Friday, March 2, 2012

Calhoun: 'I Just Couldn't Stay Home Any Longer'

The familiar figure was back at Gampel Pavilion Friday afternoon: arms crossed, furrowed brow, that characteristic, bow-legged gait, raising his voice at his players a few times.

For the first time in nearly a month, Jim Calhoun was back at UConn’s practice.

Calhoun, on medical leave with spinal stenosis for nearly a month, returned to help his team prepare for Saturday’s regular season-ending bout with Pittsburgh – against his doctor’s orders.

“I just couldn’t stay home any longer,” Calhoun, appearing a bit weary, his voice hoarse, said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was going to come in (Thursday), but physically I just couldn’t do it. More fatigue than anything else.”

But the 26th-year Hall of Fame head coach still isn’t sure if he’ll be on the sidelines for today’s noon bout with Pitt.

“I’ll see how I feel (Saturday) when I get up, to see if I can get to the game,” he said. “It’s not a mystery thing, I just that I want to feel that I can give my kids my best at noon (Saturday).”

If he can’t, Calhoun expects to return to practice on Sunday and feels he’ll be able to coach the team in next week’s Big East tournament, which will likely begin on Tuesday for the Huskies.

But after seeing his head coach return to practice just four days after surgery, freshman center Andre Drummond is confident Calhoun will be coaching the team on Saturday.

“He will be back,” Drummond said. “There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be back on the bench (Saturday).”

Calhoun went on medical leave on Feb. 3 to deal with spinal stenosis, a lower back condition, and has missed UConn’s last eight games. He had surgery on Monday morning at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City and returned to his Pomfret home the following day.

The Huskies have gone 3-5 since Calhoun went on medical leave. He also missed three games to start the Big East season on NCAA suspension. UConn went 2-1 in those games.

Associate head coach George Blaney has piloted the Huskies through the 11 games Calhoun has missed this season.

“You could see it in their eyes, they were happy to see him,” Blaney said of the players on Friday. “Shabazz (Napier) and Andre, in particular, came over and gave him a big hug and welcomed him back. That was great to see.”

Added Drummond: “That’s a dedicated man right there. He doesn’t quit.”

“I didn’t know he was here, then I saw him, I looked again and ran over to him to see how he was doing.”

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