Thursday, June 10, 2010

Calhoun in Bristol

Jim Calhoun was a featured speaker tonight at a fundraiser at Bristol Central High School that benefited the Shepard Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center, a Bristol-based center that helps children with autism.

Calhoun and Dan Doyle, the former Trinity College hoops coach and founder of the Institute for International Sport, gave speeches and took questions from the audience of about 250 inside the school's auditorium. Both men have had had autism directly affect their families (two of Calhoun's grandchildren have battled the affliction; Doyle has an autistic son).

"It's something near and dear to my heart, definitely," Calhoun said.

Here's some of what Calhoun had to say during the two-hour program:

***He spoke highly of UConn's five incoming freshmen. According to Calhoun:

Michael Bradley scored a 1300 on his SAT's and is a great shot-blocker, but will likely be a little raw this year. Calhoun noted that Bradley has lived in an orphanage in Chatanooga over the past few years after a falling-out with his mother, who encountered some tough times.

"About two years ago, his mother wanted to get re-involved with his life," Calhoun said. "He said, 'Mom, I love you dearly, but everything in my life is going great right now, and I want to keep it that way.'"

Tyler Olander "doesn't know it yet, but he has a chance to be an NBA player," according to Calhoun. "He can shoot it, he can run. He has no idea about the fact that he is very gifted."

Roscoe Smith is "tremendously talented, with a wingspan of 7-4 ... he's bigger and stronger, but not quite as athletic as Rudy Gay (was). He's a better shooter."

Jeremy Lamb "will be our best shooter. If he doesn't make it, here and beyond, I'll be very surprised.

And Shabazz Napier "is probably the best player int he class. He's special."

Take that all for what it's worth. We know things can get a bit exaggerated in the Nutmeg State over the summer.

***Ray Allen called him and wanted Calhoun to be at tonight's Celtics-Lakers game, but the coach told him he had a previous engagement.

***On last season: "We weren't as one last year. We should have won 24 games. We won 18. It won't happen again."

***Contrary to popular opinion, Calhoun insisted, he loves the UConn women's team. "Rebecca Lobo is a pioneer for women's sports," he said.

***Calhoun took a little shot at the media.

"People don't realize the impact they have when they just throw things out there," he said. He referenced a story about his final year at Northeastern, when he was about to take the job at UConn but the Boston Globe reported he was going to Arizona State.

Calhoun's sister called and asked why he was going to ASU. He told her it wasn't true, and she insisted it was, because it was in the Globe.

"Not everything in the Globe is true," he told her. "I know that, because I'm quoted in it."

***Calhoun isn't sure if he'll do 25 or 50 miles at his annual bike ride on Saturday in Simsbury.

"I'm ready to do 50," he insisted. "I did 50 the other day ... whatever my wife tells me to do."

***Calhoun wouldn't talk about the situation with the NCAA when asked by reporters.

***One final thing, and I think it's worth noting: Calhoun truly is a complicated figure. A foot-stomping, ref-baiting maniac at times on the sidelines who yells at reporters and, according to the NCAA, may have overseen a program that flouted recruiting rules.

Yet there's no doubt that his charitable work is 100-percent sincere, particularly with things close to his heart: the Franciscan Life Center, heart and cancer research, and autism.

"Out of the blue, we give him a call, he sees what we're trying to do, thinks it's a good cause, so he says 'Yes,' and comes," said Dave Mills, president of the Bristol Sports Hall of Fame. "Not many people would do that ... He's here tonight because of the good man that he is. He's not here for any publicity, etc. He's here for the right reasons, because he has a good heart."

With that in mind:

The Connecticut Bar Association will award Calhoun with this year's Distinguished Public Service Award on Monday, June 14 at the Convention Center in Hartford.

Each year, CBA awards the award to a high-profile Connecticut resident who has demonstrated public service and charity to the Connecticut Community.

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