BUFFALO, N.Y. – Let’s start with the “news of the day.”
Is Jim Calhoun going to coach Boston College? I don’t believe so. Will he coach somewhere? I wouldn’t bet against that, would you?
It is hard to imagine Calhoun severing his ties with UConn, a school that named a street after him. He has the run of the place, and can do what almost anything he wants. … Almost.
Let’s face it: every great coach misses it after retirement, and many come back. Sometimes it’s a mistake, but it happens. Where do we start? Vince Lombardi came back after a year to coach the Redskins. Bill Parcells came back multiple times. Red Holzman came back. Earl Weaver, Jim Leyland. You think there’s a chance Phil Jackson, whatever his title, will end up on the Knicks bench? This list goes on and on. Bill Snyder. Bud Wilkinson. Dick Vermeil.
As he neared 70, Joe Torre flirted with retirement each year but would always say, “I don’t want to miss out on any fun,” and he’d come back. Jim Boeheim expressed similar sentiments today, that he won’t retire until he is sure he is ready, because every coach he has talked to misses it.
The attention Larry Brown has gotten at SMU clearly intrigues Jim Calhoun, and it could also intrigue a school out there, one that needs to be put on the map. A school like that would love to have Calhoun for however long they could get him, and gladly take whoever he’d want as a designated successor.
I’m not saying this is going to happen, I’m saying don’t be shocked if it done, because this type of comeback has happened a hundred times before. When coaching is in the blood for 40 years, it never completely gets out. And Calhoun is tanned and rested.
Shabazz Napier said if Calhoun does come back, he’d apply for a job as one of his assistants some day. He was joking, but Kevin Ollie was serious when he said Napier could be a coach one day. Then he said he would fight Calhoun for his services. ********
Ollie was exceptionally good on the podium today – relaxed, funny, charming.Here’s more from his press session, as we shift the focus back to UConn-Villanova and the NCAA Tournament:
“[Villanova’s] a great, amazing three?point shooting team. I think they’ve taken probably, I think, top ten in three?point attempts. I think they’re in the top five of made three?point field goal shooting teams.
So we’re going to have our work cut out for us. We’ve got to run them off the three?point line. We’ve got to play Pinkston down low. He’s a great player also. That’s what gives them their balance, and that’s what makes them tough to guard. Jay [Wright] does a wonderful job exploiting matchups. So we’re going to have to be able to be matched up and play our type of basketball and just play with energy and passion. Hopefully, we can come out with the win tomorrow night.”
“I don’t care who we’re playing. We want to get to the next round. It’s great to see Jay [Wright]. It’s great to see a foe that we’ve had so many battles against. Villanova’s a great team. We’re going to go out there and play.
But we’re worried about and concerned about UConn and our keys to the game. We’re going to go out and play our type of basketball. Whoever we was matched up in this round, we was going to have to go out there and play and do a great job on the offensive and defensive end.
I feel like I’m a part of the Big Five now. I played Saint Joe’s and Villanova. I guess LaSalle is coming up next. No, I’m just playing.”
“I mean, Villanova’s a different team [than a year ago]. Their guys are playing with more confidence. They’re a year older. We’re a year older. The last time we played, I believe we had an 11?point lead. Then in the second half, they kind of took over the game and got some offensive rebounds.
Archie was outstanding. I think he had 25 points. I think that was his high as a freshman. So we’re going to have to keep him in check. We’re going to have to keep everybody else in check. Knowing that we’re playing a great opponent. It’s going to be a war.
That’s how we play. Villanova plays the same way. We’re going to challenge each shot. We’re going to challenge each dribble. It’s going to be a fight. We got to be ready for that, and we got to keep throwing punches.”
[Regarding Amida Brimah] “I used to hate when the coach didn’t say [anything] to me. That means I wasn’t a part of the rotation or anything. I’m going to be on those guys. We need him to rebound. We need him to be our best rebounder.
You know, I take it personal. If I’m a big and the point guard is leading us in rebounding, I’m going to take that personal. So I’m going to go out there and get those crucial rebounds.
That offensive rebound, I was on him the whole game. If he was on our sideline, I was on him. He went out of his area and got that offensive rebound. I’m so glad he didn’t pay attention to me because I was screaming, Throw the ball out, and I’m glad he didn’t. He made that jump hook and got that and one. It was just a big moment. He stepped up to the free?throw line and the emotion he showed.
