Skip to content

Why UConn fans love Jim Calhoun

Sep 13, 2012, 9:26 AM EDT

Jim Calhoun

The job of a sportswriter centers about one’s ability to remain — or at least appear — unbiased and impartial.

Once you pick up the pen, you put down the pom-poms because, as you all know, there is no cheering in the press box.

But the problem with that theory is that every single hack that strings words together about sports was originally a fan. They probably still are fans. There’s no possible way to build a life around watching and interpreting games without, in some way, loving those games and the teams involved and the players that take center stage.

I grew up playing basketball in Connecticut. From a sporting perspective, my state isn’t much more that the Border War between Boston and New York; between the Yankees and the Red Sox, the Celtics and the Knicks, the Patriots and the Giants or Jets. The passion of those separate fan bases for whatever team it is they root for is as intense as that of the kid that grew up in the Bronx or in Southie. We wore the jerseys. We watched all the games on Yes! or NESN. We ran our mouth when our favorite team won and jawed back even more when our favorite team lost.

And while we were always fans of those teams, they were never “our” team the way that kid from the Bronk can call the Yankees “his” team or the kid from Queens can call the Mets “his” team or the kid from Boston can call the Celtics “his” team. For many, a trip into the city to catch a Saturday afternoon game came in lieu of a vacation once you factored in the tickets, the parking, the program, Dad’s beer and your hot dog and nachos.

That’s why Jim Calhoun is so revered in the state of Connecticut.

Because he took a program that was no different that Rhode Island or UMass or, for that matter, Boston College or Rutgers and turned it into one that trails only Kansas, Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina in wins since 1989 and has more national titles since 1999 than any program in the country. In fact, the only other programs that have ever won as many three national titles in their history are all considered “blue-bloods” —  the four teams listed above, plus Indiana and UCLA.

Jim Calhoun gave us “our” team.

——————————————————

I still remember the exact moment when I fell in love with the Huskies.

It was the 1996 Big East title game. Ray Allen‘s UConn team was taking on Georgetown and Allen Iverson in a game that tipped off around 9 p.m. At the time, I was just a couple of weeks short of my 10th birthday and my little brother had just turned eight. Staying up late enough to watch the end of a game was not commonplace in our household.

But I bartered and I negotiated and I argued my way into convincing my dad to let us stay up until it became a 10 point game because, in my ten year old mind, a ten point game all but meant the game was over. Late in the second half, Georgetown went up 11. Possession by possession, I convinced my dad to let me watch one more possession, and slowly but surely, the Huskies trimmed the lead down until, with about 17 seconds left on the clock, Allen drove middle, found himself stuck in the air, and threw the ball at the basket.

Off the rim.

Off the backboard.

In.

UConn still had to survive a fadeaway 17 footer from Iverson and a blown layup from Jerome Williams, but they did, sending the Huskies to their second ever Big East tournament title.

We all have those moments in sports where we’ll never forget exactly where we were when we watched them. Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria in last year’s. Tino Martinez and Scott Brosius homering in the bottom of the ninth in back-to-back World Series games. Jordan crossing up Byron Russell and drilling the game-winner in 1998.

For me, nothing will ever top that shot from Ray-Ray, even if there have been hundreds of moments throughout Calhoun’s illustrious career that could be considered on par:

The scrum that led to Rip Hamilton’s game-winner over Washington in the second round of the 1998 NCAA tournament. Khaled El-Amin screaming “We shocked the world!!” after beating Duke in the 1999 title game. Taliek Brown banking in a 35-footer as UConn beat Pitt in double-overtime in the 2002 Big East title game. A second win over Duke in the 2004 Final Four, overcoming an eight point deficit in the final three minutes, en route to a second national title.  AJ Price‘s emergence as a star in 2008 during UConn’s trip to Indiana. Price carried the Huskies to a 68-63 win over Eric Gordon‘s Hoosiers despite having sat out for two years — laptops and brain hemorrhages — and dealing with the suspension of Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins. The six overtime game. And, of course, the UConn Fighting Kembas. I was five years old for “The Shot”, Tate George’s game-winner against Clemson in the 1990 tournament, but that would be on this list for just about any other UConn fan.

Calhoun gave us those moments.

Calhoun is the reason that we experienced those joys.

Was he gruff? Yeah. Was he a curmudgeon? Most definitely. Did he run a dirty program? Unfortunately, yes. But in the end, that doesn’t matter to us. 20 years from now, no one is going to remember who Nate Miles was and no one is going to care that Calhoun stole Wiggins from St. John’s or that there is an NCAA rule against scheduling exhibitions with AAU teams because of money that may have changed hands during Rudy Gay‘s recruitment.

We’re going to remember each and every one of those moments that made growing up a UConn fan one of the most amazing experiences one could ask for.

