Friday, April 22, 2011

Coombs-McDaniel Busted for Pot

Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, a sophomore on the UConn men’s basketball team, was arrested on drug charges Thursday night, according to

The website cites an arrest report, which stated that UConn police responded to a narcotics complaint on campus Thursday night and found Coombs-McDaniel and two other individuals in possession of 5.6 grams of marijuana, a marijuana grinder and a package of cigars used to smoke marijuana.

The two other individuals identified, according to the report, were Shakwaan Ishmale Simpkins, 19, and Stanley Darnell Winn, 19, both of Boston.

Bail was set at $500 and Coombs-McDaniel is scheduled to appear in Tolland Superior Court in Rockville on May 5.

Spring Weekend festivities began Thursday night at UConn, and police reported making 11 arrests.

Coombs-McDaniel, a Dorchester, Mass native, averaged 5.6 points per game this season as a key swingman off the bench for the national-champion Huskies. He averaged 6.9 points per game in Big East play but was hobbled by knee injury through much of the NCAA tournament, where his production was limited.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Calhoun May Not Get National Title Bonus

While John Calipari will get $325,000 in postseason bonuses despite losing to Jim Calhoun in the Final Four, Calhoun may not get one dime back for winning a national championship.

Here's my story in today's Register detailing how Calhoun may not get his $87,500 bonus for winning the national championship due to the program's failure to meet APR standards.

The gist: according to the five-year contract extension Calhoun and UConn agreed to back in May, Calhoun is to receive a bonus equal to three months of his annual salary for winning the NCAA championship. Calhoun’s base salary is currently $350,000 (he makes nearly $2 million more in speaking and media fees), so that bonus, which would be paid out in August, would equal about $87,500.

However, the contract also stipulates that such a payment would only be made “if the Academic Progress Rate (APR) … for the men’s basketball team has been satisfactorily met.” UConn should learn in a few weeks whether it meets APR standards, but it’s a virtual certainty that the program will fall short of the standard score of 925.

That means Calhoun could suffer a double-whammy: not only could his bonus be kept from him, but per his contract, he must also donate $100,000 to UConn’s general scholarship fund if the men’s hoops program fails to meet APR standards. Oh, and the Huskies would lose at least one, and most likely two scholarships for next season (on top of the scholarship they’ve already been docked by the NCAA committee on infractions).


Some at UConn believe the school’s new administration, headed by incoming president Susan Herbst, could overlook the contract stipulation that Calhoun doesn’t receive his bonus. But if not, failing to meet APR standards could ultimately cost the 25th-year UConn head coach about $187,500.

The APR is a metric established by the NCAA in February, 2005, to measure the success of collegiate teams in moving student-athletes towards graduation. Each player on a given roster earns a maximum of two points per team – one for being academically eligible and one for staying with the institution.

The fact that Kemba Walker is on course to graduate in three years won’t help UConn right now, since this year’s APR, which should be released in mid-May, is based on the most recently completed academic year and the last reported four-year rolling average. That means that for this season, the APR data for 2009-10 is utilized.

In order to avoid scholarship reductions (and, in Calhoun’s case, to earn his postseason bonuses), teams must have an APR above 925 – equal to a 50-percent graduation rate.

What will hurt the Huskies this time around is the amount of players who left the program ineligible, and not on track to earn their degree. Once again, the program will get burned by Nate Miles, who was expelled from the school in the fall of 2008. His departure has counted against UConn’s APR score for the past two academic years, and will continue to do so for the next two, as well.

And this probably won’t make Calhoun feel much better: Calipari, his longtime nemesis whom Calhoun beat in the Final Four, is scheduled to earn $325,000 for Kentucky’s postseason run. According to reports, Calipari earns $50,000 for winning the SEC tournament, $100,000 for reaching the Sweet 16 and $175,000 for reaching the Final Four. That means Calipari’s bonuses alone nearly equal Calhoun’s base salary.

Calhoun’s contract has no bonuses for winning the Big East tournament. He would have earned half a month’s salary for winning national coach of the year and a quarter month’s salary for being selected Big East coach of the year, but he won neither.

Oh, and this: Geno Auriemma (another one of Calhoun's not-so-good friends) is slated to receive his bonus of about $58,333, even though the UConn women’s basketball team was upset in the Final Four. Auriemma has the same base salary as Calhoun and the same bonus stipulations: a month’s salary for reaching the NCAA tourney, two months’ salary for reaching the Final Four or three months’ for winning the national title.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Attn: Riders, Runners and (Not Kemba) Walkers

The NBC Connecticut Jim Calhoun Cancer Challenge Ride and Walk will be held on Saturday, June 11 in Simsbury.

There will be rides of 10, 25, 50 and 75 miles and a 5K walk/run. Walkers are encouraged to bring their children and/or their dogs. The day will culminate with a summer cookout featuring the famous House of Barbeque, hot-air balloon rides, ice cream provided by Ben and Jerry's and live music by the Timmy Maia Band.

