Sunday, April 6, 2014

Time Heals All Wounds with Jim Calhoun, John Calipari; Mark Emmert, UConn

John Calipari had just left the AT&T Center floor after Kentucky’s Final Four win over Wisconsin Saturday night when he bumped into an old adversary.

“We’ll go after this again,” Calipari said to Jim Calhoun.

“Yeah,” Calhoun replied, “but the other guy might be tougher than me.”

Calhoun, of course, was referring to Kevin Ollie, his heir apparent who has led UConn into the national championship game in just his second season as head coach. Indeed, while Calhoun vs. Calipari would add even more spice to Monday night’s national championship game, Ollie and Calipari are prepared to being their own rivalry.

It certainly seems to be getting off to a friendlierstart than the one Calhoun and Calipari were involved in years ago.

“Wonderful coach,” Ollie said of Calipari on Sunday. “Everybody says he’s a great motivator. Yeah, but he’s a great coach, too. To get all those guys to buy in and not give up on them … you see the fruits of their labor right now. They’re playing their best basketball, they allow their teams to play the best basketball and grow up and mature.”

Ollie and Calipari actually share a bit of history – Calipari was Larry Brown’s assistant coach with the 76ers in 1999-2000 when Ollie was on the team.

“He is one of the wonderful people that I’ve ever come across in my life,” Calipari said. “Genuine, loyal, and a great coach. Because you know what he was doing while he was playing? He was coaching. That’s how he played. He was an unbelievable student of the gam then. He was teaching me when I was in Philly. As an assistant for Coach Brown, he was teaching me. So, fond memories.”

Much fonder than Calipari’s memories of his rivalry with Calhoun years ago, when Calipari was the new guy at UMass, trying to make an imprint in New England college basketball, and Calhoun was the veteran who didn’t want to cede anything.

“It was a rivalry,” Calipari recalled. “We wanted it to be, they did not. Which I don’t blame them. They were in the Big East, we were in the Atlantic 10. We really didn’t play each other, but you had two teams going at each other.”

UMass and UConn played just twice when Calipari was there, with the Huskies winning both games, once in Storrs (104-75 in 1989) and once at Amherst (94-75 in 1990). The schools’ yearly rivalry resumed in 1997, almost immediately after Calipari left to coach the Nets.

Still, time heals all wounds.

“Sometimes, the things we fight each other about, we forget years later why we’re fighting,” Calhoun said on Sunday. “John’s trying to do his job. He does it differently than how we do it at UConn. But, he certainly is a good coach, he’s had great success with the young kids that he’s coached.”

He added: “There are very few guys that you stay mad at. When you’re competing against someone over players, over scoreboards, trying to win games … as far as John goes, he’s got a chance to win his second national championship. He’s certainly done a good job.”

BOATRIGHT HONORS SLAIN COUSIN 


Boatright talked about how tough it was to grow up in Aurora.

"People say it's the suburbs, but when they tear the projects down in Chicago, where's everybody gonna go? They're going to Aurora. It's just like Chicago. It's tough, man. There's gang activity, stuff like that. It's a rough environment. So just growing up in it and being a small guy, you're naturally just tough. You can't be a punk. My mom's the same way. She had me at 16. She just raised me to be a tough dude, but to be smart at the same time, which is why I'm here in college and not in jail or dead. Growing up like that, man, seeing the things I saw and going through the things I've been through, I'm fearless. Nothing scares me. 

LENAHAN LENDS SUPPORT FROM BEHIND BENCH

Cheshire’s Pat Lenehan, the junior walk-on who played at Xavier High, hasn’t been able to sit on the bench during UConn’s NCAA run. In the tournament, teams only have 17 seats on the bench, as opposed to 19 during the regular season. So Lenehan and sophomore walk-on Nnamdi Amilo have ceded their spots on the bench to senior walk-on Tor Watts.

“Tor earned the spot last year and he’s a senior, so I wouldn’t even want to rotate at this point,” Lenehan said. “It would be really cool for me to be on the bench, but I’m happy for Tor. He’s gotten into two tournament games. I’m happy for everything he’s been able to do.”

Lenehan’s greatest accomplishments, of course, have come in the classroom. He recently earned a Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious undergraduate academic honors in the nation.

EMMERT ‘PLEASED’ WITH UCONN’S SUCCESS

NCAA president Mark Emmert met with the media Sunday and was asked how he felt about UConn, a team barred from the postseason a year ago due to APR penalties, being in the title game.

“I’m personally very pleased at it,” he said. “The reality is that the University of Connecticut, as we all know, had really abysmal APR performance for a consistent period of time. They had to achieve, in relatively short order, essentially a 1,000 APR, a perfect score. They have got a new president, new coach, new AD, and they were deeply committed to making those changes and they have done it. It’s actually very impressive.”

Emmert was provost and chancellor at UConn in the late-1990’s.


“It was painful for me to watch them go through that,” he continued. “As the former chief academic officer, it was painful to watch them go through those kind of issues, and I’m delighted that they’re doing well, not just on the court, but in the classroom.”















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