Saturday, March 28, 2009

The MC 5

Lots of great music from Detroit specifically and Michigan in general. Be prepared for lots of cheesy musical references in this space over the next week or so.

UConn is off to the Motor City for its third trip to the Final Four, all within the past decade. They'll play the winner of tomorrow's Midwest Regional final between Louisville and Michigan State on Saturday at Ford Field in Detroit.

"I'm ecstatic," said 23rd-year head coach Jim Calhoun. "The first one (1999) was emotional, the second one (2004) was actually wonderful because we had the best team in the country, in my opinion. I'm going now with a group who found a way – found a way to get to a Final Four. That's a hard, hard, hard thing to do.

"I couldn't be happier."

UConn won national titles in its previous two trips, which also happened to come after winning West Regional championships in Phoenix. As they did (or didn't) do in 2004, the Huskies decided not to cut down the nets following Saturday's win, as is tradition with most teams.

"We believe that we can cut down the nets in Detroit," said Jeff Adrien. "We didn't do it in '04, and we didn't do it today, because we believe that we'll cut down the nets where it really counts."

In fact, the Huskies tried do a lot of the same things the 1999 and 2004 teams did in Phoenix during their respective runs through the West Regionals and, ultimately, to national titles. That meant eating at the same Mexican restaurant one night and the same restaurant at Chase Field on another.

"We were very superstitious around here, and we do the same thing," said Adrien. "If it gets us to where we want to be, why not keep doing it?"

Calhoun jokingly took it a step further.

"I'm buying a house. I purchased land yesterday afternoon that says 'tentative,' unless we win today. I will come out here once every five years."

***With about 10 minutes left to play, A.J. Price, the senior point guard, took aside his protégé Kemba Walker, the freshman point guard, and offered him some words.

"I told Kemba … '(You're) growing up today,'" Price recalled. "He grew up. He played like a man among boys."

After scoring a game-high, career-high matching 23 points, to go with five assists, five rebounds and just a pair of turnovers amid Missouri's frenetic fullcourt pressure, Walker didn't exactly disagree.

"(On Saturday), I think I did grow up kind of fast," he admitted.

Indeed, with the Huskies trailing for the first time since the first few minutes of its NCAA tournament opening-round game, Hasheem Thabeet was on the bench with three fouls, their Arizona-hot first-half shooting was suddenly frigid, and their energy seemingly sapped by Missouri's choking fullcourt pressure, Walker stepped up huge -- swathing through the Tigers' press while hitting one big shot after another.

Walker matched a career high with 23 points and joined regional MVP Price on the all-tourney team. He hit a high, driving bank shot that snapped a 50-50 tie, a similar shot that made it a 63-59 game with 5:37 left, then hit Thabeet with a nifty pass for a layup.

But Walker's most improbable shot came with 2:11 to play and UConn clinging to a three-point lead. With the shot clock winding down, Walker banked in a wild, fallaway jumper that gave the Huskies a 70-65 lead.

"Time was running down, the ball was in my hands, and Jeff (Adrien) was there about to set a screen," Walker recalled. "I told him to get out of my way. I kind of just took over. The guy actually played me kind of well. I was turning and turning and I had to get it up. I threw it up, God helped me and it went in."

It was somewhat of a backbreaker for the Tigers.

"Sometimes you've got to make plays. That was one of those plays," said Missouri guard J.T. Tiller. "That put us back on our heels. I thought we played great defense for 35 seconds. It kind of describes what kind of day it was."

Added Tiger coach Mike Anderson: "That's where you say, 'Whoa, what's taking place?'"

***Can anyone name The MC 5's most famous song? How about their lead singer? (See, it's starting already).

***UConn went 26-for-32 (81.3 percent) from the charity stripe. Walker and Craig Austrie were a perfect 10-for-10 over the final minute.

***When asked what it meant to be labeled a "Bronx guard," Walker replied: "Speed, handle, just a tough player."

"And moxie," Price added, after watching his protégé grow up on Saturday afternoon.

***As the Huskies passed the West Regional trophy around on the podium at midcourt, a sharp-dressed young man implored, "Let your boy get a touch."

It was Jerome Dyson, who proudly held the trophy up high. Dyson suffered a season-ending injury on Feb. 11, but after some initial struggles, the Huskies regrouped and are playing as well as ever.

"I'm extremely happy," said Dyson. "We've been waiting for this for a long time. This year, people were doubting us, saying we weren't deserving of a No. 1 seed, and we weren't going to make it without me. And we're here now.

"I definitely feel like I'm a part of it. My teammates always tell me I'm still a part of the team, so it never came to me that I felt like I wasn't."

***Tears flowed in both locker rooms following the game, obviously for different reasons.
At the postgame press conference, Missouri senior shooting guard Matt Lawrence was asked if it was more difficult losing the game or knowing he'd no longer be playing with his teammates.

"As we got back in the locker room," he said, voice trembling and tears flowing, "it was more about those guys that I will never get to play with again."

Teammate Leo Lyons, seated next to him, put his hand on Lawrence's shoulder, consoling him.
Walker, meanwhile, admitted to getting misty-eyed, as well.

"I can't lie to you," he said. "After the game, I kind of did cry."

Unlike in 1999, no tears from Jim Calhoun -- yet.

