Thursday, April 09, 2009

One More Time

So why did Jim Calhoun and UConn decide to come out with a press release on Thursday telling everyone that Calhoun would be back for at least another season?

Well, Calhoun had been getting plenty of phone calls from family, friends and – perhaps most significantly – recruits, wondering what his future entailed. Calhoun has decided to nip all the rumors in the bud.

Calhoun may be meeting with the media some time next week, as he normally does a week or so after UConn's season ends. After that, he's off to a wedding somewhere warm (not sure where) for a little R&R to get away from it all. He could use that right now.

Calhoun said that Hasheem Thabeet will spend the next couple of weeks with his family, trying to decide whether to turn pro or return to UConn for his senior year. Thabeet's mom is here from her native Tanzania, and they were slated to head down to head to Thabeet's aunt's home in New York on Thursday afternoon (though judging by his reported encounter with Michael Phelps recently, it appears Hasheem is already in the Big Apple).

Calhoun said he's "tentatively" slated to meet with Thabeet on Monday. The conventional wisdom (not from Calhoun, mind you) is that Thabeet is definitely going pro. We may not know for sure for a couple of weeks.

"Given his history, (he won't decide) until the end, which is April 25," Calhoun said.

I asked Calhoun if, like last season, any transfers were forthcoming. He said that it's too soon after the season to truly determine that, but added that no one has approached him about a transfer to this point.

Oh, and in other news: Darius Smith, the combo guard out of Chicago who verbally committed to UConn a couple of weeks ago, makes his first trip to Storrs this weekend for an official visit.

Calhoun Will Return Next Season

With rumors and reports of his potential retirement in the air -- and with recruits wondering whether or not this would be the case -- UConn has released the following, announcing that Jim Calhoun will be back on the sidelines next season:

University of Connecticut head men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun will return for the 2009-10 season, it was announced by the school Thursday.

“It is my full intention to return for the 2009-10 season,” said Calhoun. “I look forward to coaching next season and to continuing as the head coach at Connecticut into the future. In many ways, the journey of this past season has made me realize how much I love coaching this game, how much I love my kids and how much I enjoy being at Connecticut.”

“I am very excited that Coach Calhoun will continue as our head men’s basketball coach,” said UConn Director of Athletics Jeffrey Hathaway. “We look forward to continued success in our men’s basketball program for years to come under the leadership of our Hall of Fame coach.”

Calhoun completed his 23 rd season at UConn in 2008-09, his 37 th year as a collegiate head coach. He has compiled a career record of 805-342 and is No. 6 all-time in NCAA Division I Basketball history with his 805 career wins. He has a record of 557-205 in his 23 seasons at Connecticut. Coach Calhoun led the Huskies to the 2009 NCAA Final Four, the program’s third trip to the Final Four, and guided UConn to the 2004 and 1999 NCAA National Championship. He was a 2005 inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

More to come ...

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Hash in the House

Hasheem Thabeet, bedecked in some cool sunglasses, took in Monday night's national championship game with UConn graduate student-manager Justin Evanovic. Thabeet was presented with his second straight national defensive player of the year award the night before. He was besieged by autograph-seekers after the game and asked security to help usher him out, but no such luck.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Bird, Magic and Slash

Covering the national championship game tonight for the Register. Just sat in on Magic and Larry's press conference, commemorating the 30th anniversary of their historic game. Pretty cool stuff. These two have been involved in some of the greatest basketball games ever played, and certainly the greatest rivalry. This, however, was not one of their proudest moments (turn the volume up a little bit).

Some quick highlights of the presser:

***Bird says he's never watched the 1979 Indiana State-Michigan State game, in which Magic's Spartans beat Bird's Sycamores.

"Why?" he asked, rhetorically. "Truthfully, I can't remember a lot of games I've played in."

Magic, of course, has watched it quite a bit.

"I watch it enough for him and I," he said, with his trademark smile.

"Every day," chirped in Bird.

"Every day, that's right."

"Especially if he knows he's gonna be with me."

"You know, Larry is so competitive, just like I am. I mean, if he had won it, trust me, I wouldn't have watched it, either. Just like I don't watch '84, when the Celtics beat us."

"Or ''85 or '87. I don't remember them years, for some reason."

***Magic called Bird "one of my best friends" and later added, "There would be no Magic without Larry Bird."

***Magic says Tom Izzo and Roy Williams are two of the top three coaches currently in college basketball. The third? Coach K. No mention of Jim Calhoun.

***Magic called new Hall of Fame inductee Michael Jordan "the greatest in the air that I've ever seen, and Larry Bird is the greatest that ever played on the ground, because Larry couldn't jump that high, so … (holding his fingers apart about an inch)."

"It's not like you were flying through the air," Bird noted. "You'd trip over the painted lines."

In other events:

***I'm sitting in my hotel room Sunday night, and outside by the Riverwalk, there's a Fergie concert going on, as part of the Final Four's free concert series. I'm not a Fergie fan (though I hear she's Fergilicious), but it was impossible not to hear the show. Then, I hear her say, "And now, I'd like to welcome on the stage my good friend …" and the opening chords of "Sweet Child O'Mine" break out.

I get off my chair, look out the window and, sure enough, onstage and on the big screen, it's Slash. Pretty wild. I went outside and caught the end of their version of "Barracuda," by Heart.

I was telling a friend not long ago that I had never been to a concert where a big star popped up onstage, unannounced, and jammed. This wasn't exactly Keith Moon sitting in on the bongos with Led Zeppelin in 1977, but it wasn't bad.

