Share Your Memories … Revisiting UConn’s Run to the NIT Title in 1988 … And other stuff

by Categorized: Jim Calhoun, UConn men's basketball

Earlier in my career, when I would do anniversary stories, it felt like I was writing about the dawn of time. For the first time, I’ve written a 25th aanniversary piece about a sporting event I covered. … So that makes me officially an old sportswriter now.

… But, all kidding aside, I absolutely loved working on this story about UConn’s NIT championship in 1988, talking to some of the old players – Phil Gamble tells a compelling story – and, of course, revisiting it with Jim Calhoun. Back then, I was 26 and the sports editor of the Milford Citizen, a very small afternoon daily. My job was to come in at 5 a.m. and edit the paper, so any writing I did was on my own time. I covered the VCU game at the old Fieldhouse, and the two games in New York and basically went in to put out the paper without sleep.

After the Ohio State game, I hitched a ride home from New York with the late, great Tom McCormack of the New Haven Register, a mentor to me, a colorful character, and we joked and laughed all  the way back. … Great, great night.

Here are some pics we found in our files. The photo most often seen is Phil Gamble and the late Jeff King sitting atop t he backboard. In our lead photo, snapped by Stephen Dunn, who still takes great photos for The Courant, it looks as though King is helping another player up there. That must be the late Robert Ursery. Gamble says he has a photo of all three of them up there.

Finally, we have a poll: Where does this event rank in UConn history? Vote here.

Anyway, I know many of you have great memories of that NIT run, so by all means, post them at the end of this post. We’d all love to read them. That was the team that started it all, wasn’t it?

And a shoutout to Matthew Edwards, who posted this video on YouTube.


Made one of my occasional visits to the campus this morning. Few other tidbits I can pass along on the current Huskies. …

Khadeen Carrington, a high-scoring guard from Bishop Loughlin in New York, Class of 2014, was on campus today for an unofficial visit. UConn has worked hard on Carrington – he was at the Louisville and Villanova games this year.

It’s fair to say there is some mutual interest between UConn and Aaron Cosby, the guard to is transferring from Seton Hall. But it is still very preliminary at this point – look for more on that about the middle of April. The old Big East had rules prohibiting transferring within the conference, but as best as I can determine, there would nothing to block a player from the new Big East, the so-called Catholic 7, from transferring to UConn, in the “conference-to-be-named-later.” The leagues part company in July.  Cosby scored 25 points against UConn on Feb. 10, a game UConn won. He can shoot, ball-handling might be a question mark. Bottom line, though, this is still a long way from happening.

I was asked this week about automatic qualifiers. An official with, let’s call it “UConn’s conference,” assured me that the league will retain its NCAA automatic bids in all sports. Though it is giving up the Big East name, it is still the “established” league, while the new league to be called the Big East is the “new” conference and may need to apply to the NCAA for its automatic qualifiers. This, though, would be a formality. At the end of the day, both leagues will have all the usual AQs.





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16 thoughts on “Share Your Memories … Revisiting UConn’s Run to the NIT Title in 1988 … And other stuff

  1. Mountain dogs

    What a great time that was to be a Uconn fan. We were #65 but it felt like the national championship. You knew coach Calhoun was special and we wouldn’t be the doormats of the Big East any longer. We endured a few final eight heartbreaks and a bad loss to Florida before reaching the ultimate goal. Who ever old have thought Uconn would be a 3 time NCAA champion? Think about it this way. Duke plays Michigan ST tonight in sweet 16. Tom Izzo has 6 final four appearances and coach K 11 appearances. Yet they own 4 tittles between them. Thanks coach Calhoun for everything!!

  2. Dave

    I was a sophomore and the campus went crazy! It was such a rush to have some national recognition, even if it was the NIT. Who knew there would be national championships in Uconn’s future? But I’ll never forget that night on campus. We were all outside of our dorms celebrating. It was an amazing night…

  3. Hip Hop Hood

    Wasn’t that the team known as “The Team that Couldn’t Read”?

    1. Allen Smuckler

      Your ignorance doesn’t really warrant a comment…so I won’t…
      Big AL

  4. Hip Hop Hood

    Nobody is going to reply to my post? What are you all wimps? Afraid of the HOOD?

    I’m going to play some War of World craft, talk smack on the Duke blog, and do a wippit. Then we’ll see if any of you Husky losers are ready to compete.

