Saturday, January 12, 2008

Can you hear me now? Good.

Some pregame notes & observations from the Verizon Center:

  • Jim Calhoun is feeling ill and will not be on the bench for today's game with Georgetown. Calhoun had been the fine the last few days since leaving Tuesday night's game early, but felt ill at last night's team dinner and simply wasn't up to coming out on the bench for today's game.

  • After today's game, UConn assistant coach Andre LaFleur will fly down to Australia to watch skilled 6-9 forward Ater Majok play. On Tuesday, the Huskies will watch 6-4 shooter Scott Haralson play down in Mississippi. Haralson, apparently, is real big on UConn, but the Huskies' interest could rest on whether or not Nate Miles gets accepted into the school.

  • While Miles (who's currently at his sixth different high school) has baggage, high-scoring junior college forward Keith Brumbaugh has even more. Brumbaugh, who announced for the NBA Draft in May, 2005 before withdrawing his name, has shoplifting and resisting arrest charges on his record. With that in mind, the Huskies don't have much interest in the 6-9 forward, who is averaging 41 points and 13 rebounds for Hillsborough Community College. According to, UConn and South Florida are his two schools of interest.

  • Back to Miles: at least one person at UConn believes that if Miles does get enrolled at UConn, he could function as the team's backup point guard.

  • Lots of trash-talking from the Georgetown student section. Plenty of stolen laptop jokes hurled at A.J. Price ("Hey A.J., do you get wireless down here?!?") and lots of stuff said to Hasheem Thabeet that no fan would ever say to his face.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Emotional days for Calhoun

Some very interesting things out of UConn practice today, much of which had nothing to do with Saturday’s big game with Georgetown at the MCI Center (more on that tomorrow).

Jim Calhoun has run the gamut of emotions over the past few days, attending the wake and funeral of his brother-in-law, Dr. Larry McDevitt, Jr., on Sunday and Monday, leaving Tuesday night’s St. John’s game early, then addressing a dozen young Red Sox prospects during the team’s Rookie Orientation Program on Wednesday.

Calhoun explained how difficult the last few days have been for him and his family after the death of his brother-in-law, Dr. Larry McDevitt, Jr. Calhoun and his wife, Pat, attended the same church growing up, and all 12 siblings on both sides of the family are very close. Dr. McDevitt is the first of the siblings to pass away, and Calhoun said it was “very unexpected.”

“The death in our family certainly affected me and certainly affected my wife,” the coach said. “It was, emotionally, a very difficult time for me.”

Calhoun missed practice both on Sunday and Monday prior to Tuesday night’s win over St. John’s at Gampel Pavilion. He could have made Monday’s practice, he added, but instead stayed around his old neighborhood in Braintree, Mass. with his brother and wife. Calhoun left the St. John’s game with just under 15 minutes remaining due, in part, to the emotions of the prior two days catching up with him.

“My nerves were very raw,” said Calhoun, who was a pallbearer at the funeral at Sacred Heart Church in Weymouth, Mass.

On Wednesday, on the invite of Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, Calhoun spoke to a group of Red Sox prospects, including rookie phenom Clay Buchholz, author of a no-hitter in his second major league start this past season. Calhoun stressed a few different points, one of which came as somewhat of a surprise: be accommodating to the media.

“Not that you can’t fight with them, because that’s inevitable, but (let them do) their jobs,” Calhoun said. “For everybody that I’ve gone after, either wrongly or because I was protecting one of my kids, I’ve tried to at least let them know that it isn’t a personal thing. I never thought Jim Rice ever did that. You just can’t leave it dangling out there, there’s got to be some finality to it.

“Somewhere along the line, you’ve got to let them see the human side of you, because they’re doing their job. It’s good advice for a kid coming into a place like Boston, where they really truly care and everything they write is read. And re-read again.”

Calhoun also told them to respect their coaches and managers while on the way up.

“I said to them, there will be a point in your career when some manager is going to say something to you. When you say something back to him, when you’re hitting .212 … if Manny wants to be Manny, that’s O.K. But Joe can’t be Joe. That’s from the coach’s side, trust me.”

Then, perhaps remembering this summer’s no-hitter, Calhoun added, “Buchholz can be Buchholz, if he wants.”

The 12 prospects at the week-long orientation are Buchholz, Devern Hansack, Michael Bowden, Hunter Jones, Justin Masterson, Dustin Richardson, Dusty Brown, Aaron Bates, Chris Carter, Jed Lowrie, Bubba Bell and Jonathan Van Every.
Calhoun, of course, is a diehard Red Sox fan – something he reminded the dozen prospects of.

“When I leave here,” he told them, “I’ll be one of those guys sitting on my couch bitching at you. But I’ll really be rooting for you.”

Some other tidbits:

  • Calhoun didn’t particularly like the way Hasheem Thabeet practiced today, “and yet he wasn’t bad.” Thabeet has battled a cold over the past few days, Calhoun noted, and the coach wondered if Thabeet was saving himself a bit for Saturday’s showdown with fellow 7-footer Roy Hibbert and the Hoyas. Calhoun recounted a story he’d heard of Wilt Chamberlain, who never used to attend morning shootarounds. When 76er coach Dolph Schayes finally asked him to start attending, Chamberlain replied, “You want me in the morning, or you want me at night? You’ve got me once a day.”
    “I don’t know if Hasheem is saying to me, ‘You want me Saturday, or you want me today?”
  • Jerome Dyson hails from nearby Rockville, Md and will have “about 20 or 30” family members and friends in attendance at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C.
  • Calhoun steadfastly believes Jim Rice should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Calhoun feeling better

After leaving Tuesday night's game with about 14 1/2 minutes remaining due to exhaustion, Jim Calhoun was back in his office this afternoon for about three hours and is feeling much better. The Huskies didn't practice today.