"I'm as happy as I possibly can be about the basketball situation. I'm so proud. I mean, I feel like busting out, because I think they are really special, what they did once they get dealt a real tough blow. It took some bounces, it took some bruises, (but) here we go to the Final Four.

"I’m just elated."
***My band had a gig scheduled for Friday, April 3 in Newport, R.I. Guess we'll have to reschedule.

PRE-GAME PRIMER: Only the Elite

Greetings from courtside at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Ready for some basketball?

In the latest example of how we're living in an instant-information age, we're told by a loyal blog reader that Jeff Adrien and Craig Austrie were Twittering this morning before heading over to the arena. Adrien reported on his rather large breakfast, and Austrie "tweeted" when the team left for the arena at about 11:20 a.m. local time.

I don't Twitter. I'm one of those 30-somethings who thinks he's kind of current because he's on Facebook.

Huskies just took the floor for pregame layups. I said it yesterday and I'll say it again: look for Kemba Walker, Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards to play prominent roles today. Walker can be a one-man press-breaker as the team's best ball-handler who open-court player. Robinson could be on the finishing end of a lot of alley-oop passes from Walker and A.J. Price today, and Edwards (the Arizona native) is at his best when running the floor.

Of course, UConn doesn't necessarily want to get into a running affair with Mizzou, but it's inevitable that at least part of the game is played that way.

Not a great atmosphere in this building. It's just too vast for basketball, or at least for a regional final. A Final Four, maybe, when most of the seats would probably be filled. Definitely seems like a lot more Mizzou fans in the house. Probably because of the novelty of it all, not to mention the long, expensive flights from Hartford to Phoenix.

Today's officials: John Cahill, Les Jones and Mike Littlewood. Sitting behind the UConn bench: Sal Bando, the former Oakland Athletic and Arizona State graduate.

That's it for now. Enjoy.

Statement from UConn

A statement from UConn that doesn't state much we don't already know:

The University is working collaboratively with the NCAA to conduct a thorough review of the issues raised in the recent news accounts regarding alleged recruiting violations in the men's basketball program. On Wednesday morning March 25th, soon after the article was posted, the University and NCAA enforcement staff initiated conversations on this matter. A comprehensive examination of the facts and circumstances involved has begun. The review is being conducted by the NCAA and the University in a manner consistent with NCAA enforcement procedures.

According to Richard Evrard, who has been retained by UConn as legal counsel, the school "takes its obligation seriously and will proceed accordingly and work collabroatively with the NCAA."

Evrard couldn't venture a guess on how long the NCAA investigation might take.

Friday, March 27, 2009

My Name Is ...

Players and reporters needed name tags at today's press conferences (even though the players' names were prominently featured in front of them at the podium). Here's how the very first question to UConn's players went:

Q. Hakeem?

Thabeet: It is Hasheem.

Q. I'm sorry. Or I could just call you beast, right?

This same reporter referred to Thabeet as "The Beast" two different times to Missouri players earlier in the presser. I'm not convinced that he doesn't believe his name actually is "Thabeast".

Of course (as mentioned in an earlier post), Mizzou coach Mike Anderson called him "Hashan Thabeet", and referred to Craig Austrie a couple of times as Craig "Audrey." Seriously bordering on noted name-garbler Jim Calhoun territory here.

Ah, Calhoun. After I asked him how difficult a year this has been for him for health and other well-publicized issues, and if it's caused him to contemplate retirement, Calhoun – in a long-winded answer – referred to me as "Mike."

I wasn't insulted, he knows my name. Plus, there are plenty of other Mikes on this beat. This is the same guy, don't forget, who spent much of last year calling Donnell Beverly, one of his own players, by the name of "Donyell."

At least he didn't call me "Hashan."

***Who sang (rapped) "My Name Is"?

***Calhoun's best line of today's press conference came before things started to get too serious. When asked what he thought if it was ironic that Pitt and Villanova, two Big East teams, would be playing an Elite Eight game tomorrow hosted by former Big East brethren Boston College, Calhoun replied, with a wry smile: "I'm in enough trouble as it is. I just would rather not (say). I have been blamed for the economy recently. I would say -- I like your word. It is very ironic. It is very ironic."

Dont'cha think? A little toooo ironic.

***Stanley Robinson played high school ball in Alabama against Mizzou standout DeMarre Carroll.

"I remember Stanley when I was a senior, he was two years below me," Carroll noted. "We were always meeting in the regional finals to the Civic Center – that's the Big Dance. We always beat him, so hopefully we can keep that trend."

Robinson didn't deny being on the losing end against Carroll.

"That's the truth. I'm looking to get him back, to be honest with you."

***The Huskies like to run, but there are good reasons for them not to get caught up in a Loyola-Marymont type of free-for-all with Mizzou, which employs the self-described "Fastest 40 Minutes of Basketball."

For one, the Huskies essentially play just seven players. There's also the fact that they have a 7-foot-3 center – Thabeet – and a bruising power forward – Jeff Adrien – who are most effective in a halfcourt game.

However, the Huskies will have to deal with Mizzou's fullcourt pressure. With that in mind, expect Kemba Walker, the Huskies best ballhandler and open-court player, to have a big effect on the game. Similarly, players like Robinson and Gavin Edwards, both of whom love to run and dunk, could play a big factor this afternoon. Edwards' best games this season have been up-and-down, fast-break style games. Even little-used sophomore guard Donnell Beverly, a good ballhandler, may get more run than usual.