Calhoun will be riding, along with several of his assistants and former players. In the past, Ray Allen, Kevin Ollie and others have taken part in the event. Jim's wife, Pat Calhoun, along with Joe D'Ambrosio and Kevin Nathan will be leading the walk.

To register for the ride or walk/run, visit the NBC Connecticut Jim Calhoun Cancer Challenge Ride and Walk website at All riders, walkers and runners will receive a gift bag as a thank you for participation. Every participant will also be invited to a special closed practice and pizza party with the 2010 2011 men’s team in October, 2011. That event concludes with a pizza party in Gampel Pavilion.

The event has raised more than $850,000 since its inception in 2007.

To register or find out more about the event, please visit, or call Gold, Orluk & Partners at 860-674-1500.

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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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Saturday, April 16, 2011

PC Source: LaFleur Hiring "Very Close"

A Providence-based web site is reporting that Andre LaFleur, who just completed his 10th season as a UConn men’s basketball assistant coach, will soon be named the associate head coach at Providence. Former Fairfield coach Ed Cooley was named PC’s new head coach last month. says that LaFleur will be named to the position sometime next week, possibly as soon as Monday.

A source within the Providence program told the Register that LaFleur’s hire is “very close.”

LaFleur, 46, joined Jim Calhoun’s staff at UConn in 2001 as director of basketball operations, a role he served for three seasons. Prior to the 2004-05 season, he was elevated to assistant coach. LaFleur played for Calhoun at Northeastern in the early 1980’s.

While it might seem odd that an assistant on a national championship squad would take a job at a struggling program like PC, LaFleur’s options at UConn in the future appeared limited. Kevin Ollie, just hired as an assistant last year, is a favorite to take over as head coach once Calhoun retires, according to several sources within the UConn program.

As an associate head coach at PC, LaFleur would also be a step closer to a head coaching position he has been looking for for years now. He has long been tight with Cooley, a Providence native.

LaFleur landed several top recruits for the Huskies over the years, including Kemba Walker, who went out of his way to praise LaFleur during his press conference to announce he’s going pro on Tuesday in Storrs.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kemba, Jeter; Jeter, Kemba

We heard Kemba Walker compared to a lot of different players at Tuesday's press conference: Allen Iverson, Chris Paul, Tim Hardaway.

How 'bout this one (avert your eyes, Red Sox fans): Derek Jeter.

We say this for two reasons. For one, on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, Walker -- who grew up not far away in the Bronx but who hates him some baseball -- will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Yankees-Orioles game. Walker has never played baseball -- never really played anything other than basketball -- so he's understandably nervous about throwing a pitch in front of thousands of baseball fans. When asked what's more nervewracking, throwing out the first pitch or playing Butler in the national championship game, Walker paused and then, with straight face, answered: "Probably the first pitch."

But the real analogy derives from the fierce, winning attitude displayed by both Walker and Jeter. Both are natural-born leaders who absolutely hate to lose and love nothing more than to win. Both are terrific natural athletes, but both possess the intangibles needed to overcome some of their shortcomings.

Both, of course, are ferocious competitors.

So what do you think of that analogy, Jim Calhoun, noted Red Sox fan who threw out his own first pitch at Fenway on Saturday?

"Derek was kind enough to come over to congratulate me during the game, which I really appreciated. There's no doubt that Jeter, Pedroia ... guys like that, where they get it from and how they are -- yeah from their parents, yeah from God -- but they don't come along every single day. They really don't. A couple of guys we've had, if they had of what Kemba has, that year would have been so much better for us. If they had some of the drive he has, leadership ... He's unique."

I think that passes for Calhoun agreeing with my Kemba/Jeter analogy.

Anyway, as we mentioned before, Kemba's not a big baseball fan.

"I can't watch baseball," he said. Too slow, apparently. "It's too long, too," he added. (Lucky he's not taking in a Red Sox-Yankees game Wednesday night).

Despite growing up about 15 minutes from the House That Ruth Built and practicing with the New York Gauchos right nearby, he says he's never made it to a Yankees game. (His mom, Andrea, insists she used to bring Kemba and his older brother to games when they were little kids).

Still, he's looking forward to the experience -- including possibly meeting Jeter.

"That's going to be special," he said. "Derek Jeter is one of the more famous guys in MLB. To meet him and Alex Rodriguez and guys like that, that'll be cool."

Walker will be flanked by most of his teammates, including Boston-area native Alex Orkiakhi, who was sporting his Red Sox hat on Tuesday.

"I’m thinking about wearing this hat," Oriakhi confirmed.

"He'd better not," said Walker, shaking his head.

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'Watching You Guys Play Eased My Pain'

Just how much did UConn's miraculous ride to a national title mean to some of its biggest fans? Alex Oriakhi found out recently.

Oriakhi and teammate Tyler Olander had just finished eating some lunch at a local establishment when a woman approached them. The woman, a principal at a local middle school that Oriakhi couldn't remember the name of, told the two UConn hoops players that her husband had just passed away.

"Watching you guys play over these last few games has definitely helped ease my pain," she told them.

