Saturday, December 31, 2011

Giffey Finally Gets Some Run

It seems there's always a player that gets a little more run than normal when George Blaney takes over for Jim Calhoun, and it appears that player this season is Niels Giffey.

Although Giffey played nary a second in UConn's Big East-opening win over South Florida on Wednesday, he got 14 minutes of run today and made the most of it with seven points and some effective overall play.

“He probably thought he was going to play (vs. USF) with me coaching, because I’ve always liked Niels, I like his game," Blaney said. "I just didn’t get a chance to get him in the last game. He had a good opportunity tonight. He gave us two 3’s, he gave us two steals, he even gave us a steal that he kicked the ball on that they didn’t call. He had a great box-out on another play and just played very, very well.”

"I was just happy that I had the chance to get involved, without playing down in Florida," the German sophomore said. "I used my minutes (well).”

Giffey had played exactly one total minute in UConn's prior two games and 12 total in the prior four contests. But you're not going to hear him complaining about PT.

"I don’t want to talk about minutes and stuff like that, that’s just not me," he said. "I would not complain about minutes or talk to coach about minutes. If the coaches think I deserve it, then I’ll be happy.”

Still, Giffey admitted he's been a bit disappointed with his playing time recently.

“Sure, because I was working hard over the whole summer. I had a great summer. That injury in the beginning of the season, that really threw me back. Now, I’ve got to just keep on sticking to it and keep working hard. Everybody’s supporting me.”

“I’m always working hard, working on my shots. It’s not always what’s on the court, but it’s what you do after the games, what you do in practice. That gave me a lot of confidence, and I could translate it to the court.”

Giffey figured to get some run today, not only because Blaney likes him but because Roscoe Smith was limited to just four minutes with a sprained wrist. DeAndre Daniels got the start and did some nice things with six points, three assists and decent defense on Red Storm leading scorer Moe Harkless.

Giffey also helped tag-team on Harkless.

“I think he’s a good matchup for me," he said. "I think he’s a harder matchup for some of the bigger guys.”

Giffey has another supporter in Shabazz Napier.

“Niels played well, which is a great deal for us, because we’ve got to fill that 3-spot," Napier said. "DeAndre, Roscoe and Niels, we’re tyring to figure out which one’s better to fit our offense. They’re all great players, but we’ve got to find out that one player. I think Niels got in there and played well.”

*** Napier's favorite baseball player must be Roy Halladay.

"A complete game is the best game for me," he said.

That's why he wasn't overly happy with UConn's 83-69 win over St. John's.

"I’m picky about how good we can play," Napier said. "If we had played 40 minutes straight and won by 25, I’d have been happy. But we played about 32 minutes good and eight minutes terrible."

One thing not lacking in UConn's game was the alley-oop. Napier connected with Andre Drummond for three dunks on lobs that no one else in the building (or the country) could have caught.

“The alley-oop is very important," Napier said. "It not only gets your team going, but it gets your crowd going. That sixth man, the crowd – that’s no joke. That gets you hyped. It gets you that second wind you’ve been dying for. It makes you want to work and work harder.”

Said Drummond: “We noticed in their zone, they put their shortest guy in the back, that’s going to be good for us. Me and Alex, they just throw the ball up, we’re going to get it, because that’s a 6-3 dude guarding a 6-10 and 6-9 power forward. There’s not much they can really do about that.”

Blaney was disappointed Drummond only had three alley-oop dunks.

“I would like to see them do it about 15 more times. I would like to see Andre get in position to do it about 15 more times. He’s still learning how to get in position. We’re trying to teach him how to offensive box out. That’s what he needs to do a little bit more, because he is so effortless about how he can rise up and catch it. He catches everything, he doesn’t miss anything when his hands are around it.”

*** Drummond's New Year's Eve plans? "Sleep."

That's all I've got for now.

Happy New Year, everyone!!!

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Beat It, Phil

Greetings from the XL Center, for today's St. John's-UConn battle.

First things first: Today marks the last day on the beat for Phil Chardis. Phil has been at the J-I for 39 years and been on the UConn beat for about 30. He's traveled from Hawaii to Israel to Morgantown, W.V. covering the team, and has done an excellent job. No one on the beat saw the in-game nuances of basketball better than Phil.

Now, he's going over to the dark side: Phil's taking over for Kyle Muncy as UConn's men's basketball sports information director. His knowledge of what the media wants and needs and his unique, close relationship with Jim Calhoun will surely help him excel in this venture (though we're a little worried about the first couple of times he runs a conference call).

More good news: taking over for Phil as the J-I's beat guy will be Neill Ostrout, the former Connecticut Post beat man. Neill's as solid as they get, and it'll be great to see him back on the beat, starting next week.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Napier, Roscoe Banged Up

First off, some injury news to report:

Shabazz Napier sat out the latter part of today's practice as a precaution. He suffered a sprain to his left foot during Wednesday's win at South Florida and it's still nagging at him a bit. However, Napier -- who watched the last half of practice from the sidelines with an ice pack around his left knee -- should be OK for tomorrow's St. John's game, per George Blaney.

The news isn't as good on Roscoe Smith, who sprained his left wrist against USF and has sat out the last two practices. Smith's wrist is still a little swollen, though X-Rays have been inconclusive. He's "day-to-day," according to Blaney.

That could be a tough loss for UConn, as Smith would seem to be a strong candidate to guard St. John's fab frosh Moe Harkless. All Harkless did on Tuesday agianst Providence was go for 32 points and 14 rebounds. His scoring total was the most ever by a freshman in his Big East debut, surpassing a guy named Allen Iverson (1994) and Troy Murphy (1998).

“There’s been a lot of good players who have started in this league who haven’t put those numbers up," Blaney marvelled.

How good is Harkless (whose de-commitment from UConn has been well-chronicled on this blog)?

“I don’t think there’s anything that he doesn’t do,” Blaney said. “He’s big, he can handle, he can shoot it in or out, put it on the floor. And he rebounds – 14 rebounds (against Providence) shows me big-time stuff. Most importantly, he believes in himself.”

Added Andre Drummond, who played against Harkless in high school: “He’s like a Jeremy. He plays effortlessly, he just scores.”

*** UConn boasts significant size and depth advantages over the Johnnies, who have just eight scholarship players and don't dress a player over 6-8, and will make a concerted effort to get the ball down low to Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi.

*** St. John’s proved it can run and gun, with 91 points against Providence on Tuesday, but can also slow things down effectively.

“They want to run on your mistakes,” said Blaney, “so we need to take care of the ball and take good shots.”

The Red Storm certainly looked impressive in that win over Providence. But remember, it was Providence.

*** Surprisingly, UConn is looking to start off its Big East slate at 2-0 for the first time since 2003-04. It's also looking to end a two-game losing skid to the Storm, and the losses were ugly: 89-72 last year at MSG, and 73-51 two years ago in the Big East tournament.

Of course, the Johnnies have just one returning scholarship player (backup guard Malik Stith) back from last year's team.

Blaney still sees similarities between last year's St. John's team and this one.

“They play with the same energy," he said. "They’re an exceptionally confident, cocky group. After two wins against us in the last two years, I expect St. John’s to be good.”

*** Blaney said Jim Calhoun is going "berserk" not being able to coach these three games, but said he hasn't had any contact with him. As a matter of fact, he can't, per guidelines of the suspension.

Of course, there's a marked difference between when Blaney runs a practice or game and when Calhoun does.

"We're still running the same style," said Jeremy Lamb. "It's a little different not hearing him on the sidelines."

Blaney did, however, raise his voice a couple of times in practice today over UConn's lethargic defensive play.

Said Drummond: “Coach Blaney’s stepping up really well, he’s doing a great job. I really commend him for taking that position. He’s doing so well with it. A lot of people wouldn’t be able to take that role and do what he’s doing.”

*** Neither head coach will be on the sidelines tomorrow. Steve Lavin will miss his eighth straight game as he recovers from prostate cancer surgery.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Calhoun's Recruiting: 'Only Thing I Know is to Keep Going'

Between Andre Drummond, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels, UConn will be getting more contributions from its freshmen than most top-flight programs this season. Hard to believe that only about 18 months ago, some feared the Huskies would never be landing heralded recruits again.

Here's my story on how UConn and Jim Calhoun stayed the course, even as one top recruit after another was blowing them off back in the spring and summer of 2010.

"(The key thing was) losing a Josh Selby, losing some of the kids we did lose, and to not blink an eyelash, not panic," Calhoun told me. "Instead of moaning about who we didn’t get, what we got is pretty good. I think that’s what you’ve got to do. We stay involved."

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Harkless: One That Got Away

Did you see where Moe Harkless dumped 32 points on Providence last night, the most by a freshman in his first Big East game in league history?

Why can't UConn get players like that? Well, it did: Harkless, of course, committed to UConn back in December, 2009. However, in June, 2010, he de-committed. Why?

