Friday, April 03, 2009

Final(ly) Four


Here we are, on the eve of the Final Four. Nowhere I'd rather be right now, and certainly nowhere Jim Calhoun would rather be, either.

Calhoun seems in particularly good spirits these days – chatting with UConn cheerleaders, joking with reporters (presumably none of them from Yahoo!), a sunny disposition on his face at nearly all times. Scandal? What's that, other than Patty Smythe's cheesy '80's band? Calhoun is in his element, relevant again two years removed from being rejected by even the N.I.T., and truly in love with his team.

It may sound blasphemous, but I really believe that, even if the Huskies lose tomorrow night, Calhoun – as bad a loser as there is in sports – will be OK with it. Don't get me wrong, he wants to win more than anything. But he also realizes how much adversity this team has already overcome, and has already helped him get through this most trying of seasons.

"I think he loves the team," said associate head coach and Calhoun confidante George Blaney. "Anytime you coach a team, things happen during the course of the year – some are mini-crises, some are fairly large crises – and you always deal with them. He has enjoyed this team, and on top of that, we didn't lose very often. Winning helps a lot. This is a good group. They work hard, they're fun to be around, there's a lot of really, really smart guys. I think he has a special bond with this group."

I asked Blaney if he thinks Calhoun is pondering retirement after this season, no matter how it ends.

"We have heart-to-hearts about every 15 minutes," Blaney said, with a chuckle. "We talk about the future all the time. I always tell him, 'We have our most fun in the gym.' That's where he and I like to be, and I'm hoping we stay there as long as we can."

So the advice Blaney would give him in a few weeks, if Calhoun seeks it?

"We like to be in the gym."

***Of course, also hanging in the air is whether Hasheem Thabeet will go pro after this season. It seems a foregone conclusion, but Thabeet insists he hasn't made his decision yet.

And when will he make it?

"After we win Monday night and go back for the parade in Connecticut," Thabeet said. "That's when I'll know what I need to do. I've got great advice last year from the coaches and I made the decision to come back. This year, they're going to assist me again with the decision either to come back or not. I really respect them, and their decision means something to me."

***A little X's and O's: Michigan State is probably as close to a Big East team the Huskies have faced so far in the NCAA tournament – and certainly as close as one will find in the slow-down Big Ten.

"They're different from other Big Ten schools," senior forward Jeff Adrien noted. "They like to run and they rebound, they're very physical. I think that's really why they won the Big 10 (regular season) this year, with their different style."

Indeed, the Spartans lead the nation in rebounding margin at plus-9.6 (UConn is third at 9.2; Pittsburgh is No. 2 at 9.3). Of course, outrebounding Big Ten foes is a lot different than outrebounding Big East opponents.

***Some defensive matchups: Travis Walton, the Spartans' defensive specialist, will guard A.J. Price.

"We've put him up against the best that each conference has to offer," MSU coach Tom Izzo said of Walton, the Big Ten's defensive player of the year. "Sometimes it's been 6-foot-6 guys, sometimes it's been 5-10 guys. Ninety-nine percent of the time, he's answered the bell. He's got a little tougher task ahead of him (tonight). But if there's anybody I feel comfortable doing it, it's him."

Walker appreciates the challenge ahead.

"He is a great player," he said of Price. "He makes big-time shots, so it's going to be a tough cover for me to kind of contain him. The main thing is to try to contain him and don't let him embarrass me in front of my home crowd."

Expect Raymar Morgan, a 6-8 junior forward who has battled illness and injury this season, to guard UConn's 6-9 jumping jack, Stanley Robinson.

"I think we have to stay in contact with (Robinson), because if we don't, those jets go off in his legs and he kind of leaps above everybody," Izzo said. "I think you're going to have to have contact if you have a big or a small guy on him. Raymar is a decent matchup for him."

Meanwhile, 6-7 forward Jeff Adrien – and not Thabeet – is likely to start off on MSU's Goran Suton, a 6-10 center who can step out and hit the mid-range jumper or 3-pointer.

***Another day, another brushfire: Calhoun addressed a column in Friday's Detroit Free-Press that insinuated that if he didn't come clean about the program's illegal recruiting allegations, he is essentially admitting guilt.