"Me and Tyler were really shocked," Oriakhi said. "Just something we love to do, playing basketball, was able to help her out and make her life a little easier. That's just the blessing that came with playing basketball. It was definitely surreal when she said that."

Oriakhi added that the woman had her whole school watching most of UConn's NCAA tournament games and told them they were the kids' role models.

"It was definitely a good feeling hearing that," Oriakhi said.

Also, here's my story on Kemba declaring for the NBA draft.

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Kemba's Mom Would Nix the Knicks ... Sorta

Barring a trade of some sort, it's unlikely Kemba Walker will still be around by the time the New York Knicks are ready to make their first selection of the 2011 NBA draft.

And that's just fine with Kemba's mom, Andrea Walker.

"I have nothing against the Knicks," she said, "but just being from New York, I think that would be too much responsibility on him. Just give him a chance to grow a little, see what he's about, what the NBA's about. Just don't throw him into the lion's den. If it is the Knicks, hey, so be it. It's closer to home, I wouldn't have to get up and move. But, it is what it is."

And wherever Kemba ends up, mom will be with him.

"If it's to Alaska, I'll be there," she said.

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Lamb Will Try Out for U-19 Team

I asked Jim Calhoun if Jeremy Lamb had any thoughts of possibly testing the waters of the NBA draft after his breakout freshman season. Here's what Calhoun had to say:

"No. Jeremy, right now, has three weeks of class. Then, he's going to start his weight-training program, getting ready for the 19-and-under (national team). That's all we've talked about. I've talked to both him and his parents and everybody else involved. We're even seeing if he can go May-mester, which is a 3 ½-week summer session, to get that quick, so that in June he can go out to Colorado Springs to try out for the 19-and-under team."

Calhoun said he had breakfast Sunday morning with Lamb and his family and had a nice, hour-long talk with Jeremy's dad, Rolando.

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Kemba Declares for Draft

Kemba Walker announced his intentions of skipping his senior season at UConn and entering the NBA draft at a press conference today at Gampel Pavilion. In about an hour-long press conference, attended by Jim Calhoun and UConn's coaching staff (Andre LaFleur, George Blaney, Kevin Ollie and Glen Miller) and teammate Alex Oriakhi, here's some of what Walker and others had to say:


"I'll be giving up my senior season and going on to the NBA. I wanted to take this time to thank everybody – thank Coach Calhoun for turning me into a man, from Day One. Most importantly, thank my parents for being very supportive of everything I've done in life."

"I just think it's the right time for me. I think I've accomplished a lot in my college career,a nd I think Coach did a great job of preparing me for that level."

(when did he make the decision)

"A couple of days ago, when I got back from L.A. for the Wooden Award stuff. I sat down with Coach and my family, and we just made the decision that it was time."

(did the potential for an NBA lockout make the decision more difficult?)

"Not really. I finished up this season so well, I'll probably be in a great situation."

(on leaving his teammates and the school)

"It's a happy day, but also a sad day. They're my brothers. I grew with them, they grew with me. Those freshmen, I wish I could stay another year with those guys to see how much they improve. But, it's just time."

"The whole state of Connecticut has been very supportive throughout my whole career. Connecticut will always be my home, regardless of anything. I'll never forget this place This place raised me. I'm just happy to say that I played in this program."

"The reason I am who I am today is because of (Jim Calhoun), and also the other coaching staff. Coach (Andre) LaFleur, he was the one who took my ggame to a whole new level, he helped me mature as a basketball player. Every other coach: Coach Blaney has been great, K.O., Coach Miller, they've been great throughout my career."

(what type of player he'll be in the NBA)

"I think it all depends on the team I go to, whatever style they play. I'll have to adjust to whatever team I go to."

(on what he'll do for his family after being drafted)

"Whatever I can do to repay them for making me the kind of person that I am. As far as goals in the NBA, hopefully I can go into the NBA and once again prove all the doubters wrong, like I've been doing my whole life. Everybody's saying I'm too small, can't guard anybody in the NBA. Just prove them wrong."


"It's time for Kemba now to be a little more selfish than he has been, to take advantage for him and his family and for everybody else, because he's been so special for us."

"It would be very hard to be a more loved player than Kemba Walker."

"We're only controlled by how others see us by Kemba, than the perception of us is awfully good, because he's a very, very special person."

(on what kind of NBA player he'll be)

"He's got some Allen Iverson, in the fact that he's actually 20 pounds heavier than Allen was when he first went to the NBA … he'll be able to score points, he'll be able to defend, he can play above the rim, and he can lead a team. Against Bucknell, he had 12 assists, there were times when he could have had 15 assists. He sees the game, he understands the game. One of the great things about him – you can get players who can run a team and are quick and fast. Well, he can run a team, he's proven that very definitively. He can score points. On a lot of teams, you're going to need that point guard to score points – Chris Paul has to do that. Whoever he's drafted by is getting a guy who's going to be great by the time he gets on the bus."

"I told him, we just don't have a scholarship for him … although we'd probably find one if we needed to."