***Thabeet enters tomorrow's game with 150 blocked shots this season, No. 2 in UConn single-season history. He needs seven blocks to eclipse the mark of 156 blocks, set by Emeka Okafor in 2002-03.

***Back to Stanley. After UConn's other four starters answered the question of how worried they are about their lack of depth tomorrow, Robinson simply said: "I think they pretty much summed it up right there, to be honest with you. No sense in me just (to) keep saying the same thing."

Best answer of the day.

Calhoun Addresses Numerous Subjects

A very revealing, lengthy press conference by Jim Calhoun today. After several questions about the actual game tomorrow night, Calhoun was asked about many of the controversial subjects currently swirling around both him and his program.

Here's a transcript of the juicy stuff:

Q. Just regarding the recent controversy, your program put out a statement. You addressed it, both times by saying you wouldn't have any more to say. So I saw you quoted twice in national publications today. I was wondering if you would like to comment any further on any mistakes that may have been made, as you alluded to, in one of the pieces.

COACH CALHOUN: I was asked a particular question. I will say that.The first thing I know you all out there have a job to do. I truly -- I know it doesn't seem like I recognize your job, but I actually do realize that you have to work for a living and actually have to inform the public and put out the printed word. There is no question, and let people know what's going on. Our fans are hungry to know what's going on, too.But we cannot -- we are not the ones that are going to judge UConn. Quite frankly, it is going to be people at the NCAA level and the 200 -- 500 -- I said yesterday when they asked me could a mistake have been made, my quote was "in a 508-page manual, a mistake could have been made." Do I know if any has been made? No, I'm not making judgment one way or the other. I said could there have been a mistake made. As we speak, I know Jeff Hathaway, our athletic director, our compliance people, and our outside counsel -- I had a conversation with them this morning and, by the way, right after practice because I need to have them answer a question for me on how the process is going. But I am not going to by any stretch of the imagination make judgment upon us. Because my judgment didn't make any difference.Quite frankly, the University's judgment except -- I truly believe in what we have intended and tried to do as a program. And I said, if we made mistakes, someone else will judge that for us out of that 508-page manual, that is the NCAA manual. It is really that simple.If I didn't say that to everybody else, then I apologize because I know, once again, people are asking you what's the story. But I'm not going to make public comment on something that the governing body of college athletics is going to comment on. So I'm going to keep it at that. Once again, I understand what you need to do, but all I can do is just tell you, repeat that comment that I made yesterday and probably should have made it up here.When I said something yesterday, you were probably tired of listening to me, but everybody just about left. I'm not making an excuse. I'm saying I was going to say something similar, and I'm glad you asked the question. I have a responsibility, first, to my institution, to my kids, to my program. I believe that we always try to do the right things. And all I said very simply, out of our 508-page manual it will be up to the judgment of the NCAA did we in fact make or not make a mistake. They are getting information as we speak. And that will be decided by other people, not us. And so all I can do is that we play Missouri tomorrow, get my team as ready as I possibly can for Missouri and no more. Would I like everybody in the world to have great faith and confidence in me and maybe give this a shot? Yeah. Very honestly and candidly, of course I would. Is that going to happen? Of course it isn't. That's not the nature of the way things are. People by nature are going to question what you do and what you don't do.I have done this for 37 years. I truly believe that everything I have tried to do I have done with a good, clean conscious and if we made a mistake, we'll find out about it. If we didn't, we will also find out about that.

Q. How difficult and exhausting a year has this been for you with your health issues before the season started, during the season, some well-publicized situations obviously --

COACH CALHOUN: I don't know about that. Well publicized, when I yelled at somebody, I was called a bully. And then I didn't say anything, and I was guilty. Which way do you want to have it? Just tell me. I'm not going to do what you ask me to do. If you tell me, it is not going to make any difference. Point being, which way do you want it? Just tell me. Someone said that he didn't yell, therefore he was guilty. Someone said I bullied somebody when someone asked me about salary. Not at UConn but about Comcast. All I'm saying to you is all I'm trying to do is do my job. Understand that you have a job to do, too. I didn't answer your question, did I?

Q. Has it been a particularly tough and exhausting year? Does it have you thinking at all of possible retirement in the near future?

COACH CALHOUN: Couple guys have asked me that and rightfully so. Every single year -- a few years ago, I was going up from Charlotte with Dean Smith. I was not in the hall of fame at the time. I asked him very simply, Coach, why did you get out. Said, I got out at 67 years of age. I will turn 67 in May, by the way. He said, I loved the coaching. The other stuff, and he didn't mean just media, he meant all the other stuff that surrounds our game at times, all the other various aspects and all the -- I think all the -- I always have said that the faculty senate wants nothing but Rhodes Scholars. Many of the fans want a waiver wire. So you pick someone up on the fly. Other people want a perfect performance by you every single night and you to be Gentleman Jim. Whatever the case may be, you are not going to please all those people.My point is, after a while, all the other stuff can get to it. That was Dean's point when got out of coaching. He said he never left coaching because of basketball. So this year or any other given year, I always reflect -- he said, don't ever -- but the great thing he said to me, don't ever make a decision after a great win or after a bad loss. Particularly don't make it after a season. Wait some time to see how things look. I love my team. I love coaching. I have really enjoyed this team. So I think the final answer to your thing is, this team has made this season very joyful for me personally. Has there been some trials and tribulations? Without question. But it seems like for a lot of us in this business, that's part of the job that we do. If you want to be in the highlight program, you are going to be able to inhale the heat. There is heat brought -- if you are going to be a No. 1 seed, then that's -- or in the NCAA tournament, or in the Big East, if you are going to be at that level, then there is going to be scrutiny. People are going to write, say whatever about you. That's just part of the nature of what we do. So I would wait like I do every spring and late in the spring to make any kind of decision about my future. My future right now is I want to coach, and most importantly I want to coach against Missouri tomorrow.