That’s what this tournament is all about. Other guys making plays. That’s what shows you a true good team when other guys can step up. It’s not always Ryan. It’s not always Shabazz. Amida did a great job, and he grew up last night, I believe.”
“Our rebounding has been up and down. Earlier in the season, we wasn’t rebounding the ball particularly well. We got in conference, and I don’t know what got into us. We started rebounding the ball like no other. And then it dipped down towards the end of the season. It’s always rebounding the basketball.
We get the crucial ones. When we need to get a rebound, we get those. I think that’s the important thing, too. We’re growing, and we’re learning, and we’re going to get those tough rebounds.
There’s been some inconsistencies that we had. Some of the great things, we shoot the ball phenomenally well from the three?point line. That’s what’s been saving us, having no turnovers. That’s going to be very crucial against Villanova with their different defensive packages they throw at you.
And also, getting to the free?throw line, converting on the free?throw line. I believe we’re probably top ten in the nation and number one in our conference in free?throw shooting.
That’s a big part of the tournament. You never know how fouls are going to get called. Down the stretch, I think we made 15 out of 15 down the stretch. So it’s a great attribute that we have as a team.”
[Villanova’s been struggling from the perimeter lately but … ] “I don’t put a lot of stock in that. It’s not like we’re going to sit on their shooters. We’re going to be right in their face. We want them to continue to struggle. That’s the respect we have for a great three?point shooting team.
I look at the body of their work. If they’re creating good shots, they’re going to knock those shots down. We’ve got to get back in transition. That’s where I think they really hurt teams.
Yes, they’re a great three?point shooting team, but they get out on the break. I don’t care if you throw it in the stands somewhere. Don’t have no live turnovers because they convert it to easy buckets. That’s our first and foremost thing.
Of course, run them off the three?point line. And we’ve got to keep Archie in front of us, Arcidiacono. We’ve got to keep him in front of us. He really destroyed us at XL Center when we played Villanova last year.
He’s doing the same thing. He’s not shooting at that high of a level when he scored 25 points against us, but he gets in the thick of the defense, and he just makes the right plays over and over and over again. We’ve got to really do a good job containing him.”
[If Jim Calhoun made a comeback...] “No, it wouldn’t be tricky for me. It would be great. If that’s what he wants to do, more power to him. I’m always going to support Coach.
I haven’t heard about it until today, but if that’s what he wants do, I’m going to be supporting him. I know he got passion for the game.
I know he’s enjoying his vacations he’s taking in January playing golf. I don’t know if he wants to pass up on those. But if he wants to get back in the game, more power to him. He earns that right. He earns that respect. Whatever he wants to do, he has my prayers and my best wishes.”
“[Shabazz Napier’s] a winner. Whatever it takes for us to win, he puts that burden on himself. When we were struggling rebounding, he got 11, 12 rebounds. If we’re struggling in moving the basketball, he becomes the perfect facilitator for us.
You’ve seen his ability at the end of the game, last game, where he could take the game over and score 19 points in the second half. So he has that innate ability to do whatever we need at any time. And he’s not scared to fail, and I think that’s one of his biggest attributes. He’s not scared of the moment. He’s not waiting for his giants. He’s going to meet them.
That’s what we all want to have. We want to have that power that we’re going to go out there and win the game and not look at, Oh, we make a mistake. I’m going to be the one getting talked about.
No, if I make a mistake, I’m going to go out there and prove that I’m going to be a winner anyway. That’s what I love about Shabazz.
That’s what I love about this team. They believe in one another. They believe in Bazz. Bazz is a great leader, too. Those are the things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. He’s just an awesome leader, and he’s grown to that. That’s a tribute to him and his parents and what he believes as a student?athlete, how you need to conduct yourself on a daily basis.
I ain’t going to lie. There was a couple that I was like, No, it ain’t never going to happen. There was a couple of those days. But most of the times his freshman year, Kemba was there, but he was shadowing Kemba. He was seeing how he was leading, but he still had a little rebellion in him a little bit, wanted to do it his own way.
But he understood you’re not going to change UConn. UConn is going to change you. He started to conform to that. And now you see him grow into a great, amazing leader, and you see everybody following him.