"It's an incredibly happy day for all of us – his family, his wonferful family, and Kemba – but it's a very sad day for us to lose them, and Kemba. But, in life, you've got to keep going."

"He's done everything you can possibly do, including winning a national championship."

"He got the most singularly important trophy you can get – the national championship."

(on where he could be selected in June's NBA draft)

"One team has said No. 1. It depends on the need factor. We can probably talk about Williams and some of the other guys, it depends upon who and what you need. Clearly, from the people I've talked to so far, he's probably top 10. You want a guy who's going to win for you


"I just wanted to be here to support him and here the good news that he's taking his game to the next level. It's definitely kind of emotional, because Kemba's one of my best friends. He's a real good dude. It's going to be sad to see him go, but he has to move on."

We'll have a couple more blog posts coming over the next hour that deal with some more specific subjects.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Kemba Will Go Pro

Kemba Walker will announce his intentions to go pro at a press conference tomorrow at 3 p.m., a source confirmed to me moments ago.

Can you blame him? His draft stock is as high as it's ever going to be, and what more is there for him to achieve at the collegiate level? Oh yeah, I suppose he could try to win Big East and national player of the year awards, now that Ben Hansbrough and Jimmer Fredette are graduating.

It's been an amazing ride. We wish Walker luck at the next level.


'The Decision': Kemba's Version

Kemba Walker will hold a press conference on Tuesday at 3 p.m. at Gampel, and it has nothing to do with what type of pitch he'll throw at Yankee Stadium the following night.

The press conference will be webcast live and can be seen at


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Asking the Tough Questions

Cleaning out the FlipCam today and found this video of Alex Oriakhi getting asked the tough questions by a future Jim Gray. Kid was working for SI Kids, I believe. Thought it was kinda funny.

One thing about the Final Four: the media grind for these college kids is equally, if not more, exhausting than even playing nine games in 19 days like the Huskies did. You're used to seeing athletes at big events getting mobbed by the media before, after and in between games, and being asked the same ... questions ... over and over again by the national media. But sometimes you forget that these are just 18-, 19-, 20-year-old college kids who aren't exactly used to this process.


Calhoun to Ring NYSE Opening Bell

Jim Calhoun will ring the New York Stock Exchange's opening bell on Friday at 9:30 a.m.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

UConn Parade on April 17

You'll have to wait a while, but the UConn men's basketball team will get a victory parade through Hartford. It'll be on Sunday, April 17. Here's part of the press release:

Governor Dannel P. Malloy today announced that the Hartford Business Improvement District will host a victory parade and rally on Sunday, April 17, to congratulate and honor the University of Connecticut Men’s Basketball Team for winning the National Championship Game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The victory parade, which will begin and end at the State Capitol, will start at 3:00 p.m. on April 17 and wind around Bushnell Park, Main Street and Capitol Avenue. A victory rally with the coaches and players will take place on the north steps of the Capitol building immediately following the parade. Parade and rally organizers are relying on private funds to support both events.

There Will Be a Parade!

It's just that no one knows exactly when yet. Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and UConn assure us that there will be oone, however, pending the players', coaches' and staff's schedules.

Stay tuned ...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Game Story and Notebook

My national championship game story and notebook.

Did That Just Happen?

On March 7, the day before the Big East tournament started, a fellow reporter asked me, “Do you think there’s a chance, if they lose to DePaul, that they won’t even go to the NCAA tournament?”

I actually had to think for a moment before replying, “No, they’ve done enough already to get in.”

And they had. Still, that the Huskies being sent to the NIT – not to mention losing to DePaul – was even being considered tells you just what a rut they were in. Four losses in their prior five games, and virtually no momentum heading into the Big East tournament as the league’s ninth seed.

Nearly a month later, they’re national champions.

Unbelievable. I mean, seriously … did this just happen?

Granted, it was the Land of Misfit Toys this year in college basketball. All four Final Four participants were oddballs with amazing stories of their own. VCU, which had to win five games just to get to Houston as a First Four participant. Butler, the first team from Indiana ever to reach consecutive Final Fours. (I still can’t get over that one, considering the hoops tradition of that state).

Even Kentucky and its “problem child” coach, John Calipari, overcame youth and some early-season struggles to get on an impressive roll and find itself in Houston.

But UConn’s road may have been the most improbable, and not only because it won the whole thing. I mean, seriously: five wins in five days to win the toughest conference in America’s tournament? Nine wins in 19 days, overall, to get to Houston – six of them over Top 25 teams?

Once they got there, of course, there was no denying them. Kemba Walker was on a mission. Calhoun wasn't about to let Brad Stevens and Butler -- as classy and respectable as they are -- stand between him and his third national title. Look no further than the message on the whiteboard inside the Huskies' locker room.

"We Didn't Come Here to Win the Semi's" it says, in case you can't read it. Never found out who wrote it, but the fact that it could have been anyone -- Calhoun, Walker, another starter, a reserve, an assistant coach -- tells you the unified resolve of this team.

A merry band of freshmen, a couple of sophomores and one superstar, and they’re national champs? It just doesn’t make any sense.

