Sep 13, 2012, 9:26 AM EST
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.
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.
Dec 19, 2013, 2:53 AM EST
GAME OF THE NIGHT: Texas 86, No. 14 North Carolina 83 The Tar Heels remain the toughest team in college basketball to figure out. After knocking off Kentucky to pick up their third win over a preseason top three team, the Heels were once again atrocious from the charity stripe, losing to Rick Barnes and…
Dec 19, 2013, 12:34 AM EST
Shabazz could only bail them out so many times. No. 10 UConn had picked up their four biggest wins by a total of five points, relying on the heroics of their star guard to carry them to the wins. But it wasn’t enough on Wednesday night. With Stanford erasing a double-digit second half deficit and…
Dec 18, 2013, 11:01 PM EST
Texas Southern senior forward Aaric Murray is now playing at his third college, with his move to the SWAC school being preceded by stops at La Salle and West Virginia. There’s no doubt that Murray possesses a lot of talent, but maturity issues shortened his stay at each of those first two schools. On Wednesday…
Dec 18, 2013, 10:01 PM EST
Just about any preseason “hot seat” list included Texas head coach Rick Barnes, and with the change in athletic director on the “40 Acres” there was enough conversation to make one think that this season would be nothing more than a lengthy testimonial of sorts for the veteran coach. With just two upperclassmen, bouncing back…
Dec 18, 2013, 9:32 PM EST
While it is too early to state definitively whether or not a team will reach the NCAA tournament, it’s never too early to look at their non-conference achievements with an eye towards Selection Sunday. For some, their belonging to a power conference will result in numerous opportunities to pick up quality wins in January and…
Dec 18, 2013, 8:13 PM EST
The matchup for the fourth Armed Forces Classic was announced on Wednesday morning and it will be a family affair, with Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals facing his son Richard’s Minnesota squad in Puerto Rico at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Air Station Borinquen. The news was first reported by Andy Katz of ESPN.com. Back in September Rick…
Dec 18, 2013, 6:53 PM EST
One of the most surprising scores on Tuesday night was Denver’s 90-62 pasting of Belmont at Magness Arena. The Bruins have wins over Indiana State and North Carolina to their credit, making the margin of defeat a surprise. But Joe Scott’s Pioneers, picked to finish second in the Summit League behind North Dakota State, have…
Dec 18, 2013, 5:35 PM EST
Now in his third season as head coach at his alma mater, Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew has led the Crusaders to 55 wins and two consecutive Horizon League regular season titles. The next step for Valparaiso would be to win the conference’s tournament title and thereby earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Valparaiso was…
Dec 18, 2013, 4:30 PM EST
Who is the best shooter in the country? It’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it? Does being a “shooter” simply mean merely being a high-level marksman from beyond the arc? Can a player who thrives in the mid-range but rarely ventures out into three-point land be eligible? How heavily should we be valuing stats like…
Dec 18, 2013, 3:30 PM EST
GAME OF THE DAY: Texas vs. No. 14 North Carolina, 7 p.m. (ESPN2) The Tar Heels have been one of the more puzzling teams in college basketball this season, but in the last three games they’ve knocked off top-ranked Michigan State in East Lansing and topped No. 11 Kentucky. North Carolina is once again without…
Dec 18, 2013, 2:31 PM EST
On Wednesday afternoon, the NCAA announced that North Carolina guard Leslie McDonald had been cleared, effective immediately. He missed nine games and will have to pay $1,783 to the charity of his choice for receiving impressible benefits. Sources informed Rand Getlin of Yahoo Sports McDonald was expected to be cleared, but the source was also said that P.J.…
Dec 18, 2013, 1:05 PM EST
Who wouldn’t love that matchup? Kansas vs. Wichita State in a three-game series, well unfortunately there is nothing in the works at the moment, despite a three-year offer Wichita State claims it proposed to Kansas, according to Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. Gregg Marshall said last week, he tried to get the Jayhawks…
Dec 18, 2013, 11:35 AM EST
Southern Illinois head coach Barry Hinson has been an overnight sensation with a six-minute postgame rant following his team’s 73-65 loss to Murray State on Tuesday night. He appeared on the second hour on the Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday morning to discuss the viral video. During the rant (can watch it here), which was mostly entertaining,…
Dec 18, 2013, 11:02 AM EST
Former Duke forward Alex Murphy is going to following in his older brother’s footsteps. On Tuesday night, following Providence’s 76-74 win over Yale, Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal reported that Murphy, a South Kingstown, R.I. native, had decided to join Florida, the same school his older brother Erik played four years for Billy Donovan, averaging 12.2…
Dec 18, 2013, 10:45 AM EST
If your team is getting blown out, and you get ejected, dunking over a 7-foot-1 center is probably the way to go out. Tuesday night, Florida State steamrolled Charlotte in a 106-62 win at home. With 14 minutes remaining in the game, it was already out of hand with the Seminoles leading 63-37. Charlotte junior…
Dec 18, 2013, 9:26 AM EST
NEW YORK — I’m staying with a couple of college buddies here in New York while I cover the Jimmy V Classic and the Duke-UCLA game. This morning, I was chatting with one of them — I’ll call him Rizzo — about the game last night. He’s a big sports fan and watches his fair share…
Dec 18, 2013, 2:09 AM EST
Southern Illinois head coach Barry Hinson delivered the press conference of the year after Tuesday night’s 73-65 loss to Murray State. Hinson, the second-year coach who is 16-25 with the Salukis, has his team off to a 2-8 start this season and is less than pleased about the state of his team. Fast forward to the…
Dec 18, 2013, 12:53 AM EST
GAME OF THE DAY: No. 16 Florida 77, No. 15 Memphis 75 The Gators looked like they would cruise in the final minutes of second half, but the Tigers charged back. Joe Jackson had a chance to tie, but could not convert Florida, finally healthy and still getting players back, are showing how impressive it…
Dec 18, 2013, 12:20 AM EST
New Mexico State held a 13-point halftime lead and nearly gave it away in the waning moments of the game, but Daniel Mullings block on Cullen Neal kept New Mexico from tying the game at 61 with 30 seconds to play. K.C. Ross-Miller would go to the line three times in the final seconds and…
- Texas hangs on to beat No. 14 North Carolina in Chapel Hill 1
- The Chase for 180: Nic Moore’s hot start 0
- Leslie McDonald has been cleared, while reports say P.J. Hairston unlikely to play this season 6
- Memphis loss shouldn’t feed narrative about Josh Pastner, big games 0
- Casey Prather’s star turn a boon for Florida 1
- Report: Former North Carolina guard Will Graves arrested on drug charges at home owned by head coach Roy Williams (20)
- Kentucky is a flawed team, but does that mean they can’t contend? (12)
- WATCH: Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson unloads in press conference (8)
- Leslie McDonald has been cleared, while reports say P.J. Hairston unlikely to play this season (6)
- Weekend Preview: Iowa-Iowa State highlights a rivalry-heavy weekend slate (5)