Saturday, February 21, 2009


Despite a rather uninspired, 64-50 win over South Florida, Jim Calhoun entered today's postgame press conference in a pretty good mood. No rants against the officials, or against the statistician gyping Hasheem Thabeet out of blocked shots. No digs at Digger Phelps, either.

Then, with the first question of the press conference, Calhoun's mood took a quick U-turn. And rightfully so.

Some guy from a paper called the Hartford News, who apparently considers himself The Last Brave Journalist (my words, not his), decided to take up a cause. Here's how it unfolded:

Last Brave Journalist: Considering that you're the highest-paid state employee and there's a $2 billion budget deficit, do you think …

Jim Calhoun: Not a dime back.

LBJ: Not a dime back?

JC: Not a dime back. I'd like to be able to retire some day.

LBJ: You don't think $1.5 million is enough?

JC: I make a lot more than that.

LBJ: You do?

JC: What was the take tonight?

LBJ: What's the deal with ComCast worth?

JC: You're not really that stupid, are you?

LBJ: Yes, I am.

JC: My best advice to you – shut up.

LBJ: Thank you. That's very polite of you.

JC: No, it wasn't polite of me, I want you to shut up. If you want to talk to me outside, I'd be more than happy to.

LBJ: If these guys covered this stuff, I wouldn't have to do it.


The Last Brave Journalist does, in fact, have a name: Ken Krayeske. Apparently, he asked for a photographer's credential earlier in the week because he said he was working on a story on UConn and needed some pictures to run with it. Didn't see a camera around his neck, however.

Bottom line: there's a time and place to ask Calhoun questions about this. Leading off a postgame presser with this line of questioning isn't the time or the place, and rather comes across as simply a way to call attention to yourself in a loud and obnoxious way.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Of Bulls, Blair and Bears

So we walk into Gampel today at about 3 p.m., with UConn's practice winding down, and there's a 7-foot-3 piece missing out on the floor.

Hasheem Thabeet wasn't out there. Uh-oh. Is the big guy hurt? Did DeJuan Blair's wrestling move the other night injure Thabeet's shoulder worse than we thought? Did he simply hurt himself in practice? Was he already starting a rehab regimen in the training room with Jerome Dyson?

About 10 minutes later, Thabeet emerged -- wearing his practice uniform and a pair of flip-flops. Jim Calhoun gave him the last part of practice off to ice his left shoulder, which is still pretty sore from the Blair play.

"The one he fouled on," Calhoun said, rather sarcastically. "When he was pulled over and they called a foul on him."

Thabeet did sprain his shoulder on the play and has been icing it and taking medication for it. He sat out of part of Thursday's practice and some of today's, but Calhoun is confident he'll be ready to go for tomorrow's 2 p.m. bout with South Florida at the XL Center.

"I wouldn't think he'd be limited at all," the coach said. "I'll give him a good kick in the butt and he'll be ready to go."

In fact, Calhoun added that part of the reason he gave Thabeet the end of practice off today was because he was blocking shots left and right, and he wanted the rest of his team to play defense without relying on Thabeet simply blocking their problems away.

***UConn signee Alex Oriahki, a 6-9, 245-pound center at The Tilton School in New Hampshire, was recently named to the McDonald's All-America game, which will be held April 1 in Coral Gables, Fla.

Calhoun: "Obviously he's more than deserving, in my opinion. He's a very mature basketball player. I'm very happy for him and proud for him. We don't do a lot of politicking to get kids into that game, but I thought in his case, it certainly was more than fair. Because he really has worked hard on every aspect of his game, and every aspect academically at a really rigorous school like Tilton where he's really developed at as a student, a person and a basketball player."

***Pitt's 76-69 win over UConn on Monday was seen by an average of nearly 2.1 million households, making it the network's most-viewed Big East regular season game since ESPN began keeping viewership records in 1990.

***Notre Dame's Luke Harangody has tied Jeff Adrien for the most career double-doubles among Big East players, with 44 apiece. They are tied for second nationally. The Big East has five players who have recorded 10 more double-doubles this season. Harangody leads the way with 18. Blair has 16 followed by Louisville’s Earl Clark at 12. Adrien and Thabeet each have 11.

***The Huskies won't be overlooking South Florida (8-17, 3-10) tomorrow. The Bulls beat No. 8 Marquette on Feb. 6, and it took overtime (and a Craig Austrie buzzer-beater) for UConn to top USF last year in Tampa.

"This is a very important game for us," said Adrien. "We're definitely not overlooking South Florida, they're a good team, they're getting better every year, they're getting better recruits every year. They don't have anything to lose. They're going to make their season right here and build on it. Beating Marquette and beating UConn, that's a great way to start a next year. We're not going to let them do that, we're just going to go out there and play hard."