I asked Jim Calhoun about it last week, and here's what he had to say:

"It ran back and forth. He felt the moment Roscoe (Smith) committed, he said, ‘How can I play with him?’ Well, Roscoe’s going to be playing with different people himself, because we’re bringing in a kid from Germany. But he didn’t want to hear about it. But he’s doing well at St. John’s. I hope he does exceptionally well, he seems like a nice kid. And Roscoe’s got a national championship ring, so he’s done pretty well. Things have a way of working out."

While the arrival of Smith (who committed in January, 2010 ... Niels Giffey didn't commit until a few weeks after Harkless had de-committed) may have played a role in Harkless's departure, it's safe to say there was more to it than that. No doubt, the controversy swirling around the UConn program at the time played a role. Calhoun had missed seven games that season for undisclosed medical reasons, and there were questions about his future with the program (even though he had signed a new contract extension a few weeks before Harkless de-committed).

Plus, the program was found to have committed eight major violations, and the punishments weren't known yet. There was talk that the Huskies could receive some sort of postseason ban.

All of this played into Harkless' decision to de-commit, according to those close to the situation.

But Calhoun is right: these things have a way of working out. Same with Cleveland Melvin, who has found the perfect spot at DePaul. Both Harkless and Melvin are the focal points of their respective teams and are putting up big numbers. There is no way either would be putting up the same numbers if they were at UConn right now. Or do you think Melvin would have averaged 18 a game last year with Kemba Walker here? Or Harkless doing the same this year on a team with Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier and Andre Drummond?

No chance.

We'll have more on this in a story for the Register in another day or two ...

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Monday, December 26, 2011

My Fearless Big East Forecast

The Big East season officially kicks off tonight, with Pitt playing at Notre Dame and Providence at St. John’s. UConn’s conference season gets underway tomorrow night at South Florida.

As always, it’s going to be a fun couple of months keeping tabs on what I still think is the best conference in America. Some believe the Big East is a bit down this year, but I remember people saying that before last season, as well. The result: a record 11 teams invited to the Big Dance, with UConn, of course, emerging as national champion.

Not saying there will be 11 Big East invites this year, but the conference certainly has Final Four contenders in Syracuse, UConn, Louisville and possibly Marquette and Georgetown. Perennial contenders like Pitt and Villanova appear a little down, but we could see vast improvement from teams like Seton Hall, Providence and even DePaul.

And when it’s all said and done ... I like the Huskies to come out on top. Call me a homer, but I really like what I see here. They’re nine-deep (which is more than what you really need in college hoops), and that’s with Niels Giffey seeing sparse minutes lately and Michael Bradley yet to return from injury. They’ve got great size and athleticism up front (Alex Oriakhi really needs to step it up, however), they play suffocating defense and, more so than in years past, they can actually shoot the ball – fifth in the Big East at 49 percent, up from last year’s 43 percent. Heck, the Huskies lead the conference in 3-point shooting, as well, at 41 percent.

They’ve got a superstar (Jeremy Lamb) and a standout point guard (Shabazz Napier) to help make up for the loss of Kemba Walker. And they’ve got Andre Drummond, whose potential is limitless and who should only get better as the year progresses.

Anyway, here are my fearless predictions for the upcoming Big East season:

1. UConn (14-4) The potential to repeat is there, people. It really is.
2. Syracuse (14-4) I could tell you Syracuse isn’t a national title contender, but then Jim Boeheim might call me a liar who’s only out for money.

3. Louisville (13-5) Remember when Rick Pitino-Karen Sypher was the Big East’s most seedy scandal?
4. Marquette (13-5) Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder may be Big East’s best 1-2 punch.
5. Georgetown (12-6) Hoyas have won at Alabama, beaten Memphis twice already.
6. West Virginia (12-6) Think there’ll be some trash-talking when Jabari Hinds goes up against Ryan Boatright?
7. Seton Hall (10-8) New Haven’s Freddie Wilson (1.1 ppg) hasn’t had much of an impact thus far.
8. Pittsburgh (10-8) Remember when Pitt never lost at The Pete? It’s already lost there to Long Beach State and (gulp!) Wagner.
9. Cincinnati (9-9) If only Yancy Gates always played as hard as he punches.
10. Villanova (8-10) Wildcats still don’t have much up front. Now, even guard play is iffy.
11. Providence (7-11) People close to the program were bracing for the worst season in years this season. Looks like that won't happen.
12. South Florida (5-13) There’s some talent here, but it doesn’t seem to be coached very well.
13. DePaul (5-13) Who’s the better ex-UConn commit, Cleveland Melvin (18.5 ppg) …
14. St. John’s (5-13) … or Moe Harkless (14.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg)?
15. Notre Dame (4-14) Looks like loss of Tim Abromaitis for season is similar to Colts losing Peyton Manning.
16. Rutgers (3-15) Most non-descript team in Big East -- by far. But it does have the best team website in the conference, so there's that.


Jeremy Lamb, UConn
Darius Johson-Odom, Marquette
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh
Kris Joseph, Syracuse
Herb Pope, Seton Hall
Kevin Jones, West Virginia

Peyton Siva, Louisville
Kyle Kuric, Louisville
Jae Crowder, Marquette
Shabazz Napier, UConn
Andre Drummond, UConn

Jason Clark, Georgetown
Scoop Jardine, Syracuse
Dion Waiters, Syracuse
Cleveland Melvin, DePaul
Malik Wayns, Villanova

Hollis Thompson, Georgetown
Vincent Council, Providence
Gorgui Dieng, Louisville

Andre Drummond, UConn
Moe Harkless, St. John’s
LaDontae Henton, Providence
Chane Behanan, Louisville
Ryan Boatright, UConn
Jabari Hinds, West Virginia


Jeremy Lamb, UConn: I don’t see a candidate from either Syracuse or Louisville. West Virginia’s Kevin Jones and Seton Hall’s Herb Pope are 1-2 in the Big East in both scoring and rebounding, respectively, but let’s see if that lasts during conference play. Ashton Gibbs was the pre-season pick, but Pitt appears down this year. This could come down to Lamb and Johnson-Odom, and in the end, Lamb’s got the better team.

Kevin Willard, Seton Hall: We’ll find out fast if the Hall’s 11-1 start is legit (it opens at Syracuse, then home vs. West Virginia and UConn), but Willard certainly seems to have the Pirates on the right track. Cooley will win this award someday ... soon.


Andre Drummond, UConn: Yes, he’s still very raw in spots, but if he’s not the most gifted athletic specimen in the league, I don’t know who is. And here’s another thing: he just turned 18 in August, making him one of the youngest players in the entire conference!

Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall: I wouldn’t completely rule out Drummond in this category, either, but we’ll go with this 6-foot-6 swingman who leads the Big East in steals.

Herb Pope, Seton Hall: After a near-fatal collapse in the summer of 2010, Pope never got back on track last season. But he’s been dominant so far this year and could be a shoo-in for this award. Nice story, really.

Dion Waiters, Syracuse: There are some (Jim Calhoun included) who believe Waiters is the Orange’s best player. Only thing keeping him from this award is if Boeheim decides to put him in the starting lineup.

A few more things I think I think:

*** Syracuse and Louisville are both deep and talented, but I don't see that superstar player on either roster that's going to lead them to the promised land. Wouldn't be surprised to see either team get popped earlier than expected from the NCAA tournament.

*** With Steve Lavin back healthy and on the sidelines, and with Amir Garrett now eligible, St. John's will progressively get better, despite having just eight scholarship players. I could be very wrong about this, though.

*** Cincinnati is 4-0 since the brawl with Xavier and seems to be playing better without Gates. I wasn't too high on the Bearcats to begin with, however, and don't see them doing much this season after he returns on Jan. 4.

*** It's really too bad Farmington's Tim Abromaitis has to miss his final season after tearing his ACL. Can he still win the postseason Scholar-Athlete Award? (I'd say not, because I don't believe he's taking courses this year).

*** Another (sort of) local kid is also out for the season: Louisville's Mike Marra -- like myself, a native Rhode Islander. Can see why his family wanted him to play for Pitino.

*** As if there wasn't enough disinterest in South Florida already down in Tampa, the Bulls won't even play in their home gym this season as it's under repairs. USF is playing all its home games this season in the St. Pete Times Forum -- site of UConn's stunning first-round loss to No. 13 seed San Diego in 2008. I'm guessing there'll be as many if not more snow-bird UConn fans in the building Wednesday night than USF fans.

*** Why 14-4 for UConn? I see the Huskies losing at Syracuse and Louisville, and there'll probably be at least one home loss along the way -- maybe vs. Marquette on Feb. 19, or Syracuse on Feb. 25. Wouldn't be shocked to see them get upset at Seton Hall on Jan. 3 in their final game without Jim Calhoun, either.

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Blaney Ready to Take Bulls by Horns

Just got off a conference call with George Blaney, who’ll be coaching UConn in its first three Big East games, including Wednesday’s opener at South Florida.