Q. Just to be fair, wanted to give you a chance to respond to a report out of Tampa today that Josh paid for Nate Miles to have surgery down there about a year ago -- year or two ago.

COACH CALHOUN: I have no response. Thank you.

Q. Most of us have been with you through -- most of those 27 years.

COACH CALHOUN: Actually you have.

Q. Sadly or not. I guess the question is, the most anybody has in their profession is their reputation. I wonder how you -- you are in the hall of fame. You have done a number of tremendous things for the profession. How does it feel closer to the end of your career than the beginning to have to be in a position -- I'm not asking you specifics of anything -- but just generally being in a position of having to defend, talk about the NCAA. Is that just part of the business? Or are you offended by it? Hurt by it? Or it doesn't matter?

COACH CALHOUN: No, it does matter. I'm a human being. I wear my emotions on my sleeves. I think everybody who knows me knows that. I think depending upon the source, it can be very hurtful, certainly. No one likes to have their integrity -- I have done this for 37 years. I'm not going to go back to every single thing that has ever happened to me. But as far as any NCAA violation that Jim Calhoun has been accused of -- not a kid in his program, not a plane ticket or anything of that nature. After 37 years, I guess that it is somewhat hurtful, not that someone said it couldn't happen, but not to give time to see if something did happen and to jump right in, especially if you know me. So I guess you don't really know me or don't care. Is that a little hurtful? I have a lot of respect for a lot of you people whether you realize it or not. We don't always agree, but I have a lot of respect for you. Sometimes you just jump. You don't need to jump. You don't know me, jump. But if you have a feeling about what I have tried to do for 37 years, has it always been right? Nope. Have I been wrong? You know, a lot of words and other things I would like to take back. Anybody who is as emotional as I am, without question. You and I, as a matter of fact -- I said something to you -- I still remember back at Boston Garden, When are you going to win the big game? And I jumped on you. I have great, incredible respect for you. It hurt more for you to say that than someone else. That's why I said it's the source many times.

Q. Then you got big ...

COACH CALHOUN: Thanks. I appreciate that. I was going to say two, but I will leave it at that. But I remember the day. I remember standing right there with you because I had great respect for you. I do read The Times. I read you. And I had great respect for what you had to say. What you like to do is have people give you the benefit of the doubt over what you earned. If it was my first year in coaching, tenth year in coaching, okay. I think I have tried to do the best I can. I have always been the person -- every judgment I have ever made in life about every single thing I have done can't always be accurate. And I speak for all the rest of us in the room, too.

Q. Am I being unfair if I suggest that it's your job to know what's in those 508 pages?

COACH CALHOUN: Do you think every NCAA investigator knows what's in every one of those 508 pages? You think so?

Q. In general, yes.

COACH CALHOUN: In general, they know every single interpretation.

Q. That's why they have the job. That's why there is only 20 of them on earth. In general.

COACH CALHOUN: Overall, I would assume it is my job to know -- it is not my job to know what every human being whoever graduated from UConn is doing at every single moment 24 hours a day. Is it my responsibility according to that 508 pages? Yes. That's what the Net says. The Net says you are responsible for anybody who graduated from UConn, anybody who represents the athletic interest of UConn, lifetime, all that kind of stuff. I think I have a pretty good knowledge of the NCAA book. Do I know every single particular -- up until September, you couldn't leave messages -- I mean, you could leave messages, now you can't. It counts as one phone call a week. Things that affect you in every single day basis -- by the way, if you call the NCAA and they really stopped us doing that so we call the conference office, you will get different interpretations over different things because it all has to be put in context. It can't just be a simple answer. So no one in my opinion knows every single answer. It has to be put in context.There are extenuating circumstances. There are a whole different kind of thing. What I'm going to do right now is very simply tell you we are trying to get ready for Missouri. All I'm very simply telling you is that back home my athletic director and the people there and the only people that can control that are working on that. All I'm trying to do is get our team to hopefully get us a trip to Detroit by playing a terrific Missouri team.

Q. The hall of fame status, the national championships, all your victories, maybe that should earn you the benefit of the doubt. But the way the world is is that seldom anybody gets the benefit of the doubt. Do you feel like you have become a distraction to this team? And did anybody talk to you about stepping aside until this is cleared up?

COACH CALHOUN: Did we play yesterday?

Q. Yes, you did.

COACH CALHOUN: And we won, right?

Q. Correct.

COACH CALHOUN: To answer your question simply, no. I think my athletic director came out with a supportive I'm very supportive of Jim, myself, the president, et cetera, and his job is to go out and try to win -- try to beat -- he said yesterday Purdue. Now it will be Missouri. And that's my job. My job right now is -- I have no control over those other things until I go back home. And then, as I said, I won't ever have control of it. It will be controlled by the people that were -- a member of the association, the NCAA.

