractions.

"In recruiting, it hasn't come up one time, in one phone call. You're interested in it, because it's your job … the players and the recruits, all they're interested in is their future and making their lives better for their families someday, becoming the best player they can possibly be, and winning games. That's really what they're tuned into."

Noting that he's coached in New York and Boston, Pitino quipped: "I'll hit the Triple Crown someday if I ever decide to take a job in Philadelphia … if I ever take the Drexel job, I'll have the Triple Crown."

***Madison Square Garden has agreed to continue hosting the Big East men's tourney through 2016.

***Jim Boeheim was informed that Calhoun said he missed the old days, when every team played each other twice per season.

"Well, Jim says a lot of things," Boeheim said, rolling his eyes. "I mean, I miss high school."

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Out of all the Big East coaches, who do you think Calhoun has the greatest relationship with? I know he's probably the most competitive with Boheim but..

October 21, 2009 at 7:02 PM 
Blogger David Borges said...

Good question, one that's tough to answer since Calhoun has been known to occasionally exaggerate his friendships with his coaching brethren. I would say, in fact, that he doesn't really have any truly close friends in the profession.

He frequently talks of his phone calls to Mick Cronin, and I know he gets a kick out of Bob Huggins. But his best "friend" is probably Boeheim, even though the two certainly have a very strong rivalry on the floor.

October 21, 2009 at 7:47 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Completely unwarranted and unnecessary question, but regardless of Calhoun's contract situation (in which he should be allowed to stay as long as he wants) what happens post-Calhoun? Specifically, does Uconn allow him to pick his successor, or do they go all mercenary and throw serious cash at some other school's coach? Do you think the coach-in-waiting idea that has popped up in college football will ever cross into basketball?

October 21, 2009 at 9:08 PM 
Blogger David Borges said...

Well, for one, I don't think this will be an issue for several years -- at least four, possibly as many as six or more.

That said: I wonder how much cache this job will have to other coaches once Calhoun leaves. He built the program, and he is the main reason why top recruits come here. Just look at some of the blog postings below.

Take Calhoun out of the equation, and getting big-time players to Storrs is a tougher sell.

That probably doesn't answer your question, and there's a good reason for that: I really don't know what will happen when Calhoun leaves, or what tack the school will take in hiring a new coach.

October 21, 2009 at 9:36 PM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

UConn basketball was nothing before Calhoun, and most likely will be nothing after he leaves. Unless they hire a big time coach, I dont see why top recruits would want to come to UConn. They only come now because of Calhoun. College basketball is all about the coaches.

October 22, 2009 at 8:52 AM 
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