Blaney said the fact that he’s known about Jim Calhoun’s three-game suspension since last February doesn’t make things any easier this time around.

“I don’t think ‘easy’ is a good word,” he said. “You knew about it, the other ones kind of came more as a surprise or much quicker. We’re just trying to keep things going the way Coach would like them to go.”

Blaney said Calhoun attended UConn’s practice last night, told them what he wanted from them and watched the rest of the short practice. The Huskies had a long practice today and will have another tomorrow morning before departing for Tampa.

“You just try to maintain what we do, and what we do well,” Blaney said. “You try to really talk to the team about giving the kind of effort that he would demand of them. The more competitive we’ll be, the more successful we’ll be. It’s never easy to try to simulate what Jim would do. I don’t do some of things he does, he wouldn’t some of the things I do. We just try to keep it in line with what we do in practice.”

Blaney isn’t worried as much about the team’s first true road game as he is 7-6 South Florida.

“I think South Florida’s really good,”he said. “They have really excellent players, big big’s that can score inside and pop out outside and shoot the ball well. They have a number of good, swing-type athletes, and I think they’re vastly improved from last year.”

Indeed, Augustus Gilchrist has been somewhat of a UConn-killer over the years. The Bulls took UConn to overtime before losing last year in Hartford, beat the Huskies in Tampa the year before and were slain by a Craig Austrie last-second shot in Tampa in 2008.

Blaney expects to have Roscoe Smith playing some power forward to counter USF’s versatile big men, and stressed UConn needs a big effort from Alex Oriakhi on the boards and on defense.

He’s also happy to have a supporting staff of Kevin Ollie, Glen Miller and Ben Wood with him for the next three games.

“They really have been through this before, they know how to help, so I’ll rely on them a great deal,” Blaney said. “Their energy will help us a lot, too … Sometimes as a head coach you don’t see things, where when you’re watching as an assistant, you see the overall picture a little bit more.”

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Drummond Big East Rookie of the Week ... Again

Andre Drummond is the Big East Rookie of the Week ... again.

Drummond had 16 points, nine boards, four steals and a pair of blocks in the Huskies' win Thursday over Fairfield.

This is the second straight week and third time this season Drummond has won the honor. West Virginia's Kevin Jones was named Player of the Week; Shabazz Napier made the Honor Roll.

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My Top 25

Here's the AP top 25 ballot I submitted last night. Goodbye, Xavier; welcome back, Gonzaga:

1. Syracuse
2. Kentucky
3. Ohio State
4. Duke
5. North Carolina
6. UConn
7. Baylor
8. Louisville
9. Missouri
10. Georgetown
11. Florida
12. Michigan State
13. UNLV
14. Marquette
15. Wisconsin
16. Indiana
17. San Diego State
18. Mississippi State
19. Creighton
20. Pittsburgh
21. Saint Louis
22. Murray State
23. Kansas State
24. Gonzaga
25. Kansas

Friday, December 23, 2011

UConn Without Jim Calhoun

It will be very interesting to see how UConn reacts without Jim Calhoun on the sidelines over its next three games -- especially with two of them on the road.

George Blaney is a more than competent replacement, a New England Basketball Hall of Famer and former Big East head coach in his own right. He is also extremely different on the sidelines than Calhoun, who constantly stomps and yells and pulls players at the drop of a dime for the slightest mistake.

Quite simply, Blaney's calmer, more reassuring style is seen as a boon if the Huskies win, and as a detriment when they lose. There's never been a better example of this than two years ago, while Calhoun was in the midst of missing six games for "stress-related" issues.

Blaney guided the Huskies to a shocking win over top-ranked Texas at Gampel, and everyone (myself included) believed UConn was playing much more relaxed and free without Calhoun breathing down their necks all game.

A few nights later, UConn lost at lowly Providence, and everyone (including Blaney) missed Calhoun's fire.

"(Calhoun) would have given them a jolt, I'll tell you that," Blaney said after that game. "I would have liked to have had him there, that's for sure."

A few games after that, UConn lost a tough game at Syracuse when the refs granted Jim Boeheim a timeout when replays showed the ball wasn't in a Syracuse player's possession and the timeout shouldn't have been granted.

Had Calhoun been there, he would have no doubt woofed and hollered at John Cahill for granting the timeout. It probably wouldn't have made any difference, but who knows -- maybe the Huskies get a make-up call because of it? Heck, maybe Cahill doesn't grant the timeout at all if Calhoun's there.

Last year, Calhoun missed a game vs. Marquette following the death of his sister-in-law. The Huskies lost in overtime, and Blaney admitted afterwards he could have coached better.

"I probably ran everybody too many minutes," Blaney confessed. "We needed to get a little bit more production, but some of the guys that came in and didn't get it done when they were asked to do it, so we stayed with the guys that were doing it."

This is not meant as a smear against Blaney. The man won 459 games in 30 seasons as a head coach. But there's no question things are very different under Blaney than they are under Calhoun. Sometimes that's a good thing; sometimes it's not.

Overall, UConn is 20-9 in games which Calhoun has either missed entirely or left early. It is 9-9 in games Calhoun has missed altogether, and Blaney is 7-8 at the helm in such games.

More strikingly, UConn has lost five of the last six games Calhoun has missed.

And remember when everyone scoffed at how easy UConn's schedule would be without Calhoun? Well, that's not entirely the case. South Florida is a traditional league doormat, but the Bulls (7-5) have some talent and have played UConn tough the last two times they’ve faced off in Tampa. USF beat the Huskies in March, 2010 and lost on a Craig Austrie last-second shot two seasons before that.

St. John’s (6-5) is a mess, with only eight scholarship players in tow, but Seton Hall may be the surprise of the league. The Pirates are 10-1 behind the superb play of Herb Pope, who leads the conference in both scoring and rebounding, and figure to give UConn all it can handle at the Prudential Center.

Here's the list of games which Calhoun has either missed entirely or left early from over the past 26 seasons. (Games he missed entirely are in bold):

1. Dec. 23, 1990 vs. Fairfield (HCC) W, 94-70 Chest-pain, flu-like symptoms
2. Feb. 22, 1993 vs. Maine (HCC) W, 108-72 Food related
3. Jan. 29, 1994 at Pittsburgh W, 88-67 pneumonia symptoms
4. Feb. 1, 1994 at Syracuse L, 108-95 pneumonia symptoms
5. Nov. 24, 1998 vs. Hartford (HCC) W, 95-58 intestinal virus
6. March 11, 1999 vs. UT-San Antonio W, 91-66 intestinal virus
7. Jan. 3, 2000 vs. Sacred Heart (HCC) W, 83-56 stomach cramps
8. Feb. 3, 2001 vs. Virginia Tech (GP) W, 85-72 light-headedness, flu-like symptoms
9. Feb. 5, 2002 vs. Providence (HCC) W, 67-56 food related
10. February 5, 2003 at Virginia Tech L, 95-74 prostate surgery
11. Feb. 8, 2003 at Providence W, 84-68 prostate surgery
12. Feb. 10, 2003 vs. Syracuse (HCC) W, 75-61 prostate surgery
13. Feb. 15, 2003 at Villanova L, 79-70 prostate surgery
14. Feb. 19, 2003 vs. Rutgers (HCC) W, 87-70 prostate surgery

15. March 20, 2004 vs. DePaul (left and returned) W, 72-55 flu-like symptoms
16. Jan. 16, 2006 at Syracuse W, 88-80 dehydration
17. Jan. 13, 2007 at St. John’s (msg) (left and returned) W, 68-59 flu-like symptoms
18. Jan. 8, 2008 vs. St. John’s (left game) W, 81-65 dehydration
19. Jan. 12, 2008 at Georgetown (missed game) L, 72-69 dehydration
20. Jan. 3, 2009 vs. Rutgers (GP) (left after halftime) W, 80-49 illness
21. March 19, 2009 vs. Chattanooga (missed game) W, 103-47
22. Jan. 20, 2010 vs. St. John's (stress), W, 75-59
23. Jan. 23, 2010 vs. Texas (stress), W, 88-74
24. Jan. 27, 2010 at Providence (stress), L, 81-66
25. Jan. 30, 2010 vs. Marquette (stress), L, 70-68
26. Feb. 1, 2010 at Louisville (stress), L, 82-69
27. Feb. 6, 2010 vs. DePaul (stress), W, 64-57
28. Feb. 10, 2010 at Syracuse (stress), L, 72-67
29. Feb. 24, 2011 vs. Marquette (death in family), L, 74-67 (OT)

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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Calhoun Goes on Christmas Break

Leave it to Jim Calhoun to sum up Ryan Boatright's night as follows:

“He played awful tonight,” Calhoun said. “He made a big play (but) he was awful tonight. It’s the first game that I would say, for a really good player, he was awful … he was part of the problem when he came in. He read the scoreboard and thought it was time for us just to go. And he hurt us a little bit. But being the kind of competitor he is, he makes a big shot to put the game away.”