And yet they did it. Truly amazing. National champions. And a month earlier, you had to pause for a moment to consider whether they were NIT-bound.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

John Cahill on the Whistle

UConn and Jim Calhoun nemesis John Cahill is one of tonight's officials, along with Verne Harris and Doug Shows.

Last season, Cahill called an iffy foul on Gavin Edwards in UConn's Big East-opener at Cincinnati, that sent Lance Stephenson to the foul line for the game-winning free throws with 0.7 seconds left.

Later in the season, while Calhoun was on a medical leave, Cahill awarded Jim Boeheim what seemed to be a belated timeout call late in a game at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse scored on the ensuing play and won a close game.

Still, when Calhoun returned from his leave a few days later, he noted that he didn't think any one official had any agenda against his team, and specifically said that Cahill was "one of the best officials in the country."

Elsewhere, same starting lineup: Lamb, Kemba, Olander, Roscoe Smith, Oriakhi. For Butler, it's Mack, Vanzant, Stigall, Howard and Smith.

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Prediction Time

I've been hearing a lot all day about the matchups in tonight's national championship game. Can Ronald Nored shut down Kemba Walker? Who matches up with Matt Howard? Can the Huskies control the boards? Who matches up with Jeremy Lamb? Can UConn stop Shelvin Mack?

It all makes nice conversation, and certainly some of it bears watching. But in a game like this, with history on the line, I more or less throw the matchups out the window. I look at tonight's game more like this: Will Kemba be denied? And, with all due respect to Brad Stevens, is he really the coach who stands in the way of Jim Calhoun being added to college basketball's coaching Mount Rushmore?

I don't think so, on either count.

I like the Huskies tonight. I think Butler will put up a good fight, and is more than capable of winning. But I don't think it will. I think UConn wins its third national title.

There's a quiet confidence about this team right now. Not cockiness, just supreme confidence, beyond its years. I think the Huskies legitimately respect Butler as a very tough opponent. But I also think they realize that something very special is right there for the taking, and it's hard to bet against guys like Walker and Calhoun.

UConn, 67-63.

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And Away We Go ...

Not much more to write or say. UConn faces Butler tonight for the national championship. Should be a good one.

The Huskies have been led all year by Kemba Walker. Can he lead them to one more victory tonight?

Kemba also teases UConn fans a bit by leaving the door slightly ajar to a return next season. Sorry, I just don't see it happening.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Kemba's Dreaming of Cutting the Nets

Kemba Walker has been dreaming lately, and he's been dreaming big.

Asked if he's thought about winning the national championship, Walker responded: “I think about it every night. I thought about it (Saturday) night, before the (Kentucky) game. I thought about it after we beat Arizona. I can’t stop thinking about it, honestly. I just keep having these visions of us cutting down the nets and celebrating after the game. So, hopefully, my visions can come true.”

Tough to bet against that, eh?

Foul Ball

Butler leading scorer Matt Howard (16.7 points per game) is a real force. At 6-foot-8, he boasts the ability to step back and hit the 3-pointer (41 percent this season) along with the ability to mix it up down low.

One problem he’s had over the years, however, has been a susceptibility to foul trouble. This season, Howard has fouled out of four games and drawn four fouls in eight others. That will be on Oriakhi’s mind when he most likely draws the assignment on Howard, at least to start the game.

“I’m going to do a good job of making sure my teammates go to me early,” Oriakhi said. “If we can get him into foul trouble early, that would be great, because he’s obviously one of their best players.”

Bradley: ‘It’s Difficult’

Michael Bradley knew the situation entering his freshman year at UConn. He even embraced it, knowing he wasn’t quite ready for the rigors of the Big East.

Still, it hasn’t been easy for the 6-foot-10 center to sit out this season as a red-shirt while the Huskies have made their miracle run.

“It’s difficult, because you want to be out there,” Bradley, a soft-spoken Chattanooga, TN resident, said on Sunday. “It’s hard just watching at times, especially if you’re losing or the game’s really tight and you just really want to be out there."

But, he added, “You’ve got to stay positive and turn everything into a positive, get better, get stronger and help my teammates out and make sure they get better.”

And, he believes, he’s improved as both a player and a person since enrolling at UConn.

“Definitely. I wasn’t as strong, and I hadn’t played much basketball to that point. Just going against Chuck (Okwandu) and bigger opponents, I’ve gotten better.”

Notes 'n quotes

*** Walker said his ankle, which he tweaked Saturday night against Kentucky, is perfectly fine.

*** Calhoun on Butler head coach Brad Stevens, who’s heading to his second straight national championship game at age 33: “If he’s the prototype of what’s ahead in coaching, we’re in great shape.”

*** Shabazz Napier on Calhoun: “If he was young enough, he’d still be out there playing with us. He probably wouldn’t do much because people would lock him up (defensively).”

*** Calhoun on where Walker ranks in UConn history: “He’s going to be just ‘Kemba’ now,” Calhoun explained. “That’s important. If it’s just Ray, Caron, ‘Rip’, ‘Mek,’ Ben … it’s just Kemba now. That’s a great status to have.”