Calhoun had attended the wake and funeral of an in-law on Sunday and Monday and missed those two days of practice. The stress from that situation, coupled with a lack of sleep, some dehydration and light-headedness and the fact that it was "really hot in the gym," according to associate coach George Blaney, all got the best of Calhoun.

In what has to be an "Only at UConn" stat, the sports information department released a list of the 18 games Calhoun has missed or left the bench due to illness over the past 22 years. Here they are:

1. Dec. 23, 1990 vs. Fairfield (HCC) W 94-70 Flu-like symptoms, chest pain
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. Feb. 5, 2003 vs. 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 W, 81-65 dehydration, light-headedness, fatigue

Monday, January 07, 2008

We're Talkin' 'Bout Practice ...

A couple of quick notes from Storrs after the Huskies' practice:

  • Jim Calhoun was attending a funeral for a death in the family and wasn't at practice today. Associate head coach George Blaney ran the show. Calhoun will be coach the team on Tuesday night.

  • Jerome Dyson only participated in about half of today's practice because "his back is still acting up a little bit," according to Blaney. Dyson seemed to get banged up a bit against Notre Dame Saturday night, but Blaney said the sophomore guard has been suffering from back spasms and "about six or seven different injuries" all year. Dyson felt fine last Thursday against Seton Hall, but his back tightened up a bit at practice in South Bend and has been tight since UConn returned. "I asked him if he needed an ambulance to go home tonight," Blaney quipped. "I expect him to be ready (tomorrow night). He's such a tough kid, even when he's hurt, he's going to play full-out and give you the kind of effort that you want. "

  • The Huskies are loose and not going to let the tough loss to Notre Dame stick with them."You can't really harp on them too long because we've got 17 more (games)," A.J. Price reasoned. "We have plenty of more opportunities to get big wins. The more I think we stay positive and look forward, the sooner the tide will turn for us in those close games. The more we keep pushing and fighting, eventually we're going to get something to go in our favor."

  • How loose were the Huskies? While Price was addressing "The Horde," teammate Jeff Adrien played amateur cameraman and videotaped the interview with an iPhone.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Disturbing trends

They're 10-3 overall, 1-1 in the Big East. They've lost to the only two Top 25 teams they've played, as well as to the only three teams they've played that appear to have NCAA Tournament hopes at this point.

No question, UConn is much better than it was a year ago and certainly better than it was even a month ago. But there's little indication to suggest that the Huskies are more than, in coach Jim Calhoun’s own words, "just an O.K. team right now.”

A couple of disturbing trends have dogged the Huskies so far this season:

Opposing players seem to break out of slumps and get hot against the UConn defense. Gonzaga's Jeremy Pargo entered the Zags' Dec. 1 game with the Huskies having hit just 1 of 16 3-pointers on the season. He went 4-for-7 from distance against UConn and led all scorers with 23 points.

"Once he found UConn, he was able to play real well," Calhoun rued at the time.

Pargo isn't the only one. The words “career-high” have often been used when describing opponents’ high scorers against the Huskies this season. Chris Douglas-Roberts of Memphis pumped home a career-high 33 points against the Huskies on Nov. 16; he’s been in a relative shooting slump ever since. Northeastern’s Matt Janning went for 29 (including five 3-pointers) in UConn’s uninspiring, 69-60 win on Dec. 6.

Central Florida’s Jermaine Taylor poured in a career-high 30 in the Huskies’ 85-82 win on Dec. 28, and Seton Hall freshman Jeremy Hazell, in just his second start, was a revelation to everyone – especially UConn – when he canned six 3-pointers and went for 28 on Thursday night.

The latest example is Notre Dame's Kyle McAlarney. The junior guard entered Saturday night's contest shooting just 28 percent over his prior four games. But McAlarney got hot in a hurry against the Huskies, hitting a whopping 13 of 19 field goals, including 6 of 7 from 3-point land, and finishing with a (you guessed it) career-high 32 points.

What does it all mean? It means the Huskies don’t have a lockdown defender that can neutralize an opponent’s best player, particularly if that player is a shooter. Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson would figure to be athletic enough players who can step up to the task. To this point, neither really has.

Teams get off to blistering starts against the Huskies. Seton Hall scored 48 first-half points against UConn on Thursday night, prompting Calhoun to simply write "48" on the locker room whiteboard at halftime. The Huskies got the message, shored up defensively in the latter half and wound up with a 98-86 victory.

Two nights later, however, the message apparently hadn't stuck. UConn allowed Notre Dame to hit five 3-pointers and score 47 points in the opening half on Saturday. While it doesn't appear Calhoun wrote "47" on the whiteboard at halftime, the Huskies were able to tighten up defensively again in the latter half.

More specifically, Hasheem Thabeet came alive as a shot-swatting force, turning away seven Notre Dame shots in the latter half and 10 for the game to tie his own school record. This time, however, the Huskies' 15-point halftime deficit was a bit too much to overcome, and the Irish emerged with the win.

"(Notre Dame) certainly were ready to play, and we weren't," Calhoun said. "It's not the first time this year, but hopefully it'll be the last time. There are sections of the game that I don't recognize my own team."So how does UConn avoid allowing big first halves to teams?

"Take better shots," said Jerome Dyson. "The shots we took in the first half (on Saturday) caused long rebounds. I took two quick 3-pointers where there were long rebounds and they were out on the break fast, and we weren't getting back."

But it’s not all about the offense. Clearly, the Huskies need to jump out of the gates with a better defensive attitude.

"There are things about our team that intrigue me and (make me) think that over the next 18 games or so we can do something," Calhoun said following Saturday's loss. "But until they learn they've got to play 40 minutes, they're just an O.K. team right now."