Boatright's 3-pointer was the big shot in UConn's 79-71 win over Fairfield. He followed by grabbing a rebound and hitting Jeremy Lamb with a long pass for a dunk, then hitting a pair of free throws to seal the deal.

“It was wide-open,” Boatright said. “The shot clock was going down, I was in rhythm. I just took it and knocked it down. I’ve been in a lot of pressure situations in my life. I know how to deal with them.”

But Calhoun wasn't pleased with the rest of Boatright's night. He wasn't pleased with watching his team squander a 22-point lead to to just three late in the game, either.

“We looked at the scoreboard and decided it was time to go home for Christmas,” Calhoun said.

Calhoun also was hit with his first technical of the season, by Michael Stephens with about 6 1/2 minutes left in the first half. And he was quite cranky after the game, particularly when asked about the Andre Drummond/Michael Bradley scholarship situation.

“We gave you the information at the time, which was correct," he said. "My first responsibility wasn’t to tell the press what was going on, because It’s none of your business. It’s a private matter between two young men.”

Perhaps Calhoun was most peeved about the fact that this is the last game he'll be able to coach until Jan. 7 at Rutgers. In fact, after a Christmas Night practice, he won't even be able to coach during practices until after the Jan. 3 Seton Hall game.

That's different than what happened last year to Bruce Pearl, who was suspended Tennessee's first eight SEC games for lying to the NCAA but was able to coach during practices -- and even coach a non-conference game vs. UConn in the middle of the penalty.

The difference is that Pearl's penalty was levied by the SEC; Calhoun's by the NCAA.

“Call Indianapolis," Calhoun shrugged. "They sent us an interpretation, telling me simply that I can’t coach the team."

Calhoun will meet back up with his team on Jan. 4 in New York, where the Huskies will be staying in between the Seton Hall and Rutgers games.

"I'm going to miss the team, obviously," he added. "It’ll be very difficult for me, but they’ll be in good hands. We're 10-0 ... and I'll see them in New York."

*** While Tyler Olander’s team got the victory, Ryan Olander got a lot of bragging rights in the battle between brothers. Both players went scoreless in the first half, but Ryan wound up with eight points and eight rebounds, including a powerful dunk late in the game that brought the Stags to within six.

Tyler finished with just two points and two boards.

Worse for Tyler, he was soundly rejected by his brother midway through the second half.

“They’ll be talking about that for a while,” said Stags coach Sydney Johnson.

Said Ryan about the sibling showdown: “It was exciting, but I’m glad it’s over now. It’s an experience not many people can say they’ve had. I’m lucky to share that with my family.”

The Olanders mother, Tracy, led the pregame Pledge of Allegiance, and the entire family wore t-shirts that said “FairConn” on the front.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Bradley, Drummond Conundrum

So why doesn’t Andre Drummond count against UConn’s scholarship count? The answer is simple: although he is a recruited athlete, he is not a “counter” because he is not receiving any sort of institutional financial aid – i.e., academic or need-based scholarships, etc.

Any basketball or football player who is recruited and given institutional financial aid that is unrelated to athletic ability becomes a “counter” the minute he plays in a game. That doesn’t include government or personal loans, which is apparently what Drummond has taken out in order to pay his own way this year.

If a men’s basketball program has the allotted 13 scholarship players (or in UConn’s case, 10, given its NCAA sanctions), it can’t have another recruited athlete as a walk-on if that player is receiving any kind of financial aid from the school.

So why doesn’t this happen more often? Well, for one, most players don’t wait until a few days before the first day of classes to announce their commitment. Plus, think about it: how many top-notch players are going to come to a school and pay their way when they could get a free ride anywhere else in the country?

What does it matter, you say, Drummond will be making millions in another year or two as a high NBA draft pick? Well, even likely lottery picks and/or potential one-and-done’s like Drummond would be taking a risk. Suppose their weaknesses are displayed in college and they wind up not being high draft picks? Million-dollar insurance policies only cover players when they suffer debilitating injuries, not disappointing play.

It also takes a good, special person to offer to give up their scholarship, and Drummond certainly fits the bill. I have never seen a kid with such lofty potential and ability who is so down-to-earth. He says he doesn’t read his press clippings, doesn’t care what good things (or bad things) people are saying about him, would rather see his teammates score than him, would rather win than have a great game – and I believe every word he says.

It is worth noting, however, that this may not have happened if the process of Bradley handing over his scholarship didn’t hit some sort of logistical snags. There’s no question the original intent was for Bradley to give Drummond his scholarship. Why that couldn’t work out is a private matter.

Still, this was always viewed as a possibility, even as far back as early October. When Drummond, Bradley and Jim Calhoun spoke about it at the Husky Run, none of them ever said, point-blank, that Bradley giving Drummond his scholarship was a done deal. In fact, Calhoun, at the time, said the school might have some “more information” on the situation in a short time, and seemed to indicate that info would be coming from UConn president Susan Herbst.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bradley Kept Scholarship; Drummond a Walk-On

Turns out, Michael Bradley didn't give up his scholarship to Andre Drummond, after all.

While it was widely reported that Bradley had offered Drummond his scholarship back in September, shortly after Drummond had announced he commitment to UConn, in fact the two sides were working to find a different solution.

Drummond and his family wound up taking out a bank loan to pay for his tuition this year, and Bradley kept his scholarship. That makes Drummond perhaps the most heralded walk-on in recent college basketball history.

As a recruited athlete, Drummond could not receive any institutional aid from UConn. But with the sizeable insurance policy he has taken out as a potential NBA lottery pick, coupled with the fact that the Middletown resident will be paying in-state tuition, it ends up not being as much of a financial burden on Drummond as it would on Bradley, a Tennessee resident.

The estimated in-state tuition at UConn is about $21,720, according to the school’s website. For out-of-state students, it's nearly $39,000.

The decision for Drummond to pay his own way was made back in late-October or early-November, according to UConn men’s basketball SID Kyle Muncy. At that point, it was up to Drummond to have the comfort level to let other people know.

Drummond told the news to Gavin Keefe of the New London Day on Tuesday after practice.

Bradley spent much of his childhood in the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home, a sort of foster home, and UConn coach Jim Calhoun was widely criticized by the media (myself included) when it was reported back in September that Bradley would be giving up his scholarship to Drummond.

All parties -- Drummond, Bradley and Calhoun -- never negated the story, though obviously there was more to it all along.

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Calhoun: 3-Game Suspension Will Be "Difficult"

UConn was focusing squarely on Fairfield at its practice today at Gampel. The Huskies have great respect for the Stags, who have won four straight and have an NBA-type talent in Rakim Sanders.

“This won’t be the easiest team, personnel-wise, that we play the rest of the way," said Jim Calhoun. "I think, from a talent standpoint, they’re better than some of the teams we’ll be playing in the Big East.”

However, talk eventually drifted over to the Huskies' Big East season, which gets underway on Dec. 28 at South Florida. Of course, Calhoun won't be on the sidelines for that game -- or for St. John's on Dec. 31 and Seton Hall on Jan. 3 -- as he sits out an NCAA-imposed three-game suspension stemming from the Nate Miles mess.

Calhoun said sitting out the three games will be "difficult. It's something that, according to the NCAA, happened 5 ½ years ago, some of these kids were probably sophomores in high school. It’s for, I guess, an atmosphere. I’m sitting out three games because – for me, it’s probably an attitude, as opposed to an atmosphere ..."

He added that the school suggested some alternatives to the suspension, but the NCAA didn't want to hear it.

"That’s unfortunate," Calhoun said, "Because I just don’t think you should drag these things on, particularly in light of a lot of things going on in college athletics.”

Calhoun won't travel with the team for the South Florida game.

“You’ve got to start off with somebody running the team and make sure they have a practice and can spend some time down there with the kids," he explained. "It’s nothing that they don’t know, just a different voice. Same system, different voice.”

It's not known whose voice the Huskies will be listening to just yet. George Blaney, of course, has always filled in in the past. Blaney wasn't at practice today while tending to a personal issue. Assistants Kevin Ollie and Glen Miller were also on the road recruiting.

Calhoun said he'll meet Wednesday with compliance director Marielle VanGelde to iron out what he can and can't do during the suspension.

*** Andre Drummond, for one, can't wait to kick off his Big East career.

“I’ve been looking forward to this since the day I stepped on this campus," he said. "I can’t wait to play in the Big East. I can’t wait to play Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame … you go down the line of the teams.”

It will be "pretty weird" playing the first three games without Calhoun, he admitted.

"But I think we’re going to be fine. Coach Blaney is also a great coach. Coach Miller, Ollie … anybody can really coach us, it just depends on how we go out there and play.”