Q. The heart of my question is do you feel like you have become a distraction to this team?

COACH CALHOUN: No, I don't at all.

'Hashan TheBeast'

Apparently, people who live and/or work in Missouri aren't adept at pronouncing Hasheem Thabeet's name.

At a press conference today, Mizzou head coach Mike Anderson said that UConn will be one of the Tigers' toughest challenges, led by "Hashan Thabeet."

Later, while asking questions to Mizzou players, a Missouri media member (not sure who) asked what a challenge it would be to go up against "The Beast." Once and it could be forgiven as a Freudian slip. But it happened twice, in two different questions from the same guy.

Anyway, UConn's starting five and Jim Calhoun will be up at the podium in about 15 minutes. Should be interesting.

Stuck Inside of Glendale with the Memphis Blues Again

Gotta admit, was kind of looking forward to UConn-Memphis on Saturday. The Tigers didn't live up to their bargain, losing to ... well, the Tigers ... of Mizzou. More blues for Memphis, which should have won the whole thing last year and thought it deserved the No. 1 seed in the West this year. (Had to get that blog title up there at some point this week. Who sang that song (actually "Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again")? Couldn't use "All the Way to Memphis" by Mott the Hoople.

Meanwhile, UConn lived up to its end, putting aside NateGate and heading to the Elite Eight. It will face Missouri (for the first time ever) at 4:40 p.m. EST on Saturday. Pitt-Villanova gets the prime time slot.

The Huskies put aside any potential distractions regarding an NCAA investigation into alleged recruiting violations by posting a rather perfunctory, 72-60 win over Purdue at University of Phoenix Stadium.

This will be UConn's ninth trip to the regional semifinals and eighth time under coach Jim Calhoun.

"I get goosebumps," Calhoun admitted. "There (are) only one or two better feelings, and (those) usually involve a Monday night. So it was pretty special stuff for us. I couldn't be happier with our kids. I thought we played well."

Craig Austrie had what has to be the biggest performance of his career: 17 points, 3-for-3 on 3-pointers at the cavernous football stadium.

"The depth perception for some guys was a little bit off, but if felt fine for me," said Austrie. "Once I hit the first one, hit the second one, I knew the third one was going in."

Austrie was 3-for-23 from the floor in UConn's three postseason games. He had hit just two of his prior 22 3-pointers.

"I've got to give credit to the coaches," said Austrie. "They've stuck with me for a long time. Coach Calhoun called me in his office before the tournament and told me he's behind me and he knows I can shoot the ball. I knew coming into this game they were going to try to stop A.J. (Price), and I wanted to be there to relieve them and open the game up a little bit."

Added Price: "He got his confidence back tonight. I love to see Craig Austrie smiling. Tonight, he brought that smile out."

***Hasheem Thabeet, meanwhile, had 15 points, 15 boards and four blocks.

He had just five points on two shots in the first half, but his teammates urged him to take over and assert himself over the final 20 minutes – and he did. Thabeet scored UConn's first eight points of the latter half on a layup, an inside hoop, a hook shot and two free throws. By the time Adrien finished off an 8-0 run with a bank shot, UConn had a 42-31 lead with 13:37 to play.

Said Thabeet: "My guys in the locker room just told me, 'The first half you didn't have a good performance, you go back out in the second half and play your game.' They know I'm capable of doing a lot of stuff. Today, in the second half, they told me to go back out there and do what you do all season long."

"I thought it was a really good performance by Purdue who, quite frankly, ran into one fo the best players in America in Hasheem Thabeet," said Calhoun. "Beyond that, the game might have been different, if we had just a 'regular center.'"

***The Huskies haven't trailed in the NCAA tournament since the first 4:43 of their opening-round game with Chattanooga last week. The Mocs held an 8-6 lead at that point. Stanley Robinson followed with a finger roll, and the Huskies haven't trailed since. They got off to a 10-0 start against Texas A&M and 8-0 against Purdue.

***While UConn prepared for and played Thursday's game, controversy continued to swirl around the program. The NCAA has begun its investigation into alleged recruiting violations, according to multiple sources. The Day of New London has reported that the NCAA investigation will target UConn's entire athletic department, not just the men's basketball team. A university spokesman said that report wasn't entirely accurate.

Meanwhile, according to a Yahoo Sports report, current UConn assistant coach Andre LaFleur had two lengthy phone conversations with former UConn student-manager turned agent Josh Nochimson while Nochimson shadowed current Husky freshman Ater Majok at the Kentucky Derby All-Star Festival in April, 2008.

The report also stated that LaFleur spent several hours on Dec. 14, 2007 making calls and taking messages from Nochimson and Jason Niblett, who was Majok's coach at the time Heat Academy in Virginia.

Niblett told the Register on Thursday that he has never spoken with Nochimson.

"I know the name," he said. "As far as anything else, I can't elaborate."

Also, Chris Chaney, who coached Miles at the Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C. last year, said he spoke with Nochimson by phone several times regarding Miles while Miles was enrolled in the fall of 2007.

"Basically, (it was about) how Nate's doing, all that stuff," said Chaney. "It wasn't really about basketball, he just wanted to know how he was doing academically and off the court. I think they knew he could play."

Chaney said he didn't believe Nochimson had anything to do with paying for Miles' tuition – which was minimal – at Patterson. Naturally, Chaney also had contact with UConn's coaching staff while Miles played (briefly) at Patterson.