***After UConn's loss to Pitt, USF coach Stan Heath knows the Huskies will be a little peeved tomorrow.

"We’re probably going to be running into an angry bear, so we’ve got to regroup and get ready to go to Hartford to play," Heath said.

Walk This Way

We all know about Jim Calhoun, Jeff Adrien, Hasheem Thabeet, A.J. Price and the rest of the frontline players at UConn. But there are unsung members of the Huskies – and, indeed, of virtually any other program in the country: the walk-ons.

UConn has five walk-ons (not including Stanley Robinson, who’s paying his own way this semester): John Lindner, Jim Veronick, Johnnie Bird, Alex Hornat and Kyle Bailey. Lindner and Veronick have dressed for every game this season; Bird, Hornat and Bailey rotate turns for the other one or two spots at the end of the bench each game.

Here’s a story from today’s Register about the two local boys, Lindner (from Cheshire) and Veronick (from Durham and a Coginchaug High graduate). Both are seniors who will be recognized – along with Adrien, Price and Craig Austrie – on Senior Day prior to UConn’s Feb. 28 game with Notre Dame at Gampel.

When it’s all said and done, Lindner will likely go down in the UConn record books with exactly one career point and one career rebound. Veronick will have played in exactly one game, failing to score or pull down a board. But both have made contributions to the program’s success, banging bodies nearly every day in practice with Thabeet and Adrien and helping to make them better players.

<------You may also know them as the guys who help their injured teammates off the floor. Both were there to carry Jerome Dyson off the court last week against Syracuse, while Lindner teamed with Thabeet in helping Price to the end of the bench last March after Price tore his ACL.

They’re both great kids and extremely popular with their more famous scholarship teammates. In fact, Lindner is even “the competition” – or at least he was. He started a blog this season chronicling the Huskies’ season. However, after it was linked to a popular UConn message board recently, Lindner was asked to take his blog down in order to avoid a Joe Torre-type situation.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Blair Warner

DeJuan Blair issued a warning through the Pittsburgh media on Saturday that he'd be ready for UConn come Monday.

"I'm going to say I'm ready, that's all. I'm ready," Blair said, emphasizing that last word.

And he sure did back up those words, with 22 points and 23 boards tonight -- his second 20-20 effort in just over two weeks -- in Pitt's 76-68 win over the top-ranked Huskies.

Blair was practically unstoppable in the first half, when he scored Pittsburgh's final 13 points before halftime by consistently backing down his 7-foot-3 counterpart Hasheem Thabeet -- himself the author of a 20-20 effort on Saturday that earned him a second straight Big East player of the week honor earlier in the day -- for inside hoops.

And though Blair was a bit quieter in the latter half, he made one of the biggest defensive plays of the game. With Pitt up six and less than a minute to go, he snuffed a Thabeet shot – ripping it right out of the UConn center's hands – and hit Jermaine Dixon upcourt for a layup that pretty much sealed the Panthers' win at the sold-out XL Center.

In fact, Blair was the bane of Thabeet's existence all night. At one point early on, while both were going for a rebound, he lifted Thabeet off the ground and practically flipped him over his back and to the ground. Thabeet hurt his left shoulder on the play (though he returned shortly thereafter). And to add insult to (minor) injury, was called for his first foul on the play.

Then, with 11:20 left and UConn trailing by just a point, Blair drew Thabeet's fourth foul – a questionable call, to say the least. Thabeet seemed to be trying to establish offensive position when Blair ran in and the two collided. Referee Mike Kitts whistled Thabeet for the infraction.

"I was just running, I stopped, he ran into me hard," Thabeet explained. "But that's not the reason why we lost the game."

"I'm running down, he was standing there trying to push me," said Blair. "I guess he tried to use his brakes to stop me so they could lob it over, I don't know."

He later added: "It was a good call," winking his one eye that hadn't been swollen shut by a Stanley Robinson elbow. "Of course it was a good call."

Let's just say that Jim Calhoun didn't agree. Calhoun was extremely displeased – and, oddly, shocked – by the physical nature of the game, and the way the officials allowed the game to be played that way. It was Kitts who apparently drew his most ire, though Calhoun never mentioned him by name, a la Wally Rutecki last season.

A sampling of Calhoun's postgame quotes; you can read between the lines:

"(Pitt) played a particular style of basketball that we hadn't seen this year, it was very effective against us … I guess I wasn't the only person who thought it was very effective against us, either."

"I have no comments on the officiating. I think one guy spoke out for himself the whole game."

"If it's going to be called that way, let us know before."

"One guy could have been an awful lot better to help make it a better basketball game, but beyond that, I thought everybody else did their job well. And Pittsburgh, through that kind of game, beat us."