*** The big sidebar heading into Thursday's Fairfield game will be the battle of the Olander brothers: Tyler, UConn's sophomore foward, and Ryan, Fairfield's 7-foot senior center.

The two have never really played against each other before, other than in 1-on-1 games in the driveway -- which often got very chippy. So chippy, in fact, that it's impossible to tell who had the upper hand in terms of basketball in those games.

"We'd always get in fights because neither of us wanted to lose," Ryan said. "We never really finished any games, they were always so physical."

We'll have more on the Olanders in a feature story later today.

*** Shabazz Napier appeared to turn his ankle badly at the very end of practice. He was crumpled on the ground, writhing in pain for several moments. Trainer James Doran tended to him, and Napier eventually got up, walked around and appeared fine.

"He wanted to end the drill," joked Calhoun, who never looked concerned even while Napier was down.

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Seth Davis's Naked Ambition

This is actually pretty funny. The former New Haven Register writer was always dreaming big, even before landing at Sports Illustrated and CBS.

Where does Deadspin find this stuff?

Anyway, here's an archive Davis is hopefully more proud of -- a story I wrote on him for the Register back in April, 2010.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Huskies Help Out at Calhoun Food Drive

Jim Calhoun is a lot of different things to a lot of different people. One thing I'll never question, however, is his dedication to charity.

Calhoun is involved in numerous different charities for numerous different causes -- cancer, autism, feeding the poor, etc. One of his most cherished and long-lasting charitable efforts is the Jim Calhoun Holiday Food Drive, which has benefitted tens of thousands of needy Connecticut families over the years.

The event, which started in 1999, was held again on Monday, with Calhoun and his players distributing holiday meals for hundreds of Hartford families at the Pope Park Recreation Center and St. Monica's Episcopal Church.

"It's a great thing," said Calhoun. "We started very small. We did run out of turkeys are first year. I think we had about 500 turkeys. Now, we have about three or four times that. It's incredibly gratifying."

Indeed, the line snaking out of the rec center numbered well over 300 people at the start of the event. It's a good chance for UConn's players to give back to the community. Even though they live on campus, some 25 miles away, and only tend to spend time in Hartford in the summer playing in the Greater Hartford Pro-Am, many of the players come from neighborhood similar to inner-city Hartford.

"This may be the most hard-hitting, in the sense that they recognize a lot of faces. They really do. It's not that they know the people, necessarily, but this is the neighborhood for them," Calhoun said. "This is the most tangible thing that we do every year. I go home, and it's a very good feeling."

Here's some video of Calhoun, Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels and Andre Drummond handing out turkeys at the food drive:

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Napier on Cousy List

The 2012 Bob Cousy Award candidates list is a long one, but Shabazz Napier is on it. And he may even have precedence on his side: Kemba Walker won the award, given to the nation's top point guard, last season.

Here's the list:

Randy Davis, Ball State
Pierre Jackson, Baylor
Keegan Bell, Chattanooga
Andre Young, Clemson
Andrew Lawrence, College of Charleston
Brian Barbour, Columbia
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Chris Wroblewski, Cornell
Antoine Young, Creighton
JP Kuhlman, Davidson
Ray McCallum, Detroit
Seth Curry, Duke
TJ McConnell, Duquesne
Kenny Boynton, Florida
Erving Walker, Florida
Luke Loucks, Florida State
Jeff Peterson, Florida State
Tony Taylor, George Washington
James Fields, Georgia State
Brandyn Curry, Harvard
Scott Machado, Iona
Stephen Thomas, IUPUI
Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas
Marquis Teague, Kentucky
Tyreek Duren, La Salle
Mackey McKnight, Lehigh
Casper Ware, Long Beach State
Peyton Siva, Louisville
Damier Pitts, Marshall
Will Barton, Memphis
Joe Jackson, Memphis
Malcolm Grant, Miami
Trey Burke, Michigan
Kaylon Williams, Milwaukee
Dee Bost, Mississippi State
Mike Dixon, Missouri
Will Cherry, Montana
Kendall Williams, New Mexico
Kendall Marshall, North Carolina
Lorenzo Brown, NC State
Stallon Saldivar, Northern Arizona
Reggie Hamilton, Oakland
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
D.J. Cooper, Ohio University
Jared Cunningham, Oregon State
Tim Frazier, Penn State
Zack Rosen, Pennsylvania
Ashton Gibbs, Pittsburgh
Lewis Jackson, Purdue
Bryan Dougher, Stony Brook University
Scoop Jardine, Syracuse
Brandon Triche, Syracuse
Wil Peters, Tennessee State
Myck Kabongo, Texas
Dash Harris, Texas A&M
Hank Thorns, TCU
Will Weathers, Troy
Brad Tinsley, Vanderbilt
Maalik Wayns, Villanova
Erick Green, Virginia Tech
Abdul Gaddy, Washington
Tony Wroten, Washington
Trey Sumler, Western Carolina
Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
Tu Holloway, Xavier

(Does Syracuse really have two point guards?)

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Top 25

Here's my AP Top 25 ballot for this week. Not much changes. Xavier drops; Alabama and Texas A&M leave, Murray State and Kansas State join.

1. Syracuse
2. Kentucky
3. Ohio State
4. Duke
5. North Carolina
6. UConn
7. Baylor
8. Louisville
9. Missouri
10. Marquette
11. Pittsburgh
12. Georgetown
13. Florida
14. Xavier
15. Kansas
16. Michigan State
17. Wisconsin
18. San Diego State
19. Mississippi State
20. Creighton
21. UNLV
22. Indiana
23. Saint Louis
24. Murray State
25. Kansas State

'He's Going to Have Jerry West on His Jersey'

Andre Drummond didn't have a particularly good practice on Friday, according to Jim Calhoun.

"He said to me, ‘Coach, I’m saving it for Sunday,'" Calhoun recalled. "That’s nice to hear from your freshman center. There’s no saving around here, you get better on Friday to be better on Sunday.

"But, quite frankly, he was a lot better on Sunday than he was on Friday.”

He certainly was. Drummond had 24 points on 11-for-12 shooting (including four monster dunks), eight rebounds and five blocked shots.

His most impressive dunk came on an alley-oop from Shabazz Napier after Napier's steal with 6:47 left to play.

"It was just God’s gift," said Drummond, perhaps confusing his teammate with the St. John's player for a moment. "I was in the right place at the right time.”

As impressive as the dunks were, however, it was Drummond's all-around arsenal of offensive moves that stood out the most. He scored on low-post spin moves and some short-range jumpers that hadn't been a big part of his repertoire to this point.

"He made a couple of jump shots and post moves today that we definitely weren't expecting," said Holy Cross coach Milan Brown. "He's a good player. If he keeps working, he's going to have Jerry West on his jersey, for sure."

In other words, Drummond has an NBA future. We all know that. But even though it did come against an outmatched, outsized Holy Cross squad, this was by far the most NBA-ready Drummond has looked to date.

“I’m working on slowing my game down a little bit, so I can get myself more comfortable to get the right shot up,” Drummond said. “There’s always room for improvement. I think I had a good game today. It was a great team win, collectively.”

Added Alex Oriakhi: “His confidence has definitely grown. The guards are finding him. When you know your guards are looking for you as a big man, it definitely gives you confidence because it tells you they want to give you the ball.”

*** In truth, just about everybody contributed today. Oriakhi had his best game in a while, with 15 points and only a couple of scoldings by Calhoun. He got off to a good start with the team's first four points on a pair of dunks, but was still yanked quickly by the coach.

“I guess I do have to adjust to it," Oriakhi said. "I kind of expect it now. You kind of know when you’re going to come out. I’ve just got to make things happen early.”

Later in the game, Calhoun seemed to have some words for Oriakhi, then put his hands on the big man's cheeks as if to tell him everything was OK.

“I’ve been here for three years. If you get mad when he yells at you now, I don’t know what to tell you, because he’s going to yell at everybody. He’s going to yell at you, even if you weren’t in the play. I just don’t think about it, I just tell myself, ‘Next play.’”

A few numbers:

*** Napier doled out 13 assists.

*** All nine uniformed, scholarship players scored at least three points.

*** UConn had 10 dunks -- four by Drummond, three by Oriakhi and one apiece from Jeremy Lamb, Ryan Boatright and even Niels Giffey.

*** The Huskies outscored Cross 58-16 in the paint and 26-4 on fast breaks (16-0 in the latter half).

*** UConn had committed just one team foul well into the second half before a flurry of whistles in the waning minutes. Holy Cross took just two free throws.

“Good officiating, probably,” Calhoun explained.

*** Holy Cross guard R.J. Evans, a Salem native and Norwich Free Academy grad, led the Crusaders with 15 points and did a good job holding Lamb to 10 points on 4-for-16 shooting.

But Evans' day was not without some adversity. Just before taking the floor in the latter half, Evans had what Brown called the “dry heaves” and wound up throwing up into a trash can near the Holy Cross bench. He went straight into the game, anyway.