***Heading down to courtside to watch the national championship game. Should be fun.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Grades Are In ...

No, the accompanying photo wasn't some sort of "Dewey Defeats Truman" mistake by the Register. It was a dummy sheet that was to be passed out on Monday night if the Huskies had won the national title, as many other papers do.

Guess we won't be needing this page anymore.

Still, it was a terrific season for the Huskies. If basketball was an accredited college course at UConn (no jokes, please), this year's team would certainly get an 'A.'

They were never terribly deep, without a truly reliable 3-point shooting threat and, unlike many Husky teams of the past – even ones that fizzled early in the NCAA tournament – may not have had a player who'll ever be an NBA All-Star. Hasheem Thabeet? Maybe, but certainly not for a long while.

And, of course, the team was rocked by controversy nearly from Day One – or even before that. There was Nate Miles' expulsion, Stanley Robinson sitting out the first semester for personal reasons. There was Jim Calhoun's well-publicized shouting match with a "political activist" (Mr. Krayeske's criticisms seem a bit silly in light of John Calipari's recent contract, don't they? Calhoun couldn't help getting in a dig on Saturday night: "This is where coaches really – I shouldn't even say this – earn their money. Bad thing for me to say, I guess, although thank God for the John Caliparis of the world.")

There was Jerome Dyson's season-ending knee injury, Calhoun's recurring health issues and, of course, the allegations of recruiting improprieties that were broke on the eve of UConn's Sweet 16 matchup with Purdue two weeks ago.

Through it all, the Huskies kept winning: 15-3 in the Big East, 8-1 in Big East road games, 9-1 on the road overall, 17-3 in road or neutral-court games. Impressive. Very impressive.

Anyway, here's how we'd grade this year's Huskies:

Jeff Adrien: B+ :This was a solid 'A' up until the final month of the season. Save for a 25-point game against Notre Dame on Senior Day and a 23-point game in a second-round NCAA tourney game against Texas A&M, Adrien was hardly the guaranteed double-double threat over the season's final several weeks. Still, a terrific career for "The Warrior," and hopefully an NBA team finds a place for a kid who'll show up on time and work hard every day, even if he's undersized.

A.J. Price: A – : His season started off slow (understandably, as he had to get over the mental and physical hurdle of his torn ACL) and ended with a 5-for-20 clunker against Michigan State. In between, Price put the team on his back, raised his NBA stock considerably and closed out one of the more remarkable careers in UConn history in high style.

Craig Austrie: C+ : Other than a 17-point effort against Purdue in the Sweet 16, his shot was nowhere to be found for the last couple of months. Made up for it with some good defensive play. Hard to be too harsh a grader on a steady, if unspectacular, player.

Jerome Dyson: I : Played the best basketball of his life early in the season: unselfish, more mature and in-control. Still playing at a high level when he went down with a season-ending knee injury on Feb. 11.

Gavin Edwards: C+ : Skilled and talented offensively, but still needs to get tougher and stop committing silly fouls.

Jonathan Mandeldove: I: Saw 16 minutes of action this season. Some walk-ons saw nearly as much.

Stanley Robinson: A – : The last few weeks were an A+, but it took 'Sticks' a long time to get back in the groove after sitting out the first semester. As gifted an athlete as I've ever seen on the basketball court.

Hasheem Thabeet: A – :We all know the weaknesses, but the man is an All-American, the Big East Co-Player of the Year, and is going to be a top-five NBA draft pick..

Donnell Beverly: I: What little we've seen of him, we've liked. We just haven't seen enough. For whatever reason, doesn't seem to be Calhoun's type of player.

Scottie Haralson: I: Again, not enough PT to make a determination. Shot just 28.6 percent from 3-point land as a 3-point specialist, however.

Kemba Walker: B+ : At times a bit out of control, at times (like in the Elite Eight against Missouri) a younger version of Ty Lawson. This was likely the start of a great UConn career for Walker.

Jim Calhoun: A – : Despite all the distractions, kept his team focused and winning. What could he have done better? Maybe give certain players (Edwards, Beverly) a little more rope. Certainly could have handled the Krayeske situation better. Certainly should have handled losing the six-OT classic to Syracuse and the postgame handshake with Jim Boeheim better. (We'll stay away from the recruiting allegations because, for now, they're just that – allegations). Otherwise, an excellent job this year by Calhoun.

***Oh, and if I may, a rant against the NCAA. For one, the wireless Internet courtside at Ford Field Saturday night barely worked throughout the game. I and many other writers were unable to blog during the game, or send our game story in immediately after the final whistle. It wasn't until I moved my laptop to another room, with only about a half-hour until deadline, that I was able to get back online. What's worse is that the NCAA charges each writer $16 per day for wireless – then, when we need it the most, the wireless doesn't work.

Then there's this: we were told that, if we wanted to stay at the media hotel, we had to stay a minimum of four nights. OK, so with player availability starting Thursday afternoon, we figured we'd fly in Thursday morning and stay Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday – and Monday, if necessary. This morning, we're told that the four-day minimum starts on Friday! That means, even if the team we cover loses on Saturday, we still have to pay for our hotels through Monday night. What it really means is that it's a five-day minimum, because, as previously mentioned, we had to be here Thursday for player availability.

Sorry if this sounds like a whining reporter. And yes, I know, our papers are paying for the hotel and wireless Internet, not us. Still, it's obscene to think the NCAA – of all entities – has to soak us like that. Does the NCAA really need the money that badly?