"But I didn't really know what the relationship was with Josh and UConn," Chaney said.

But the Huskies played as if unburdened by the well-publicized situation.

"We really forgot about that stuff," said Jeff Adrien "We just go out and play basketball. That stuff has nothing to do with us, we're just basketball players. We were real focused on Purdue, and there was nothing that was going to get us distracted."

Added Price: "We really don't have any time to focus on that, and I really mean that. We have a much bigger goal at-hand right now, and we can't let anything take us away from that. All the distractions really aren't distractions to us, because we know what we're coming out here for. We leave all that for the people who have to deal with that. Our job is to come out here and play as hard as we can."

In fact, Calhoun had an interesting – if vague – quote at the end of his press conference.

"At 7 a.m. (Thursday), I talked to Jeff Hathaway for a half hour and had what I thought was a very fruitful conversation up in Boston. That's all I'm going to say. I thought we had a very fruitful conversation. And he said 'Go get Purdue.' I said 'Fine.'"

***Gavin Edwards, a Gilbert, Ariz native, had 19 family and friends in attendance – his mother and father and 17 friends. Edwards scored just two points and picked up three fouls in nine minutes.

***Little-used sophomore guard Donnell Beverly got into the game much earlier than normal, 5 minutes and 1 second into play. But he missed badly on a 3-pointer and was out a little over a minute later, never to return to the game.

***Jerome Dyson stayed back in Storrs for classes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before flying out to join his teammates Wednesday night.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

PRE-GAME PRIMER: Scandal-Free Zone

Greetings from courtside at the University of Phoenix Stadium (my big head will be in the bottom left-hand corner of your screen).

Feels a little strange that it's nearly gametime. For one, it's still light out, even though it's nearly 7 p.m. back home. The crowd also seems a little sparse, though that's what happens when you play a regional semifinal basketball game in an 80,000-or-so-seat football stadium. It is busy around here: the Phoenix Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers have a game tonight right next door, and Billy Joel and Elton John are performing in concert downtown.

Also feels odd because so little seems to have been said about tonight's actual game, in the wake of the recent allegations of UConn recruiting violations. For the next two hours, at least, we promise you a Nochimson-free zone. Unless something breaks in the meantime, of course.

Jerome Dyson is here, dressed to the nines as usual. He flew in yesterday after staying back in Storrs the prior few days to take classes.

Mike Kitts is one of tonight's referees -- another reason to make Jim Calhoun unhappy. Or should I say, Timothy Kitts. That is his actual name, and how it's listed on the pregame lineup sheet. But it's the same Mike Kitts whom Calhoun blasted following that DeJuan Blair-flipping-Hasheem-Thabeet-over-his-shoulder Pitt-UConn game on Feb. 16.

Do the UConn players look loose during pregame warm-ups? Impossible to tell. We'll know if the scandal is a distraction by the way they play tonight. Or maybe we won't. It's entirely possible they'll play a lousy game just because they played lousy. Or vice versa.

We'll soon find out. Enjoy the show.

Patterson Debunks Yahoo Report

Spoke with Sean Patterson, Nate Miles' former guardian, late last night -- too late to get into today's edition of the Register. Not surprisingly, he debunks a great deal of the Yahoo Sports story and pointed out that the writers never once contacted him during their entire six-month investigation.

Said Patterson: "UConn's recruitement of Nate had no other involvement of anybody else except for Nate and myself. We went through seven months of answering questions of this particular nature and other things, and he was ruled to have an amateur status."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Calhoun Addresses Situation

Looking a bit frazzled, only comfortable when the topic turned to basketball and tomorrow night's game with Purdue, Jim Calhoun addressed today's Yahoo Sports report that accuses UConn of potentially serious recruiting violations at a press conference a short time ago.

"I heard something last night at about 12 a.m. The university is taking any allegations towards its program ... I was in touch with Jeff Hathaway at 5:30 a.m. Phoenix time, and right before we left for practice. The university is going to look into any matter – as we would, when we hear of something (like this) – regardless of what we think, it still falls under the guidelines of making sure that we're being compliant.

"Secondly, there are no current student-athletes involved with this story. Third, the university worked very closely with our compliance people and with an outside legal agency and obviously the NCAA Eligibility Center, and it was determined that the student-athlete was fully eligible for his freshman year and ready to go …"

"It's a newspaper story … it wasn't a newspaper, it was a blog story that appeared on something I probably can't get a hold of, which was Yahoo! The student-athlete is not involved with the program, he was cleared by compliance people, an outside legal source, and the NCAA. Something was written, and we take very seriously our responsibility as NCAA members. As we speak … Jeff (Hathaway) is looking into what was put on that blog."

(on how to keep this from being a distraction)

"I can't do anything about it, all I can control is things I can control. I do try to control the officials, but that's part of the game (deftly changes subject to Moore, Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson, etc.) … In Philadelphia, there was a distraction of me not being there. We talked this morning at breakfast at what opportunity we have. We don't ever want to look back upon this and say we didn't give it our best. Purdue is plenty of basketball team enough to handle."