“That’s a Connecticut guy trying to play in Connecticut,” said Brown, who also noted that after watching his team lose by 37 points, “I wanted to throw up, too.”

*** Sickest move of the game, easily, was Boatright's ankle-breaking, baseline crossover move for a reverse layup, in the midst of UConn's 18-0 run late in the first half.

*** Calhoun said he and Napier had a "meeting of the minds" early in the game.

"That's an interesting place, his mind and my mind," the coach said. "I mean, you talk about confusion ..."

*** For some reason, Calhoun loves to use the word "logy" to describe lackadaisical play, and he broke the word out for the first time this season on Sunday in describing UConn's first 10 minutes of play.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Blaney to Face Alma Mater ... Finally!

On Sunday, George Blaney will face Holy Cross, his alma mater and the school he coached for 22 seasons, for the first time since leaving the program in 1994 to take over the reins at Seton Hall.

Blaney, the Huskies’ associate head coach, said going up against the Crusaders will be uncomfortable.

“I'll try to blank out whose shirt it is we're playing against,” he told Gavin Keefe of the New London Day.

Of course, Blaney nearly got this out of the way four years ago. The Huskies could have faced Holy Cross in the second round of the 2k College Hoops Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer in November, 2007 at Gampel. However, according to then-Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard, Jim Calhoun strong-armed the Gazelle Group, the tournament organizers, into moving the Crusaders out of UConn’s bracket so that the Huskies wouldn’t have to face them.

“I was told by the Gazelle Group we had to be moved, it wasn’t a choice, because Connecticut was adamant about not playing us,” Willard told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette in September, 2007.

UConn, of course, had just come off a hugely disappointing 2006-07 season in which it failed to make a postseason tournament for the first time in some 20 years. The Huskies still had a sophomore-laden team, and the theory is that Calhoun didn’t want his young squad that needed some early-season confidence to go up against the Crusaders’ methodical, slow-down style. UConn would have played Holy Cross for the right to advance to the next round at Madison Square Garden, assuming both teams won their first-round games.

Instead, Buffalo agreed to replace Holy Cross in the bracket in exchange for UConn traveling up to Buffalo for a non-conference game the following season (which the Huskies did. Fun game – won by UConn, 68-64 – and fun trip).

Anyway, while Calhoun denied demanding that Holy Cross be switched, the Huskies took a brief P.R. hit. It is a bit unbecoming to think of mighty UConn being fearful of playing little ol’ Holy Cross – in Storrs, no less.

It wound up working out for the Huskies, who beat Morgan State (barely) then Buffalo to advance to the Garden, where they topped Gardner-Webb then lost to John Calipari, Derrick Rose and then No. 3 Memphis.

Willard is no longer at Holy Cross, replaced by two years ago by Milian Brown. This year’s Crusaders are 4-6, with a blowout win over Boston College and close losses to Harvard, Providence and Columbia. They are led by 6-foot-1 senior guard Devin Brown (14.7 ppg) and 6-3 junior R.J. Evans of Salem and Norwich Free Academy.

“He’s a really well-built kid, 6-3 ½, 6-4, (and) he can go,” said Calhoun. “He’s a really good straight-line player, a good athlete. They’re certainly improved over what they have been.”

Still, the ninth-ranked Huskies certainly don’t fear hosting Holy Cross as much as they did four years ago.

*** Incidentally, while this will be the 64th meeting between the two programs, it’s just first time since Feb. 4, 1988, when the Huskies eked out an 82-81 win in Worcester behind 23 points from Phil Gamble and 21 from Cliff Robinson. Blaney went 11-12 against Calhoun in his 22 seasons at Holy Cross – 3-2 while Calhoun was at Northeastern and 8-10 with Calhoun at UConn.

Blaney was Holy Cross's head coach from 1972-94, compililng 357 wins, three NCAA tourney berths and five trips to the NIT.

Blaney had been an All-New England standout at Holy Cross, scoring 1,012 career points and leading the Crusaders to consecutive 20-win seasons before graduating in 1961.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

Do the Right Thing

Do any major college coaches do the right thing anymore? Any of them?

Do any big-time head football or basketball coaches take the high ground, put the concerns and even well-being of human beings ahead of their beloved programs or legacies?

Seriously, if you can think of one, please throw me a bone, 'cuz I’m having a hard time coming up with one right now.

And it goes far beyond Joe Paterno turning a blind eye to Jerry Sandusky, who he knew, at the very least, was “fondling” a young boy in the Penn State locker room. It goes beyond Jim Boeheim labeling alleged child-rape victims as lying gold-diggers, then taking nearly two weeks and several public opportunities to apologize for those words by reading a written statement.

Those are the most egregious examples, but there are so many more. (And we won’t even get into conference realignment and all the ugly, hypocritical behavior embedded in that process).

It’s Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly allowing a 20-year-old videographer to tape the Irish practice from atop a 50-foot lift in the midst of 50-MPH winds. Because, God forbid, if you can’t watch the tape of one of your own early-season practices, you’re surely in for a winless season.

Well, the videographer fell off that lift to his death. Kelly is still coaching the Irish, screaming at any player who makes the slightest mistake. None of them will likely ever make a mistake as grave as that of Kelly, who shouldn’t still be allowed to coach.

It’s Jim Tressel being handed information that his players are trading championship rings and other memorabilia in exchanges for tattoos at a parlor run by a drug trafficker -- and doing absolutely nothing about it. Then lying about it. Similar to what he was alleged to have done years earlier while coaching at Youngstown State. This from a man who always preached morality. Hypocrite.

It’s UCLA’s Ben Howland allowing Reeves Nelson, the Steve Howe of college basketball (minus the drugs), to slip up one time after another before finally booting him off the team. Reeves had been indefinitely suspended by Howland, only to have it lifted after one game as the struggling Bruins went off to play a competitive field in Maui. Gotta win, baby.

Only Nelson missed the team bus and plane to Maui. But Howland still allowed Nelson, the Bruins’ top returning scorer and rebounder, to fly out to the tournament – and play! Think he would have let a walk-on do the same?

It’s Cincinnati and Xavier suspending their players from just one to six games for their roles in an ugly brawl last weekend. Xavier’s Tu Holloway, who by all accounts instigated the entire incident with his taunting behavior throughout the game, then proudly labeled his teammates “gangstas” afterwards, got one game. Teammate Landon Amos got four games.

Holloway is the star of the team; Amos has played exactly two minutes all season. How shocking.

Cincy’s Yancy Gates hit Xavier’s Kenny Frease with a sucker punch that might have killed a smaller man, and he got docked six games. Ryan Boatright got the same punishment for having a plane ticket purchased for him by an AAU coach.

And yes, sorry folks … it’s Jim Calhoun asking Michael Bradley to forfeit his scholarship so that Andre Drummond can play for the Huskies this season.

Now, I am in no way comparing this situation to what happened at Penn State. I’ll repeat: I am in no way comparing this situation to what happened at Penn State. The two situations are on opposite ends of the moral spectrum.

And as I reported back in September, Bradley and his mentor were both very much on board with surrendering the scholarship.

Still, there was a moral high ground to take here, and Calhoun didn’t take it.

But then, find me a major college football or basketball coach in this day and age who does. Please. I'm begging.

And so, as we put a wrap on a 2011 that so often showcased the ugliness of big-time college sports, let’s hope coaches learn from their own examples or the examples of their peers and start doing the right thing every now and then. Stop being so wrapped up in your wins and losses and show some accountability. Maybe it’ll cost you a win or even a seed or two in the NCAA tournament. But in the long run, you’ll be able to look at yourself in the mirror – and believe it or not, your program may be better off.

Just ask Joe Paterno.

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Calhoun's Holiday Food Drive on Monday

Jim Calhoun will be holding his annual holiday food drive on Monday in Hartford. Here are the details:

Coach Jim Calhoun, his family, coaches, players and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra will join a team from the Hartford law firm of RisCassi and Davis, Price Chopper employees, Omar Coffee, the City of Hartford Department of Families, Children, Youth & Recreation and the City of Hartford Department of Health & Human Services to provide holiday meals for 1,000 needy Hartford families.

WHEN: Monday, December 19
5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. (Pope Park Recreation Center)
5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. (St. Monica's Episcopal Church)

Coach Calhoun and his team will be at the Pope Park Recreation Center from 5:00PM to 6:15PM and at St. Monica’s from 6:30PM to 7:30PM

WHAT: The Calhoun Family, team, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, the Hartford law firm of RisCassi and Davis, Price Chopper, Omar Coffee, the City of Hartford Department of Families, Children, Youth & Recreation and the City of Hartford Department of Health & Human Services will distribute 1,000 turkeys and holiday meal fixings to needy families. This year’s event is Coach Calhoun’s 13th Holiday Food Drive.

Since Coach began his efforts in 1999, over $1.4 million has been raised to benefit Connecticut families in need.