*** Oriakhi on the possibility of helping Calhoun win his third national title:

*** Calhoun on how the NCAA investigation has affected him this season: "I've had three bouts with cancer, that's a lot more devastating ... What others say, a.) it depends on who it is, b.) what they're saying, how much validity it has, c.) how they're chasing the dead horse, as we've had recently."

The latter is an obvious reference to the New York Times' recent interview with Nate Miles.

"I love basketball, I love UConn, I love my life, I love my family, I love my God. I have my two nuns here to make sure I stay holy. The only thing I ask them to do is, Please don't look at me on the sidelines. I'm really not saying that. It's somebody else who made me say that."

Sitting two rows behind the UConn bench on Saturday, I can vouche that Calhoun doesn't want nuns anywhere near the general vicinity.

*** On Oriakhi's pregame dance moves. Kemba: "It was hot." Shabazz: "Smooth. It needs some work, but it's smooth."

*** Calhoun on how odd it would be to win a national title, then sit out the first three Big East games next year: "I haven't even thought about it, nor do I expect to think about it. It's a legitimate question, but I don't have a thought about it because, right now, I'm thinking about Butler. After that, I'll think about recruiting. After that, my golf trip starts May 9. We're going to be gone for nine days, no telephone, play golf, 16 of us. It will be fun."

*** And, finally, Calhoun on whether he might step down and ride off into the sunset if the Huskies win on Monday night.

"You sound like one of our alumni midway through the season when we lost four out of five."

For the record, Calhoun said, as he always does, that it's a decision he'll make after the season has been over for a while.

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Kemba's Staying! (Late April Fool's Joke?)

Jim Calhoun had a smirk on his face when he interrupted his own thought and said the following at Sunday's press conference:

"(Kemba) already told me the other night he's staying, which is really good to hear. I'm really happy to say that. I'm holding him to it, by the way."

Calhoun smiled. Walker smiled, then whispered something to Alex Oriakhi, seated next to him.

It was a joke, people. Take absolutely no credence in what Calhoun said. Not happening. Don't even let what Walker said later at his own press conference fool you.

Before that, he said: “I think if I’m in the right situation, I have to take my chances.”

That's what's going to happen. Walker is going pro, no doubt about it. His teammates all know it, and have essentially said it. Kemba hasn't come out and said it, he's saying all the right things right now. But he will be on an NBA roster next year.

Lockout, you say? Well, Walker would have to declare for the draft before any potential NBA lockout is in place, so I don't see how that would necessarily affect his decision.

Enjoy him while you have him, Husky fans. For one more game. And what a game it will be.

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41 and Done!

One of the most tiring questions asked by the media over the past couple of weeks has been whether or not the UConn men’s basketball team is, well … tired.

Normally, it's all Kemba Walker & Co. can do to keep from rolling their eyes each time they're asked the question. Until Saturday night, when Walker finally gave in.

"I usually won't tell you guys I was tired," he said after UConn's win over Kentucky, "but I actually was."

He has every reason to be. You know the numbers by now: 5 games in 5 days (Big East tournament), 9 games in 19 days (to get to the Final Four). Here is maybe the most relevant number right now: 41 games in 5 months.

Monday night's national championship bout with Butler will be UConn's 41st of the season. That will be the most played in a season by a team since Oregon (30-15) played 45 contests in 1945. That's what happens when you play three games in Maui, five games in the Big East tourney and six in the NCAA's.

*** Writers are tired, too. No, we don't expect your sympathy. No reason to feel bad for us, getting paid to do something we love while chronicling a bit of sports history. But this has been quite a grind.

The only thing comparable, for me, would be when I was covering the Red Sox in the 2004 postseason. The long flight out to Anaheim; the excruciatingly long Games 4 and 5 of the ALCS, getting home at about 3 a.m. and driving right back to Fenway the next morning, or boarding a train to New York (no day off between Games 5 and 6 due to a rainout); the long nights of Games 6 and 7; the quick turnaround into the World Series and flight out to St. Louis. Fortunately, that series didn't last too long.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have covered that historic postseason run. And no matter how Monday night turns out, I feel equally privileged to have covered UConn's amazing run, as well.

But enough about me ...

*** Is it worth noting that both national championship game participants played their "second" and "third" round games at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Butler was lucky to have won both of those games, against ODU and Pitt. I guess that's just kinda what they do.

*** Butler is the first school from Indiana to earn consecutive trips to the Final Four. How is that possible, with Indiana, Notre Dame, Purdue and even Indiana State within the same borders?

More to come later ...


Register Game Story, Notebook

Here's my game story off UConn's win over Kentucky Saturday night in the Final Four.

And here's my notebook.

Good night, all. See you in the morning.

Shabazz Overcomes Low Blow, Shines in Clutch

Shabazz Napier didn’t have much of an impact over the first 37 minutes of Saturday night’s Final Four bout with Kentucky.

He missed his first six shots from the floor and hadn’t scored at all to that point.