(on how he addressed the situation to the team)

"Basically, I said to them, 'Fellas, you probably are going to see something on TV, a couple of different things. It's something that occurred over a year or two ago, whatever it may be. Just to let you know, the university will look into that. As far as I'm concerned, we're here to beat Purdue. If you vary from that, you'll look back and say 'I was worried about something that didn't affect me, one way or another,' and you'll let an opportunity slip by. You only have so many opportunities … And we shut it off. The kids are talking about going to a Phoenix Suns game tonight, I think they're really looking at other things: where they're going for dinner, all those things."

(on how he deals with distraction)

"The one reason I've been able to coach for 37 years – a lot of things have happened. When you start coaching in college in 1972, and you start thinking about all the various things culturally that were going on in the city of Boston at that time – sit-ins, things that I didn't have control over at that time – we had to handle. Hopefully those years of experience will come to the front here, that we can keep our kids focused on what we're going to do and let them understand that the university, led by Jeff Hathaway, will handle anything else that needs to be handled."

(on his relationship with Josh Nochimson)

"He was with our program for six years, got his master's degree. While he was with our program, he was a good kid, worked hard, etc. That was my relationship during that particular point in time. I have a very good relationship with Rip – I'll be going to Rip's wedding, as a matter of fact, in June."

(on his reaction to getting the news of the situation)

"Do you like getting that message? No. Do you like having to talk to your athletic director at 5:30 a.m.? I want to talk to him about other things. I want to talk about George (Blaney) about should we blitz the pick and roll. Hopefully, I've been through a couple of things in my life. I've learned to stand up to those. I have no control over some of the things that have happened to me, from my father's death – this is nothing like that, obviously – to all various things that have happened to me in my lifetime. The only thing I've ever known is to stand up, keeping on going forward and be counted. That's what I know how to do."

Speaking of Nate Miles ...

Nate Miles had a court date at Rockville Superior Court yesterday, where his case for violating a restraining order last fall was continued until mid-April. He was not required to attend the hearing, and didn't.

Miles is still enrolled at the College of Southern Idaho, a junior college program.

"He's doing great," said his guardian, Sean Patterson. "He's happy with what's going on. He took 12 credits in the fall, got eligible, played eight or nine games ..."

Patterson wouldn't comment about this morning's Yahoo! Sports report because, he says, he hadn't read it yet.

And what of Miles' basketball future? Still unknown, but we know this: he still loves the University of Connecticut.

Statement from UConn

Here's a statement from UConn regarding today's news emanating from a Yahoo! Sports report:

The University of Connecticut received a Freedom of Information Act Request from Yahoo Sports during the fall. That request was acted upon in a series of communications with Yahoo culminating in complete disclosure of all requests.

When the University began its recruitment of the student-athlete named in the article, it utilized the University's outside counsel on NCAA related matters who worked collaboratively with the NCAA staff to examine all aspects of his amateur status, as is expected under NCAA rules. The NCAA's Eligibility Center reviewed all information that it had concerning the student-athlete's eligibility status and determined that he was eligible for his freshman year. The student-athlete departed from the University before ever participating in athletics competition.

The story printed today includes no current student-athletes and no student-athlete who has ever competed for the institution.

The University's men's basketball team and its coaches are working today to prepare for its upcoming game tomorrow night. University outside counsel and administrators are continuing to review the article to determine if additional action is required.

The University takes very seriously its responsibilities of NCAA membership and will do all that is expected to follow up on any information related to possible NCAA rules violations.

I was told recently by someone I trust to expect some interesting news regarding the UConn men's basketball program in the upcoming days. Little did I know it was this (potentially) serious.

Today's Yahoo! Sports report on possible violations by UConn in its recruitment of Nate Miles raises numerous questions. Assuming any of the alleged infractions are valid, does this mean the beginning of the end of Jim Calhoun's reign at UConn? Are the violations serious enough for him to be fired, a la Kelvim Sampson at Indiana? Would UConn allow Calhoun simply to retire, rather than go through the indignation of being fired? If the allegations aren't deemed serious or, in fact, false, would Calhoun say "enough is enough" and retire anyway? It has certainly been an emotionally draining and difficult year for the 66-year-old coach, from latest battle with cancer last spring to his summerlong treatments to the Miles situation over the fall to the Ken Krayeske fiasco to last week's apparently minor health issue to this news now. Am I forgetting anything?

It's impossible to say what long-range effects this situation may have on the UConn program. The immediate effect could be that it serves as a major distraction. No question, Calhoun will be peppered with questions about this in today's press conference (4:45 p.m. EST). His best tactic would be to answer these questions as thoroughly as possible, get everything out in the open, and when the questions are exhausted, concentrate completely on beating Purdue. Of course, news will continue to creep up on this subject, so Calhoun will likely face questions about it for as long as UConn's tourney run lasts.

UConn players will be asked about this, too, despite the fact that, as the above press release states, no current players are involved in the allegations. Not sure how much contact current Husky players have had with Miles since his expulsion. I know Kemba Walker was his roommate, but after that's about it.

Perhaps the Huskies rally around this and it makes them even stronger. Perhaps it becomes too much of a burden on them and curtails what's been starting to look like a possible NCAA title run. We'll find out tomorrow night.

This much we know: Calhoun and Adrian Wojnarowski apparently never got along very well when Wojnarowski was on the UConn beat while with the Republican-American, we're told. That's not likely to change anytime soon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Price Fixer

Greetings from Arizona, home of John McCain, Barry Goldwater, David Spade, Phil Mickelson (sorta), Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman!), Sandra Day O'Connor, Gavin Edwards, the Snakes, Cardinals, Suns and Coyotes and lots of old people, golf courses and Super Bowls (including one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl history a little over a year ago).