WHERE: ***First stop for Coach and Team at 5:00PM:
Pope Park Recreation Center, 30 Pope Park Drive, Hartford
(See directions below)


Second Stop:
St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, 3575 Main Street, Hartford
(See directions below)

Directions to Pope Park Recreation Center, 30 Pope Park Drive, Hartford, CT:

From West:

v I-84 E towards Hartford
v Take exit 44 toward Prospect Ave 0.2 mi
v Merge onto Caya Ave 0.1 mi
v Turn right at Prospect Ave 0.3 mi
v Take the 2nd left onto New Park Ave 1.0 mi
v Take the 3rd right onto Park St 0.5 mi
v Turn right at the 1st cross street onto Pope Park Dr.

From East:

v Turn left to merge onto I-84 W
v Take exit 47 for Sigourney St 0.2 mi
v Turn right at Sigourney St 223 ft
v Take the 1st left onto Hawthorn St 0.2 mi
v Take the 1st left onto Laurel St 0.4 mi
v Continue onto Pope Park Dr.

Directions to St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, 3575 Main Street, Hartford, CT:

From South:

v From I-91 North, Take Exit 34 (Rt. 159)
v Turn left onto Rt. 159
v Turn right on St. Monica Avenue

From North:

v From I-91 South, Take Exit 34
v Turn right on Rt. 159
v Turn right on St. Monica Avenue


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Drama for Andre Drummond

Andre Drummond is 6-foot-10 (or 6-foot-11), 277 pounds, so you think he wouldn't ever be intimidated, no matter how many people are surrounding him.

But put him and two other guys in a Women's Studies class, surrounded by about 30 women, and Drummond gets a bit uncomfortable.

"It kinda feels like your being bashed all day by a bunch of females," Drummond said on Thursday. Jokingly. We think.

Education was the talk of the day at practice as the Huskies get ready to finish up their exams. All players will be done with their exams Friday at 1 p.m. and will hit Gampel for practice at 3:30 p.m. for a solid, two-hour practice.

Drummond said he takes his academics seriously and knows he can't take the practice floor until his course work is done. His final exam on Friday will be in Drama.

Sounds like he has to deal with enough drama in that Women's Studies class.

A few other brief notes from UConn's short (one-hour) practice today:

*** Michael Bradley is still not participating in fullcourt drills because he "can't really run," according to Jim Calhoun. It'll probably be another couple of weeks before Bradley can start running fullcourt, according to the coach.

*** Enosch Wolf suffered a concussion in practice Wednesday, wasn't at practice today and will be out "a couple of days," Calhoun said.

*** Calhoun said he's trying to get DeAndre Daniels back into the mix, and that Roscoe Smith will be seeing time at the 4 over the next few games. Walk-on Brandon Allen is getting a closer look, too, "because of anything that coule possibly happen."

Daniels was working, one-on-one, with assistant Kevin Ollie on his ballhandling skills after practice. Daniels worked on dribbling two balls simultaneously with both hands, ostensibely to improve his handle from both the left and the right.

*** Here's Jeremy Lamb, talking about going up against Rudy Gay, one-on-one, recently in practice:

*** Calhoun acknowledged what everybody already knows -- that he won't be on the sidelines for UConn's first three Big East games, beginning Dec. 28 at South Florida.

“There will be a different guy driving the trolley. It won’t be me, for (three) games," he said.

Calhoun said he won't start talking about the situation to the team until next week, a day or two before UConn's Dec. 22 bout with Fairfield.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Top 25

Here's my AP Top 25 ballot for this week. Not a whole lot of movement. Goodbye, Memphis, Gonzaga and (reluctantly) Harvard. Hello, Texas A&M, St. Louis and Indiana. Having got to know Tom Crean a little bit when he was head coach at Marquette, I can't say I'm surprised that he seems to have the Hoosiers program turned around.

1. Syracuse
2. Kentucky
3. Ohio State
4. Duke
5. North Carolina
6. UConn
7. Baylor
8. Louisville
9. Xavier
10. Missouri
11. Marquette
12. Pittsburgh
13. Georgetown
14. Florida
15. Kansas
16. Michigan State
17. Wisconsin
18. San Diego State
19. Mississippi State
20. Creighton
21. Alabama
22. Texas A&M
23. Saint Louis
24. Indiana
25. UNLV


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Andre Drummond: Unmasked

KISS rejuvenated their faltering careers by "unmasking" themselves back in 1983. Andre Drummond's brief collegiate career was hardly faltering, but certainly seemed a bit rejuvenated Thursday night after shedding his own mask. (And Gene Simmons could never dunk, anyway, especially in those platform dragon shoes).

Playing without his protective face mask for the first time this season, Drummond played with renewed vigor and aggression in UConn's 67-53 win over Harvard. He had 12 points -- 10 of them on thunderous slam dunks.

“That’s one of the best stats we’ve had on the year,” Jim Calhoun said. “When you’re as big as strong as (Drummond), finesse doesn’t come into the picture.”

Calhoun wasn't as pleased with some of Drummond's other stats -- just four rebounds and one block. But his most impressive stats -- 6-foot-11, 277 pounds -- are even more glaring when he's soaring above the rim for rafter-shaking dunks.

In fact, after one of his dunks, Drummond tilted the shot clock above the basket, forcing officials to fix it during a timeout.

“I didn’t notice that," Drummond said afterwards. "Next time, I’ll try to bring the whole hoop down.”

In truth, he was apologetic to ref John Cahill when Cahill warned him about hanging on the rim after dunks.

"I think John thought he was going to get a wise (response), but (Andre) said, ‘No, I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean it,'" Calhoun related. "I was going to say, ‘John, he gets up that high, he’s got to hang on something.’”

Drummond said playing without the facemask was a big help.

“I could see a lot better," he said. "My peripheral vision was a lot better. I could see my defender moving.”

“I’d do anything to get that off my face.”

Calhoun also noted that on Thursday Drummond, always a great listener, started asking questions for the first time. According to Calhoun, Drummond was concerned with how well Harvard's Keith Wright was posting him up.

"He was asking, ‘How do I get around that?’" Calhoun said. "He’s seeking out how to get better. George (Blaney) calls him ‘The Natural’ all the time. He is a very naturally gifted athlete. We want him to be a naturally-gifted athlete who’s a terrific basketball player.”

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Calhoun Talks Big East, Harvard

Jim Calhoun was talking about Harvard before practice on Wednesday, lauding the unbeaten, 25th-ranked Crimson for their Battle 4 Atlantis tournament title.

"They beat a good Florida State team and then came back and beat Florida Central ... or, Central Florida. I should get used to that.”

Indeed, he should. UCF -- along with San Diego State and Boise State (for football only), and SMU and Houston will all be joining the Big East in 2013. And Calhoun is happy about that.

“It's clearly good for us," Calhoun said. "We need to get some quality teams that show they can get into bowls.”

From a basketball aspect, he doesn’t think any of those teams will replace Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. But he understands football drives the bus.

“Boise, frankly, is better than any of those three (Syracusee, Pitt or WVU),” he said.

Calhoun would like to see Temple join the conference in both sports – something that still could happen.

“I think Temple’s natural – I know Jay Wright doesn’t feel that way – but they’ll only help Big East basketball in Philadelphia,” he said.

*** Back to Harvard. This is hardly one of those December non-conference pushover teams -- the kind the Huskies have defeated 101 straight times, dating back to 1973. The Crimson are ranked (No. 25 ... I had them at No. 23) for the first time in the program's long history. They're 8-0, their best start since 1984-85, with those wins over Florida State and Florida Central ... er, rather, Central Florida on their resume.

They're good, and the Huskies know it.

“They’re a really good basketball team,” said Tyler Olander. “They run their stuff really well, they play hard, they value the basketball. They don’t turn it over much, they play really smart.”

Calhoun compares the Crimson to last year’s Butler squad – which, of course, UConn defeated in the national championship game.

“They can play fast – maybe a little faster than Butler – they can play slow,” Calhoun noted. “They’re very good in the last five minutes, they shoot better, they make foul shots and they’re a very confident group.”

In short, the Huskies (7-1) need to be on their ‘A’ game tonight.

“This team is good enough to beat us,” Calhoun said. “Do we have to play the best we’ve ever played? Certainly not. We’ve got to play well, though.”

*** Andre Drummond says he has a “surprise” in store for tonight, regarding the protective face mask he’s been wearing all season. Drummond fractured his nose in practice on Oct. 28 and was told when fitted for the mask a few days later that he’d need to wear it for about six weeks.

Drummond has been begging Calhoun and trainer James Doran to be able to shed the mask for a while now.

"It's killing me, man," he said. "I think I'll feel more comfortable without it on, because I'll be able to see a lot more with my peripheral vision."

*** Though Harvard doesn't start anyone taller than 6-8, Calhoun plans to go with his bigger starting lineup, meaning Drummond and Alex Oriakhi should remain in the starting 5.