But Napier’s fingerprints were all over the final 2 ½ minutes of UConn’s 56-55 victory over the Wildcats. The freshman guard had a big basket, a big rebound, a bad turnover and two big free throws over that span – all after surviving a low blow earlier in the game.

Napier’s two foul shots with two seconds left sealed the victory for UConn. He had grabbed the rebound of a DeAndre Liggins 3-pointer and went to the line with the chance to send the Huskies to Monday night’s national championship game.

“The first thing that was going through my mind was the Syracuse game, when I had the chance to make the free throw to end the game and I missed it,” Napier recalled. “I saw my mom in the stands and said, ‘I’ve got to make this, man.’ After I made it, I was ecstatic, I was happy. I felt like I redeemed myself.”

Napier had picked a good time to hit his first field goal of the night, a nifty driving layup with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left that capped a 6-0 UConn run and gave it a 54-48 lead.

However, with the Huskies clinging to a two-point lead, Napier turned the ball over in the lane.

“I was kind of upset,” Napier said. “I felt like I let my team down, and that’s the worst feeling in the world.”

UK’s Brandon Knight grabbed the loose ball on the floor and called timeout with 16.6 seconds left, setting up a chance for the Wildcats to win the game or send it to overtime. But Liggins missed the 3-pointer, Napier grabbed the rebound and redeemed himself with the two free throws.

The freshman also did a good job much of the night guarding Knight, the Wildcats’ top scorer who shot just 6-for-23. He seemed to frustrate Knight, too, causing the UK freshman to hit Napier in his man region just before a timeout late in the game.

“He said it was accidental,” Napier said. “It was uncalled for. I was trying to get the timeout, and he just swung. I’m like, ‘Just play basketball, man.’ There’s no reason for that. We’re on a big stage, we’re trying to get to the same place, there’s no reason for that.”

A trip to the national championship game is enough to let Napier forgive and forget.
“He just looked at me. He knew he was wrong for it. At the end, I said, ‘Is that intentional?’ He said he didn’t mean it. It’s over with.”

So Tired?

As if winning five games in five days at the Big East tournament or nine games in 19 days to get to the Final Four wasn’t taxing enough, there’s another reason to question how fatigued UConn might be right now.

When the Huskies take the floor on Monday night, it will be their 41st game of the season – most by any team since 1945, when Oregon (30-15) played 45 contests.

On Saturday, UConn and Virginia Commonwealth tied the modern record (since 1948) of most games in a season, which has been done seven other times: Duke in 1986 and last season, UNLV in 1990, Kentucky in 1997, Florida in 2007, and Kansas and Memphis in 2008.

Hilton Heads to Houston

Hilton Armstrong was in the UConn locker room after the game, congratulating various Husky players.

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Tonight's Starting Lineups, Refs

UConn goes with the same starting lineup of its last few games: Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Roscoe Smith, Alex Oriakhi, Tyler Olander.

No surprises from Kentucky, either: Darius Miller, Brandon Knight, DeAndre Liggins, Terrence Jones, Josh Harrellson.

Tonight's officials are Les Jones, John "Don't Call Me Tim" Higgins and Mark Whitehead.

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Kemba an NABC First Teamer

Kemba Walker was named a first team All-American by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). This makes him a consensus All-American, as he also earned the honors from USBWA, Sporting News, AP and the Los Angeles Athletic Club.

Here are the NABC All-America teams:

G Kemba Walker – Connecticut
G Nolan Smith – Duke
G Jimmer Fredette – BYU
F/C Jajuan Johnson – Purdue
C Jared Sullinger – Ohio State

Second Team All-Americans
G Ben Hansbrough – Notre Dame
F Kyle Singler – Duke
F Marcus Morris – Kansas
F Derrick Williams – Arizona
F Jordan Hamilton – Texas

Derrick Williams second team? East Coast media bias!

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Jim Calhoun Can't Do This

Conventional wisdom -- confirmed by sources within UConn's program -- is that Kevin Ollie would succeed Jim Calhoun whenever Calhoun decides to retire. We can guarantee here's one thing Ollie can still bring that Calhoun can't:

Here are the stories from today's Register: a game advance in which we ponder whether this is Calhoun's greatest coaching performance yet, and a notebook which talks about DeAndre Liggins ready to guard Kemba Walker, Glen Miller's interest in the Colgate job and other items.

And, of course, no UConn trip to the Final Four would be complete without Nate Miles surfacing.

Finally, here's a capsule breaking down the matchups between UConn and Kentucky.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Putting the 'D' in DeAndre Liggins

Over the past few weeks, Kemba Walker has burned just about any player who’s tried to guard him.

He’s torched guys who were the defensive players of the year in their conferences, shot over smaller guards, blurred past 6-foot-8 forwards and forever resigned poor 6-10 Gary McGhee to Craig Ehlo status after an ankle-breaking move for a game-winning shot.

Tomorrow night, DeAndre Liggins gets his chance. Liggins, a 6-6 junior who was the Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year, is certainly ready.

