Sunday, April 17, 2011

Calhoun: 'This Never Gets Old'

Some notes 'n quotes from today's UConn national championship victory parade:

*** While the crowd was estimated at 40,000 lining the streets surrounding the State Capitol building, it seemed even more than that. Fans were lined up seven or eight deep virtually throughout the entire route. Hard to believe organizers would underestimate the crowd size, however.

*** There was one noticeable absence. Andre LaFleur, a UConn assistant for the past 10 seasons, was the only coach and/or player from this year’s team not at the festivities. While nothing has been announced officially yet, sources have confirmed that LaFleur will be named the associate head coach at Providence, perhaps as early as today.

Calhoun wasn’t much in the mood to discuss LaFleur on Sunday.

“We will have a coaching change,” he said, “but the best thing to do is talk to Andre about that.”

“He has to do what’s best for him and his family,” Alex Oriakhi said of LaFleur, who earned about $175,000 as an assistant at UConn. “For him to leave this program with a national championship, I guess that’s the best way you can go out.”

Glen Miller, who spent the past season as director of basketball administration, is in line to be bumped up to assistant coach.

“I think we’re going to be all set,” Oriakhi said. “Coach Miller moving up, he’s one of the guys we really looked up to, because he really knows what he’s talking about. He really knows a lot about coaching. I’m just looking forward to working with him more.”

*** Some of the more interesting signs spotted the parade: several pleading, "Marry Me, Kemba." Also, a Knick fan had a sign with Walker already bedecked in Knicks gear.

"The Knick one was a good one," Walker said. "Me being from New York, I’ve always dreamed about playing for the Knicks, of course.”

*** Jim Calhoun had to be prodded to stand up and acknowledge the loud ovation he received after being introduced at the post-parade rally. A few boos were reserved for Jeff Hathaway, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other pols, but for the most part, happiness abounded.

*** Walker, of course, received the loudest cheers of all. Oriakhi gave him a "we're not worthy" bow when Walker made his way to the microphone to briefly address the crowd. A chant of "one more year!” broke out, which the junior point guard found amusing.

“It was fun, but it’s a little too late for that,” Walker said afterwards. “I wish. I really wish I could come back. But, it’s my time.”

Yeah, I'd say so.

*** One of the day's most popular celebrities wasn't riding on the red double-decker bus that held the Husky team. Milling throughout the crowd was Tom Emery, a heavy-set, red-headed man who was nearly as much of a celebrity as the players on top of that bus.

Who's Tom Emery? Well, you know him better simply as "Big Red."

Emery, a Wallingford native who moved to Meriden a few years ago, has been a season-ticket holder since 1973 – the same year he graduated from Sheehan High. Emery expressed the same sentiments Calhoun would later echo: “This never gets old.”

“It’s just something that I enjoy,” he said. “Basketball is a great thing, and they bring a lot of life to the state of Connecticut, which we would never have. We don’t have any pro teams, but the girls and the boys both bring a lot of excitement to the state.”

"Big Red" said he couldn't pick a favorite among UConn's three national titles.

"No. 1, Tampa Bay, was their first. San Antonio was a team that they didn’t think would do anything. And this one here, of course, they counted us out early. Every single kid that’s played in any Final Four stood up for our state as well as possible. I would not look over any team, including this team.”

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