*** Speaking of big men, Michael Bradley (ankle) practiced with the team on Wednesday but didn’t participate in any contact drills. He should be able to start practicing at full speed next week.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Chance to Meet Kemba

Before Kemba Walker begins his inaugural NBA training camp, he’s making sure to give back to his college community first. As part of his participation in Shaker Family Ford Lincoln’s Winter Wonderland, anybody who visits the dealership and makes a $10 donation to benefit the local Anderson Boys’ Club and The Tammy Pillis Foundation will be eligible to win a number of exclusive Walker-related prizes.

Donations will be accepted from now until April 30 at Shaker, 831 Straits Turnpike, Watertown.

Prizes include:
• Autographed 8x10 photo of Walker
• Opportunity to play Walker in a private game of horse (to be fulfilled following the 2011-2012 NBA season).
• Two tickets to see Walker play the Celtics in Boston and the chance to meet him post-game.
• Two tickets to see Walker play the Knicks in New York and the chance to meet him post-game.
• Autographed Under Armour sneakers
• Autographed basketball


Sunday, December 4, 2011

My Top 25

Here's a mini-feature on Ryan Boatright, who may boast the most significant 63-point performance by a Chicago-based hoopster in history -- at least in UConn fans' eyes.

And here's the AP Top 25 ballot I submitted tonight. I've righted a wrong and included Georgetown after omitting them last week. The Hoyas shoot up to No. 13 with a bullet. Creighton gets some love, too, after beating San Diego State (who I apparently like more than any other voter). The Aztecs remain in my Top 25 thanks to Sunday's win over California.

1. Kentucky
2. Ohio State
3. Syracuse
4. Duke
5. North Carolina
6. UConn
7. Baylor
8. Louisville
9. Xavier
10. Missouri
11. Marquette
12. Pittsburgh
13. Georgetown
14. Florida
15. Creighton
16. Alabama
17. Memphis
18. Kansas
19. Wisconsin
20. San Diego State
21. Mississippi State
22. Michigan State
23. Harvard
24. UNLV
25. Gonzaga


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Love Boat

Today was 'The Boat Show,' no question about it. We'll get to Ryan Boatright (who confirmed that is his nickname) later. For now, let's get to the even bigger surprise of the day.

The UConn beat writer contingent was convinced that Jim Calhoun would come in breathing fire after the game, despite the Huskies' 13-point win over Arkansas. UConn, after all, had been beaten 47-35 on the boards. Worse, they were outrebounded on the offensive glass by a whoppiing 27-4 margin.

Instead, here's how Calhoun started his postgame presser:

"In sum total, I would say that might be our best game."


He continued: "The 15 turnovers, which are heading down to where I want them, at least four or five of them were beautiful passes that just went off guys' hands inside the post."

As for the rebounding: “We’ve got to catch the ball inside, and we’ve got to rebound. Otherwise, in a game where we got beat by 12 on the glass, I’m not as disappointed, because I can see the rebounds, I can see our heads under the net. You can’t rebound under the net, and we’ve got to do a much better job of that.”

And, as Arkansas coach Mike Anderson pointed out: “We missed a lot of shots (53), so there were a lot of rebounds to be gotten, I guess.”

True enough. And I can see Calhoun's point. There were a lot of good signs for the Huskies today, starting, of course, with Boatright and moving on to UConn's three-guard attack of Boatright, Napier and Lamb, who were never really rattled by the Razorbacks' aggressive, pressure style.

It's a real good sign, in fact, that Napier seemed perfectly willing to relinquish the scoring burden to Boatright and even Tyler Olander (career-best 12 points) while picking his spots carefully (taking just six shots, making three). Lamb was also saddled with foul trouble, DeAndre Daniels and Roscoe Smith were just about invisible, so it was good for UConn to get scoring from other sources.

And they have a lot of sources. Seems this could be the type of team that will be led by its superstar (Lamb) and get contributions from various other players on any given night.

Niels Giffey was a positive, as well. Shackled to the bench for the entire Florida State game, as well as the first 16 minutes of the first half Saturday, he wound up contributing with four points, two boards and some generally solid overall play -- particularly on defense.

In fact, Calhoun strongly considered starting Giffey over Daniels until backing of at the last minute.

“Niels hasn’t seen the light of day much. He’s had four good practices in a row. We were talking to him about starting him over DeAndre – who we think is going to be a very good player, he just needs to understand the level we’re playing at is highly different.”

“My assistants kept saying to me, and they were 100-percent right – for once – to leave Niels in on defense, because he’s doing a great job."

As for Boatright, what more can you say -- 23 points, six assists, five rebounds, two steals, boundless energy. He's fearless taking the ball to the hole yet looks for his big men inside more than any of UConn's guards. He is the real deal.

“Ryan was pretty special,” said Calhoun. “He has those Allen Iverson kind of things where his athletic ability just allows him to do some pretty special things that you don’t normally see.”

Said Boatright: “I play with heart, so I never surprise myself. I came from high school scoring 40, 50, so I know I can score. But it’s not really about me scoring 23, as long as we got the ‘W’, I don’t care if I had three points, as long as we won, I’d be fine.”

Added Anderson: “He really gave them a big-time lift … I saw the game he played against Florida State and I thought he was the difference in that game, as well. He’s a good, crafty little guard. With Shabazz and him on the same team, and then you’ve got a guy like Lamb that can knock it down at any point in time, that’s a good tandem there.”

No doubt about that.

Calhoun mentioned how Boatright was going up against Ray Allen at Gampel the other day.

“He was saying ‘Ray, I got ya.’ (He was) going into Ray Allen. Not many guys can do that with Ray. They were kidding back and forth, but the point being: all he’s been doing through this whole process is, ‘Coach, get me on the floor.’ He never said a word about starting – obviously, I wouldn’t have listened to him anyway – but still, a lot of kids come back and say things.”

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Highway to Hell

They now call it "The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball." I remember when they used to call it "40 Minutes of Hell."

Whatever you want to call it, it's what Mike Anderson employs at Arkansas, where he was once a longtime assistant to Nolan Richardson (including the Razorbacks' 1994 national championship squad). It means pressure, pressure and more pressure, lots of run-and-gun and, often, high-scoring affairs.

Of course, Anderson was employing this style with Missouri the past five seasons, including in 2009 when the Tigers went up against UConn in the Elite Eight in Glendale, Ariz. The result: an 82-75 Husky victory in what was Kemba Walker's coming-out party (23 points in 25 minutes).

Jim Calhoun says he's watched tape of that game to help prepare for Saturday's SEC-Big East Challenge battle with Anderson's Razorbacks. Ryan Boatright is certainly up for the challenge.

“That’s how I’ve played my whole life, because I’m so small, I’ve got to use my speed to my advantage,” the diminutive frosh guard said. “I love when a team wants to come out and press us like that.”

The Huskies expect to throw a lot of three-guard looks at Arkansas, meaning Boatright, Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb could be sharing the court a lot on Saturday.

That's fine with Boatright, too.

“We can hit you from every angle, it’s hard to stay in front of all three of us," he said. "And the chemistry we’ve all got, we play so well with each other. I think that comes from the preseason and us understanding what we all want to do, and that’s win. It’s fun playing with those guys.”

Boatright's season debut was certainly impressive Saturday in the Bahamas. Now comes his debut on the "mainland." He said sitting out six games (plus two exhibitions) for receiving improper benefits was frustrating.

“I wasn’t expecting eight games,” he admitted. “The little thing I was in trouble for, I was expecting maybe three or four, five at the most. It came out to be eight. But I’m just happy I got to come back quick enough to help my team in the Bahamas.”

Calhoun said that Boatright, Niels Giffey and Roscoe Smith have been the team's best players in practice the past few days.

A few other tidbits:

*** Calhoun looks for his team to get three defensive stops in a row at least five times a game. He says that when the Huskies did so last season, they went 18-0.

*** Frosh Michael Bradley could being practicing with the team by next week.

*** Arkansas is led by guards Julysses Nobles (12.2 ppg) and Mardracus Wade (10.8) but suffered a tough loss when one of their top returning players, junior forward Marshawn Powell, suffered a season-ending knee injury a few weeks ago.

*** Calhoun says his team isn't "fully connected yet," but concedes few, if any, teams in the nation are right now. He believes No. 1 Kentucky is easily the best team he's seen thus far.

*** The obligatory what's-up-with-Alex-Oriakhi update: “He’s always a hard worker, he was in late last night shooting. I don’t worry about his attitude, I worry about his confidence. He’s not a particularly over-confident kid," Calhoun said.

*** SEC, easy as 1-2-3: The Huskies are 15-5 against the SEC under Jim Calhoun, including 3-0 last season. They’ll also play at Tennessee on Jan. 21.

*** Tell Larry Lucchino & Co. that Calhoun, a huge Red Sox fan, is very much on board with the Bobby Valentine hire.

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