When he showed that he has the leadership, he has the enthusiasm, everybody falls in line. He’s a great young man. He’s going to be graduating on time this spring. That’s just a great, great, great goal for him. He just does everything for our team. We all feed off his energy.”
“He’s matured a lot. That’s great for our basketball team, but it’s great for him. It’s great for him when he goes back to his community because a lot of those guys don’t get this opportunity. For him to come back and be a story that kids can look up to, not just on basketball, but getting your degree, is amazing, amazing thing that he can share in his legacy that will live long after he walks off the Storrs campus.”
“No, I knew he had that gene in him just watching him in practice. Like I told you many times, when I first started working him out, he was telling Kemba what to do. And I was like, What’s this little freshman telling Kemba where to shoot at. He just had that moxie about himself. Coming from his neighborhood, Mission Hills, you’re going to have to have a little something in you. You’re not going to make it out of there.
He always has something. He had a quiet confidence. Then he also had a confidence that ‘I’m supposed to be here.’ We like our student?athletes to have that kind of confidence, especially our basketball players because if you come to Connecticut, you’ve got to expect competition. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what Coach [Calhoun] bred in all of us.
You’ve got to expect competition, and competition, it leads to success. He wasn’t afraid of the competition, if it was Kemba [Walker], if it was Jeremy [Lamb], he was going to go out there and play good, solid basketball.
I think that allowed him, when he was able to face the Villanovas and the Syracuses, to step up and face those big moments because he was challenged in practice every day.”
“… Just winning. Just being in those types of moments. We was down by four with three minutes to go. I believe it was 3:10 to go. I know a lot of people had their doubts that we can come back and win. Gavin, you follow this team enough, so you know what we’re made of. We know how we are a resilient group. We go through different problems, but the bigger the problem, the bigger the destiny, I believe.
We’ve gone through everything. I believe in these kids. They believe in themselves. Til that last zero goes, we’re going to play. That’s the great thing about this team.
We made plays at the end like we always do, and we got in overtime, and it’s like our time. That’s when the light’s the brightest. Once again, we won an overtime game.”
“[Now that Napier is third on UConn’s assists list] Nobody remembers number 4. Nobody’s going to remember. It’s always one, two, three to the media guys. That was my last ride with the media guide. I don’t think we’re even doing media guides anymore. That was my last hurrah being in the media guide.”
I’m going to play Shabazz a little bit more. So he’s going to be working for me. We’re going to be fighting for Shabazz whenever he get into coaching because he’s got a great basketball IQ and he knows the game inside and out.
I think he got enough fire to motivate guys and get them to the next level, kind of that same gene as Coach had and I’m trying to have. It’s the same thing.
You know, he wasn’t McDonald’s All?American coming out of high school, so you always have a chip on your shoulder. I play with that same chip on my shoulder. I coach with that same chip on my shoulder. I think he’s going to have that same gene. If he decides to get into coaching, it’s going to be a war. Me and Coach [Calhoun] are going to have a sitdown.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to have [Warde Manuel] look in his back pocket and pull out a little more money so we can get him on our staff.”
“I’ll just talk about DeAndre a little bit. He’s been coming along. He’s been a little inconsistent this year, and we just talk to him about getting touches. The more touches he gets, the better offensive player he becomes. Touches could be a deflection. Touches can be an offensive or defensive rebound. Touch can be a charge, anything like that that’s making our team win.”
“He’s starting to do that. He had a great conference tournament, and then he brought it over here in the first round. He’s an inside basketball player. He’s a mismatch nightmare when his game is on. We can manipulate the defense, take him down on the post. He can pick and pop, and we try to utilize him in a lot of different ways.
My bench has definitely been a spark plug for us lately with Amida coming off the bench, also Lasan Kromah coming off the bench and Terrence Samuel coming off the bench giving us a change of tempo and allowing me to rest my guards a little bit.”
Congrats to walk-on Pat Lenehan received the Goldwater Scholarship, one of the most prestigious awards in the nation for undergrads. Lenehan, a senior from Cheshire and Xavier High in Middletown, has been with the Huskies the past two seasons and is with the team in Buffalo for the NCAA Tournament. He is molecular cell biology major and carries a 4.0 GPA. Two other UConn students, sophomore Michael Cantara and junior Peter J. Larson, Jr., received Goldwater scholarships, which go to outstanding students in math, science and engineering.
Big day tomorrow, get ready. Talk to you from the arena …