Let us begin with a signal moment of genius. It is March 29, 1999. Jim Calhoun has led his men’s team into the championship basketball game for the first time in UConn history.
All season long, Calhoun has been hearing that Duke’s six man rotation is one of the best in college basketball history.
Calhoun decides he would rather play a good team than a great one. He orders his big men to double team center Elton Brand on every touch, and he glues human shadow Rickey Moore to sharpshooter Trajan Langdon.
Now he is playing against William Avery, Chris Carrawell and Shane Battier. A good team, but one he can beat. Langdon has a solid game, but he’s too arrhythmic at the end to put a dagger in the Huskies. UConn wins its first men’s championship, and Jim Calhoun has outsmarted Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.
I was there in St. Petersburg that night. Rip Hamilton’s shots sailed like milkweed seeds, falling softly through the hoop, but the real story was Calhoun’s Fischer checkmating Coach K’s Spassky.
How badly did we need that? Let me put it this way. In 1986, Hartford gave the Whalers a parade for making the second round of the NHL playoffs. cheap nfl jerseys In 1990, two guys published the book “UConn’s Dream Season: The Road to the Final Eight.” Sad.
The Faulknerian loss of innocence began immediately. Scrapping, tumbling point guard Khalid El Amin was picked up in Hartford having bought pot. He started a string of players who would have minor drug beefs, mostly shrugged at by the program.
Then there were the (largely unpunished) guys who stole laptops but only from women. And then came Calhoun’s obsession with a problematic young player, Nate Miles, whose recruitment necessitated a prolonged collusion with an agent, even after said agent was accused by Hamilton, the hero of 1999, of stealing more than $1 million.
UConn was punished for the Miles courtship. Calhoun was suspended for three games. The program is on probation until 2014. Probably the only thing that saved UConn from a post season ban was that it never got to use Miles, who was expelled for violating a restraining order before he could play.
No matter. The team now faces a 2013 post season ban for different reasons its woeful academic record. There are new signs of academic progress, but the team’s educational slump dragged on for years, with reports of a 31 percent graduation rate and one player who failed to achieve a grade of any kind for multiple semesters.
The Miles saga dragged through 22 months of bluster and stonewalling from Calhoun. The university’s legal bills for that were last seen sailing like milkweed toward $1 million.
With the passing years, Calhoun seems scourged by invisible furies. We see him charge toward the foul line to berate a player as a timeout begins. We see him grab jerseys and cock fists. We hear the never ending blitzkrieg ofF bombsat his players, at reporters and occasionally even at someone in the stands. He does not seem to care if mothers and their children sit nearby.
I can’t watch it anymore. It’s too horrible, all of it. I know I’m in the minority, but I would trade wins for simple virtues. I would absorb more losses to be scrubbed of stain and madness.
Most fans would make the opposite trade. There’s a self willed infantilization that accompanies college sports. You see adults refer to Calhoun as “Coach.” As in, “Coach can’t be everywhere.” It was even more pronounced during the Penn State mess, when grown men would talk feverishly of “JoePa.”
In this regressed state, the fan professes himself unable to think about anything except wins and points and championships. You bring up responsibility, self regulation, patience, integrity, consideration, and you get shouted down as a Spenserian fruitcake.
Oddly, I think Calhoun believes in all that stuff. Underneath all that hellishness, I glimpse an Irish poet. I pass him in the aisle at every Bushnell musical. Imagine! He should coach for one more season and go out as that other guy. Write down those five words and live them. Responsibility, self regulation, patience, integrity, consideration. Base your final season on them. Then retire as the legend you deserve to be.