University of Phoenix Stadium was the site of the New York Giants' upset of the Patriots in 2008, and it's the host of this year's West Regionals, where UConn is the No. 1 seed and looks to get by Purdue in a semifinal game on Thursday.

Much more on Purdue, the Huskies, etc. over the next couple of days. Today, we quickly turn our attention to A.J. Price -- who may be making himself a lot of money over the course of this NCAA tourney.

Players like Glen Rice, Glenn Robinson, David Robinson, even Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry last season made names for themselves with big NCAA tourney runs. UConn’s Ben Gordon in 2004, too.

“Ben had had a good year up to that point, not a special year,” recalled UConn assistant coach Andre LaFleur. “Going into the Big East tournament, there was no real talk about him being a lottery pick. Then, Marcus (Williams) and Emeka (Okafor) got hurt, and Ben caught fire. He carried that through into the six games of the NCAA tournament, and after that stretch he became the No. 3 pick in the draft.

“Postseason play gives you the opportunity to make a lot of movement. It’s like moving day in a golf tournament.”

Last year, an NBA Eastern Conference assistant general manager told UConn assistant Patrick Sellers that he would take Price with one of the top 18 picks in the 2008 draft. Then, Price tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee nine minutes into the Huskies’ first-round NCAA tourney game. Then came a long, grueling rehab, a rather slow start to this season and ... well, you know the rest of the story so far (and if you don't, read tomorrow's Register).

Now, Price is playing as well as he ever has – in every facet of the game. Not only is he shooting and distributing the ball extremely well, he’s directing traffic on the floor as well as any UConn point guard in recent memory.

“Marcus (Williams) ran the team, but I don’t think guys respected Marcus as much as they respect A.J.,” said Sellers. “Marcus was kind of a class clown, always clowning around. If A.J. tells them to jump over a wall, they jump.”

Price is very much focused on the task at hand – getting to the Final Four and winning a national title. His mother and biggest fan, Inga, says A.J. hasn’t even mentioned the NBA to her. And while agents are “coming out of the woodwork now,” according to Inga, she insists neither A.J. nor the family has thought much about choosing one.

“There’s plenty of time to deal with that after April 6,” Inga Price said. “Everything will take care of itself. That’s what we’ve been telling him all along.”

A mock draft on the website has Price going in the second round, as the 38th pick overall. Last year’s 38th overall pick, Kyle Weaver, is earning $806,452 this season. But Sellers – who is well-connected with NBA scouts – says he has heard from virtually every team regarding Price.

A Western Conference source told Sellers shortly before the Marquette game that he thought Price would go near the top of the second round. Now, Sellers firmly believes Price has played his way into the first round.

“He’s getting stronger and stronger every day,” Sellers said. “I think he’ll be in the Top 20 somewhere.”

The difference in being chosen No. 38 and, say, No. 20, is about $500,000. This year’s 20th pick will earn $1,318,970, per the NBA’s rookie salary scale. A strong NCAA tournament showing could, indeed, put a good chunk of change in Price’s pocket.

Of course, a lot has to do with what other point guards are available. Spain’s Ricky Rubio, considered a sure-fire first-round pick, comes with an expensive buyout that could complicate things and keep him out of the draft. And it remains to be seen whether Memphis freshman Tyreke Evans, Syracuse sophomore Jonny Flynn and others decide to declare.

But one thing is certain: A.J. Price’s draft stock has risen considerably over the course of this season – and it could rise even more over the next couple of weeks.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Watch Out Where The Huskies Go

Big news: Jonathan the Husky has been ranked No. 5 among NCAA tournament mascots by

Give that dog a bone.


***Tickets are available for purchase by the general public for the 2009 NCAA men's basketball West Regional in Glendale, Ariz. through the UConn ticket office beginning tomorrow morning (Tuesday, March 25).

Tickets packages are priced at $164 each and include tickets for the Regional Semifinal doubleheader on Thursday featuring UConn vs. Purdue followed by Missouri vs. Memphis, as well as the regional championship game on Saturday featuring the Thursday winners.

Tickets may be purchased by calling the UConn ticket office at 1-877-AT-UCONN between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday).

***UConn practiced this afternoon and will practice again tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. before heading out to 'Zona.

***UConn assistant coach Andre LaFleur's name is among the candidates for the vacant Boston University job, though no interview has been set yet.

***That's all we've got for now, but more news to come. I'm heading down to Glendale tomorrow morning for a long-awaited warm-weather road trip! (I didn't go to the Paradise Jam).

***Oh, can anyone name the artist and song from which the title of this post emanates?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thabeet a Naismith Finalist

Hasheem Thabeet has been named one of the four finalists for the 2009 Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year award. Pittsburgh’s DeJuan Blair, Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin (who'll probably win) and North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough round out the “final four.”

The winner will be named at the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Guardians of the Game awards program on Sunday, April 5 in Detroit.

The finalists were voted on by the Atlanta Tipoff Club’s Board of Selectors, comprised of leading basketball journalists, coaches and administrators from around the country. The board based its criteria on player performances this season. The vote was tabulated and certified by the accounting firm of Habif, Arogeti & Wynne, LLP. HA&W is the largest independent accounting firm in Georgia and one of the top 50 firms in the United States.