“The thing with me is taking on the challenge, being competitive,” the Chicago native said on Friday, “having confidence that I can stop the other guy.”

Liggins has stopped other top players this season, most notably Tennessee star Scotty Hopson (5-for-18, 24 points in his two meetings with Liggins this season). Of course, he wasn’t so successful guarding Walker in the Maui Invitational championship game on Nov. 24. Liggins – and several other Wildcat defenders – allowed Walker to pour in 29 points and lead the Huskies to the title.

“He killed me, he killed us,” Liggins recalled. “He had it going offensively. He has great confidence and my job is to contain him a little more.”

Walker has all but said that no one can stop him in the past, but he was judicious in his praise of Liggins on Friday.

“He’s one of the better defenders because he’s extremely active and had a height mismatch over me,” Walker said. “He’s got great length. I know it’s going to be a difficult, tough night for me. But I’m just counting on my teammates to give me the ball in the right situations and set up some great screens.”

Liggins is anticipating a tough night, as well.

“You can’t stop players like (Walker),” he said. “You just have to do your best on them. If he makes shots over you, then you have to live with that. But he is going to make shots over me (tonight). He is going to make some crazy shots, but I have to keep playing. I can’t get frustrated.”

Cal vs. Cal, Pt. Deux

Not to belabor this, but it is fun: Jim Calhoun and John Calipari are having fun with the (correct) perception that the two don’t get along well.

When asked about their bitter feuds back when Calipari was coaching UMass, Calhoun said: “He was loud, 50 miles away, trying to fight for a little bit of turf in New England … John really was trying to claim New England, he could never say he ‘parked the car in Harvard yard,’ he didn’t know what clam chowder really was. He had the red stuff, not the real clam chowder. I took umbrage to it, but I take umbrage to a lot of things.”

Calhoun did add, however: "He's developed into, in my opinion, a terrific coach. I watched the way he coaches. His kids play hard, play great defense and play together. He's been getting, as you well know, tremendous, big-name players. I have a lot of respect for him as a coach and no disdain for him as a person."

Calipari addressed Calhoun’s “My Three Sons” reference earlier in the week, when he referred to the other three (younger) coaches in the Final Four as “my two sons, and my problem child.”

“I did tell him that I knew (“My Three Sons” star) Fred MacMurray, Mr. Calhoun,” Calipari said, “and you are no Fred MacMurray.”


Calipari was asked two questions at today's press conference that indirectly referenced his past, which includes his two prior Final Four apperances (with UMass and Memphis) being vacated later by the NCAA.

First, he was asked if he is the "2000 Jerry Tarkanian."

"I respect everything that Jerry did, his kids, how they played, all those things," Calipari said. "But no, I think I'm the 2011 John Calipari. I don't know what that means and I hate to talk in the third party. But I am who I am."

Later, someone asked him "how it feels to coach in your first Final Four?"

Calipari smiled and said, "I don't deal with that. We've been here three times. Those players played those games and did what they were supposed to. I'm so proud of what they've all accomplished. It's been fun. It's been a good experience, and this is going to be a good experience."

Not Here to Talk About the Past

Calhoun was reminded of his own checkered past, as well. He was asked about Nate Miles' recent interview with Slam magazine, in which Miles said UConn's athletics administration knew that the Yahoo story was coming out and were looking (particularly A.D. Jeff Hathaway) for a way to boot him out of school.

"I said my personal and private feelings would not be discussed, and are not going to be discussed," Calhoun said. "If anybody wants to drag up an experiene that happened two years ago, bring it back up, that's their choice. I'm going forward because I'm going forward with my life."

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Miller Interested in Colgate Job

As great a ride as it's been for Glen Miller in his first season as UConn's director of basketball administration, he yearns to be back on the sidelines as a coach in some capacity.

In his current position, Miller isn't even allowed to be on the floor during practices, and he's not supposed to function as a coach during games.

With that in mind, the vacant head coaching position at Colgate intrigues Miller, and the interest appears to be mutual: Colgate athletic director Dave Roach hired Miller at Brown, where Miller spent six successful seasons as head coach.

"I’m sure he’s going through a process of evaluating other coaches," Miller said of Roach. "But he knows me, he knows me as a coach, he had experience with me for six years that were a successful run. So it’s not like he needs to do a whole lot to find out more about me."

Colgate head coach Emmett Davis was fired a couple of weeks ago.

More than anything, at this point, Miller doesn't want to distract from UConn's Final Four experience.

"You just don’t know what’s going to come up in the next couple of weeks or the next month. You’ve just got to be patient and be engaged in what’s going on right now, which is real special."


Live Chat Today at 1:30

Please feel free to join me for a live chat today at 1:30 p.m. from Reliant Stadium in Houston. I'll be talking UConn hoops and Final Four hoops in general. You can join me here and/or submit questions throughout the day via Twitter at #NHRUConn.

Thanks, and hope to see you then.

In the meantime, here are my stories from today's Register, on Kentucky's Brandon Knight, who nearly went to UConn, and on the Jim Calhoun-John Calipari relationship over the years.

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