"I can't say anything," Calhoun said. "The NCAA has put a gag order. While they're doing their – not an investigation right now, but a review – they have told us that we cannot speak to the facts … so please don't think by my silence about what's been swirling around a little bit – quite a bit, actually – that it's not because I don’t want to say anything, it's because I can't say anything else. We've been put on a restraining order while the NCAA continues its review."

***Playing inside a cavernous football stadium can wreak havoc on basketball players' shooting. But after practices at Ford Field on Thursday and Friday, the Huskies aren't too worried.

"At first it was a problem, but we took plenty of shots out there, got our touch, and I feel comfortable right now," said senior guard Craig Austrie.

Added Blaney: "The (shooting) background is dark, so it doesn't give you the depth perception that a lot of these places give you. So, in my opinion, it has not really been a big adjustment for the shooters at all. It could be different for the game, with all the people in there, (but) I don't think so."

Blaney added that the rims used for tonight's game will be new, but will have more consistency than rims in Final Fours past.

"It's not as difficult to come into a new place and shoot as it used to be," he said. "You really used to have to know what the rims will do. Now, they're pretty consistent."
The Huskies will have a shootaround today to further get acclimated to the surroundings.

***What was Scandal's biggest hit?

***MSU sophomore guard Chris Allen's aunt and uncle live next door to Magic Johnson's parents in Lansing, Mich. That certainly made Tom Izzo's recruitment of Allen, a Georgia native, much easier.

***Jerome Dyson (knee) flew in on a 6 a.m. flight on Friday after staying back for classes in Storrs. He'll participate in shootaround tonight (no layups, just jumpers) and watch the game on the bench, in uniform.

Any chance of getting in for a few token seconds, in case of a blowout?

"I'll be in (Calhoun's) ear the whole time," Dyson joked.

***Dyson said the Huskies will be wearing their gray uniforms tomorrow night.

***Some 25,000 Spartan fans took in MSU's open practice today. They won't all be here tomorrow night, obviously, since today's practices were free to the public and didn't require a ticket.

After the workout, MSU players waved "Thank yous" to the crowd. There's a real sense that the Spartans can serve as a form of tonic to help the city of Detroit get through its rough economic times.

"Detroit has been struggling," said Spartan guard Kalin Lucas. "A lot of people have been getting laid off and stuff like that. So, us playing here in the Final Four, being a Michigan team playing, it can bring a smile to everybody that stays in the city of Detroit.

***One of the big brouhahas out here was the fact that North Carolina guard Ty Lawson was at a Greektown casino playing craps on Wednesday night. Izzo said he told his team before they arrived that the casinos around here were off-limits, though it may not have totally hit home.

"You bet, you lose," said Suton. "I don't really remember him talking about it that much. You guys?"

Lucas: "No, he ain't talk about it."

Walton: "I don't think they remember. But he just said, 'No gambling.' We don't want that distracting us."

Calhoun on the subject:

"Our curfew has been tight. We told them that was off-limits. (Lawson) is of age. I'm not speaking for Roy (Williams) or anybody else, I just don't really find it that problematic. A person of age is allowed to do what he wants to do, as long as it's legal.

"I'm sure if he had to do it over again, just like some other things in life, you do them over again. I remember the YouTube thing – I meant what I said, I just wouldn't have said it the same way … a do-over kind of thing."

By "YouTube thing," Calhoun meant the Ken Krayeske affair. Oh, and it was printed as "U2 thing" in the transcripts. I seriously doubt Calhoun has any inkling who Bono or The Edge are.

Oh, and sticking on the gambling topic, Calhoun added: "The governor (of Connecticut), by the way, I believe bet with the governor of Missouri – that's another issue for another day. I really don't look at that as being a major issue, no."

We assume he was kidding.

***A question posed to Suton at today's presser.

Q: Goran, can you tell me a little bit about your path to the University of Michigan …?

SUTON: I have to correct you with that. Michigan State University. We don't want to be confused with the U of M.

So that's it for now. I'm off to dinner and Greektown. I'll say hi to Ty Lawson for y'all.

3 Comments:

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Blogger The People's Champ said...

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5:09 PM 
Blogger David Borges said...

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