    1. Hip Hop Halfwit

      There’s nothing Hood about you. You’re a 12 year old little boy striving to get attention that Mommy & Daddy won’t give you. I bet you feel real proud of your pathetic little postings since it’s the only attention you get in life. Too bad you don’t have anything important to do in life. I’m sure your rants make you feel real important, since it’s all you got.

    1. Hip Hop Halfwit

      You’re about as immature as they come. Low class loser. Enjoy living in Mom & Dad’s basement.

  5. Allen Smuckler

    I never felt we were number 65…I don’t know how far we would have gotten in the NCAA’s(really a moot point anyway)…but winning a 4 or 5 game tournament, puts you way ahead of many of the teams that did sneak in, one way or another. However, and more importantly, it put UCONN on the map and they haven’t looked back since..Well done men.
    Great run…
    Next Year, we start again..
    Big Al

  6. Mountain dogs

    The #65 comment was a shot at the detractors who were saying that after the NIT championship. At 4-12 in the conference and 15-14 overall we had no case to argue for NCAA bid. Other Big East fans were disparaging the tittle but you could see that coach Calhoun could just impose his will upon others and get them to play at another level.

  7. Jim

    Still this run was one of the best ever for me. I remember the “cloud” in the field house which I guess was all the dust from the rafters coming off from all the noise. Then Lyman depriest shutting down bc guard (Michael Adams I think) and jay Bergson from Ohio state. Phil and cliff, pikiel playing with bad wing, the late Jeff king playing his heart out….. Remember running around MSG feeling we had finally arrived and the future was so bright – and boy was it ever!

  8. Mark Fitz

    I remember Gov. Bill O’Neil was at the game and the place was rocking. Brutus Buckeye was getting constant verbal abuse from the Ct faithful. One of the guys that I went down with (who became the mayor of Torrington) ran onto the court at the end of the game in a frenzy. We never found him and he ended up hitching a ride on bus to Farmington. His wife to be, went to pick him up at 4AM. It was the start of the Husky dynasty. What a fun 25 years full of ups and downs. Darn we are getting old.

  9. Ryan Piurek

    Though I’d seen Earl Kelley lead the Huskies to a couple of big wins at the old Field House in years prior, the NIT championship season was when I truly fell in love with the Huskies, and I still have all of the newspaper clippings and old VHS tapes to prove it. A shy, small, skinny 15-year-old kid with a penchant for the underdog, I took a major liking to Jeff King, or Jammin’ Jeff King as I nicknamed him on a poster that I drew and carried with me to several games that season, including contests in Storrs and a couple on the road. Back then, as a fan, you could stand right under the basket while the team went through warmup drills, so I’d grab my poster and show my support for King, who quickly took notice of his biggest fan, slapped my hand and signed my poster, which still resides somewhere at my parents’ house. I remember King’s teammates cracking up at the poster, which showed him dunking an opponent in the basket. I also remember them laughing when, lo and behold, there I was, poster in hand, at the Providence Civic Center. As Husky fans know, King wasn’t the most athletic forward ever to don a UConn uniform, and he elicited his fair share of groans, most notably when he threw a ball away in the closing seconds of a game against Syracuse, costing the Huskies a potential big upset victory. Still, he was King in my book, and never more so than in the NIT quarterfinal game in Storrs when he scored 14 points, including several key baskets, in a win against Virginia Commonwealth University. (I learned later, from the beautiful Courant feature story about his passing in 1997 that it was his 22nd birthday.) I was fortunate to be at that game, in a sweltering Field House, still the loudest, most energetic sporting event that I’ve ever attended. (As Coach Calhoun told the Courant, “That game had the greatest atmosphere in the most archaic New England setting. People thought they saw mist, but there was so much noise, dust was falling from the rafters.”) Maybe it was the dust, but my hero’s performance made me feel like I was on Cloud 9. Several days later, my dad and I rode a bus with some of my high-school classmates to New York City for the NIT semifinals against Boston College (better known as the Lyman DePriest shuts down Dana Barros game), a trip made even more memorable by the fact that, after many years of good-natured taunts from friends, I had a Husky team of which I could actually be proud, even if it was just the NIT. And though I couldn’t return to Madison Square Garden for the championship game, I savored every minute of the Huskies dramatic win, but none more than King’s and Phil Gamble’s celebratory climb to the top of the basket, since captured in an iconic image of Husky history. In many ways, the 1988 NIT champs are still my favorite UConn team, and Jeff King my all-time favorite Husky player, right up there with Kemba, Rip, Ricky Moore and the rest. Thanks Hartford Courant for allowing me and others to relive the memories of a very special season.

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