Peter Burns, a New Haven native, Ansonia High and UConn grad, has written a book, “Shock The World,” a history of UConn men’s basketball under Jim Calhoun. As the Calhoun era ends, Burns’ book will be coming out on Oct. 9, and he will be appearing at book signings throughout the state in October and November. I hope to have Peter join us on a live chat during the season.
Burns, who teaches political science at Loyola University, says he began writing the book in 2005, to “take his mind off ” the tragedy of Hurrican Katrina in New Orleans. I asked Peter for some of this thoughts and some highlights from his new book:
- What is the most surprising thing you discovered in writing the book?
Peter Burns: Several things come to mind when I think about things that surprised me as I wrote the book.
The former players love Calhoun. Not one of them came close to saying anything negative about Calhoun. In 2006, Tate George told me, “A lot of us didn t have our fathers in the household, so you go from having your mother raise you to having a man screaming in your face; it doesn t go over very well when you re the man of your household.”
George had a lost feeling when Calhoun remained silent. He wished that his coach would shut up, but when Calhoun went quiet, George didn’t know what to do. “In a game at Boston University in 1986, Calhoun said nothing and decided to let us run ragged,” George said.
The point guard realized how much he needed his coach as a result of this tactic.
When a father figure doesn’t reprimand you, George said of the silent treatment, you don’t know whether you are doing right or wrong. Despite the screaming, former players like Tate regard Calhoun as a father.
Donyell Marshall regarded Calhoun as a father figure “I probably didn’t have growing up.”
Throughout the Calhoun Era, players echoed Marshall’s sentiment about the role that the UConn coach played in their lives. Chris Smith said, “Calhoun is a hard person to play for and anybody would tell you that; but as far as off the court, I’ve always looked at the program and Coach as family. If you stayed with he program you can call on Coach and he is there for you.”
… Calhoun invited Rod Sellers into his office and talked about time-management, homework, smart decisions with women, and accountability. Sellers’ father died when he was 12, so the first time he heard these kinds of things from a man, they came out of Calhoun s mouth. he same held true for other players, including Lyman DePriest, whose father died when he was young.
Caron Butler regards Calhoun as “the closest thing to a father I ever had.” He doesn’t have a relationship with his biological father. Of all his former players, Calhoun maintains the closest contact with Butler. The two speak regularly on the phone. Sometimes they talk about the weather and most often Butler tells Calhoun how he s doing. Butler calls Calhoun on Father’s Day.
UConn basketball is a family. Calhoun [made] it that way.
… Calhoun nearly had two players die in the 2004-2005 season. He visited A.J. Price and Rashad Anderson in the hospital every day. This was not the first time nor the last that Calhoun would visit a member of his basketball family in the hospital. After he left UConn, Phil Gamble, the second best player on Calhoun’s first few teams at UConn, suffered from skin cancer, which required surgery. When Gamble awakened from his operation on Christmas day, Coach Calhoun and wife Pat were in the waiting room.
You are a UConn grad and Connecticut native. Can you express what UConn’s rise has meant to the culture and quality of life in the state?
“First off, Calhoun increased the value of my UConn degree. He and his teams made UConn a brand name. When Calhoun took over, the name UConn also meant nothing to the nation. In a 1987 episode of Cheers, Rebecca mentioned that she attended the University of Connecticut. She didn t say she went to UConn because at that time, few outside the state knew what those letters meant. Norm said the group was such big fans of their football team, “the Fighting Insurance Salesmen.”
In the fall of 1987, few in the United States knew that basketball was the university’s athletic specialty. Few knew that the Husky served as the school mascot. Nobody cared. Twenty-five years later, UConn is an international name because of Calhoun.
Calhoun and his Huskies gave an identity to the state. Unlike the Sox and Yankees, UConn is our team. I remember going to the beach in Rhode Island in 1995 and seeing people with UConn shirts. I had never seen this before. When I went to UConn, people were more likely to wear Carolina or Michigan shirts than UConn basketball shirts. Calhoun’s Huskies provided the state with pride and an identity. The quality of life improved because UConn basketball, men’s and then women’s, gave people something to look forward to in the winter. Mike Gorman, who called Big East games there in the first years of Gampel, saw the Huskies games as a cultural event and the entertainment for the week for those in attendance. The crowd lifted you up with them, Gorman concluded. Huskies games were the cultural events and entertainment for the whole year.
UConn fans ruled Madison Square Garden during Calhoun s time at UConn. The train ride alone to MSG from Connecticut was enough entertainment for a year. …On the train ride back to Connecticut after the 1998 Big East championship game, my friend John Erlingheuser and I hugged everyone in our car. It was a party back to Connecticut. Calhoun and his teams gave us a great feeling.
Peter Burns will be at Barnes and Noble at the Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester on Oct. 20 at 1 p.m, and at B&N in Milford Oct. 20 at 4 p.m.
He will be at Barnes and Noble in Enfield, Nov. 17 at 10:30 a.m. and at B&N in West Hartford on Nov. 17 at 1 p.m. Other appearances:
Groton Public Library November 19 at 7 p.m.
Derby Library November 20, 2012 at 6:30 p.m..
Canton Public Library December 15 at 1 p.m.
Howard Whittemore Memorial Library, Naugatuck, December 18 at 6:30 p.m.
Hall Memorial Library, Ellington, CT December 19 at 6:30 p.m.
Woodbury Public Library December 20 at 7 p.m.