——————————————————

In recent years, my fandom has waned. For starters, I eventually ended up playing college basketball, and while it was on a level a long, long way from the Big East, it still meant that I had practice every day during and games every weekend during basketball season. Throw in the fact that I went to a college that didn’t have cable in the dorms at a time when you couldn’t find every game streaming online, and it was tough to stay connected with a team that you never got a chance to watch.

Once I started writing about hoops, it became even more difficult to keep that kind of passion alive. I found myself actively trying to disconnect during UConn games. All things equal, I want to see UConn win. That cord will never be severed, and anyone that’s ever been a fan of any team in any sport should be able to understand that. But, more than anything, the result has been that I’ve become more critical of UConn than any other program in the country. I’m much more likely to take out a chainsaw and shred the Huskies in a post than I am to glorify or hyperbolize how good the team is. (This column excluded.)

But I still get chills when I go back and watch highlights of those old UConn teams.

You can vacate wins. You can call Jim Calhoun dirty. You can say that he’s worse than John Calipari.

None of that will matter for UConn fans.

He gave us our team.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

 

Latest Posts
  1. West defeats East 118-116 in the Jordan Brand Classic

    Apr 17, 2015, 10:23 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Cheick Diallo won named MVP for both the McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic.

  2. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg undergoes successful open heart surgery

    Apr 17, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Hoiberg just completed his fifth season at Iowa State.

  3. Gonzaga big man to return for senior season

    Apr 17, 2015, 7:18 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Domantas Sabonis previously announced he would return.

  4. Top plays from the Jordan Brand Classic practice

    Apr 17, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT

    diallo

    The Jordan Brand Classic is Friday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

  5. Duke among list of candidates for graduate transfer guard

    Apr 17, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The former Villanova guard cut his list to eight.

  6. Mountain West gives New Mexico guard Cullen Neal medical hardship year

    Apr 17, 2015, 4:23 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Thanks to this ruling Neal will have three years of eligibility remaining.

  7. 2016 shooting guard Mustapha Heron de-commits from Pittsburgh

    Apr 17, 2015, 3:19 PM EDT

    adidas adidas

    Heron, who committed to Pitt back in January 2014, says he will continue to consider Jamie Dixon’s program.

  8. Four-star guard becomes Avery Johnson’s first commitment as Alabama head coach

    Apr 17, 2015, 1:31 PM EDT

    Avery Johnson Avery Johnson

    Dazon Ingram joins Brandon Austin and Donta Hall, both of whom remained committed following the firing of Anthony Grant, in Alabama’s 2015 class.

  9. Former Florida guard discusses Billy Donovan’s potential as an NBA head coach on ‘Dan Patrick Show’ (VIDEO)

    Apr 17, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Beal spoke highly of his college coach, including how a possible adjustment would go should Donovan decide to try his hand at the NBA game.

  10. Kansas State announces dismissal of forward Malek Harris from program

    Apr 17, 2015, 12:19 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Harris is the fifth departure from the Kansas State program since the end of the season.

  11. Albany’s Peter Hooley to give commencement speech at school’s graduation in May

    Apr 17, 2015, 11:02 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Hooley’s game-winning shot in the America East title game came less than two months after his mother passed from a lengthy bout with colon cancer.

  12. Alabama forward Shannon Hale to return after briefly considering transfer

    Apr 17, 2015, 12:04 AM EDT

    (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Hale is Alabama’s leading returning scorer, as he averaged 8.2 points per game last season.

  13. Five-star 7-footer Stephen Zimmerman commits to UNLV

    Apr 16, 2015, 11:51 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Landing Zimmerman is a big deal for Dave Rice, who could use the boost after a disappointing 2014-15.

  14. 6-foot-10 big man becomes Michigan’s second 2016 commitment

    Apr 16, 2015, 10:56 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Michigan won’t lack for big men when Davis arrives on campus in 2016, but that will give him time to develop as a freshman.

  15. Michigan State forward undergoes arthroscopic procedure on left knee

    Apr 16, 2015, 8:02 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Costello dealt with the knee issue down the stretch, but the procedure isn’t expected to keep him out of offseason workouts for too long.

  16. Mountain West announces new in-season tournament set to begin November 2017 in Cayman Islands

    Apr 16, 2015, 6:32 PM EDT

    MWClogo1

    The Mountain West is guaranteed one of the eight slots in the field.

  17. Which college coaches are getting linked to NBA head coaching jobs?

    Apr 16, 2015, 3:58 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    With the NBA coaching carousel getting started, which college coaches will be linked to the jobs?

  18. Jordan Brand Classic: Duke commit Luke Kennard responds to Tyus Jones’ departure

    Apr 16, 2015, 1:57 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Duke-bound Luke Kennard discusses the Blue Devils’ one-and-dones and filling the point guard role.