While Kitts didn't seem overly awful tonight, the Thabeet call was very questionable, to say the least. There was also an odd exchanged between Kitts and a Pitt player on an out-of-bounds call. It seemed Kitts asked the Pitt player (can't exactly remember who) if he had hit the ball out-of-bounds. The Pitt player naturally said no, and Kitts ruled it was Pitt's ball.

On why Calhoun was surprised by the physical nature of the game.

"I have no comment on that, you saw what you saw. If you didn't see it, you shouldn't be writing it. I think in the 90's, we played some games like that in the Big East. I know we did, and my team was involved with them. Lyman DePriest, some of the other guys, we played those kind of games … Give Pitt all the credit. They made all the big plays, and we didn't … Pittsburgh played us incredibly well. It could be the Year 2020, we'd still get beat on the backboards."

The physicality of the game didn't take Pitt coach Jamie Dixon by surprise.

"It seemed like a typical game to us," he said. "It was players playing hard on a national stage. It didn't seem like too much of a surprise to us – or them, I would think."

Well … not exactly.

***Oh, and one more veiled shot at the refs by the UConn coach.

"(Blair's) a great, great basketball player. Terrific player, a great warrior. When he's allowed to roam the post like that and use his physicality in the post, he's absolutely wonderful. He's a nightmare for every single coach. I'm sure in a couple of years, if he's smart by staying around, he'll be a great pro because you're allowed to do that in the NBA."

***Calhoun was also self-critical:

"When we had a five-point lead, I did a very poor job of substituting in the backcourt. I should have taken the freshman out of the game and tried to get someone else in to run the offense. The offense stagnated at time, so that's my fault."

***It's impossible to say whether not having Jerome Dyson (who was at the game, sitting behind UConn's bench) contributed greatly to this loss. Calhoun was asked as much afterwards, particularly concerning a trio of late Pitt 3-pointers (two by Levance Fields) that put the Panthers up for good.

"Did we have four guys on the court?" Calhoun asked, rhetorically. "Someone's got to step up. They're basketball players, they're on full scholarship – out-of-state, $37,000. They should play basketball. Now's their opportunity … (Dyson) would not have been guarding Fields on those two plays."

***Blair plays with great fire, intensity and emotion. He was rarin' to go tonight from the start -- even before the start. During the national anthem, he was so eager to head over, shake hands with the Huskies and get this thing going that he had to be held back by a teammate from "And the rockets red glare" 'til the end.

Kemba Walker is UConn's equivalent. Just a freshman, he was the Huskies' emotional leader tonight and played very well. At one point, after a big UConn hoop, Walker got so jacked up that Calhoun had to motion to him to settle down a little bit from the sideline.

***Not only did this game end UConn's 13-game win streak, it also ended a stretch of 32 straight games in which the Huskies outrebounded their opponent. And boy, were they ever: 48-31, to be exact.

When asked about that, Calhoun had a strange response: "You know what you can do with stats? They may be dark for a while, but you can eventually take them out."


"The last thing I'm worried about is stats," he added. "It's the root of the problem, but I don't think it was the root of the game. It was a different kind of basketball game than we've played."

***This was the first time in 14 tries that Pitt has ever defeated a No. 1-ranked opponent.

***Sign seen in the student section: "Happy Birthday, Austrie." Except Craig Austrie's birthday is March 17, a month away. It was Thabeet's 22nd birthday, however. Not a very happy one.

***At one point, Calhoun yanked Austrie from the game and was talking to him on the sideline. It appeared Austrie was more concerned with taking a seat, so Calhoun appeared to direct Austrie to sit on the end of the bench, with the walk-ons. He continued to have strong words with Austrie for the next several minutes.

***Whatta ya say we all do this again in a few weeks (March 7) out in Pittsburgh? Sounds good to me.

Dyson Out for Season

It's official: Jerome Dyson is out for the season.

Dyson had successful surgery this afternoon. The torn meniscus in his right knee was able to be repaired, meaning he'll miss the rest of the 2008-09 season. Typical rehab time is about 3-4 months.

It's a tough loss for UConn, obviously, and puts them from Final Four favorites to one of many teams that could get that far. It says here that the Huskies will still make a serious run in March. I don't believe we've seen the best this year from A.J. Price or Stanley Robinson (though we're running out of patience with the latter).

Oh, and that head coach of theirs can coach a little bit, and often thrives under adverse circumstances.

Hash is Player of Week -- Again

For the second straight week, Hasheem Thabeet has been named the Big East's Player of the Week.

In a pair of UConn wins, Thabeet averaged 16.5 points, 18 boards and 8 blocks. He also anchored a Husky defense that held Syracuse 29 points below its season average and Seton Hall 22 below its average.

In the Seton Hall win, Thabeet posted career highs of 25 points and 20 boards, and blocked nine shots (or more, if you listen to Jim Calhoun). The 20 rebounds were the most in a single game by a UConn player since Emeka Okafor tore down 22 in February, 2004 against Notre Dame.