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Friday, October 24, 2014

Jim Calhoun Loves to Be Hated

If the 2011 NCAA Tournament consisted of a stronger field of teams, UConn probably would not have cut the nets down on Monday night.  Teams like Ohio State, Duke, and North Carolina losing made the Huskies’ path to the Final Four a bit friendlier than it may have otherwise been.  Still, it was not easy.  After winning five games in five days at Madison Square Garden, no one believed Connecticut would have the energy needed to get through the grueling Dance.  They powered their way through March, proving all the doubters wrong.  Above all else, the run proved Jim Calhoun wants you to hate him.

Make no mistake about it: Calhoun has few fans outside the state of Connecticut.  Even in Connecticut, the 68-year-old Boston Irishman has had disagreements with the governor, his athletic director, and the the coaches of other UConn programs (cough, Geno Auriemma, cough).  The more people who want Calhoun to lose, the more motivated he becomes to win.

After UConn won the national title on Monday night, Calhoun joked with reporters about his “not a dime back” rant.  He talked X’s and O’s and had a grin from ear to ear.  The Hall of Famer said coaching this team has been the most fun he’s ever had.  He said he needed them.  Don’t for a second believe he wasn’t thinking “kiss my ass” the entire time he sat at the podium.

Just three short days ago, the NY Times attempted to bring the Nate Miles saga back to life — the day UConn was to take on Kentucky in the Final Four.  Distraction?  Not quite.  Lord only knows what he said to his players about the report, but Calhoun took a team that relies heavily on three freshmen and led them to a victory over one of the better teams in the country later that night.  It wasn’t the first time someone tried to back Jimmy Boy into a corner.  It certainly wasn’t the first time he came out swinging.

When Yahoo! Sports broke the Miles story in 2009, there were many who believed Calhoun would retire.  His health has always been an issue and, let’s face it, he’s not a young man anymore.  Instead, he stuck it out.  Two years later, he has cemented his name among the great coaches in college basketball history.

Why didn’t the then 66-year-old call it quits and leave the game with two national titles and more than 800 victories?  For starters, he loves coaching.  Calhoun loves bringing fresh faces to Storrs every year — whether you believe he does it within NCAA regulations or not — and having the chance to change their lives.  He can’t walk away because it’s too hard to leave the hundreds of individuals to whom he has become like a father.  Most of all, he can’t walk away because that would be the easy thing to do.

“My legacy, if it ever comes down to who I am, what I am, all I’ve ever asked anyone to do was talk about my players,” Calhoun said after Monday night’s win. “Talk to the hundreds and hundreds of guys that played for me. Talk to Jimmy Boeheim and the people I’ve coached against for a long period of time, talk to people from our league, then maybe you’ll find out more about me.

“Then, if you want to look at my legacy number-wise, that’s OK too.”

Kemba Walker will almost certainly head to the NBA next season, leaving Calhoun’s next squad a lot less talented than his current.  No one would blame him for going out on top, riding off into the sunset, and being remembered as one of the greatest coaches in the history of college athletics.  Over the next several months, reporters will dig deeper into the Nate Miles story.  They’ll try to uncover more dirt in an attempt to tarnish Calhoun’s legacy.  In the process, they just might convince him to return to Storrs and coach another year.

If he returns and more is to become of his involvement with recruiting violations, Calhoun will wear the same evil grin he has always worn.  He’ll give reporters sarcastic responses and play the role of cranky old guy that he has so masterfully perfected over the last decade.  His next group of players will love him as much as his previous 25 did.  Fans of Connecticut basketball will continue to worship the ground their founder walks on.

And for all those who don’t: Calhoun, chomping his gum, will gladly invite you to kiss his ass.



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