Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When the Connecticut men's basketball team
had its season end with a loss to Iowa State in the second round of the NCAA
Tournament last March, its fans were clearly disappointed.
That disappointment was a direct result of the high expectations created by
the previous work turned in by UConn's long-time, and highly-successful head
When Jim Calhoun took over the program in 1986, Connecticut was in the midst
of four straight losing seasons. Calhoun came to the Storrs after guiding
Reggie Lewis and the Northeastern Huskies to the NCAA Tournament. Although he
was obviously taking a huge risk moving from a powerful mid-major team to an
unheralded Big East Conference club, he embraced the opportunity.
UConn finished 9-19 in his first season, but that was the last time the team
would endure a losing ledger on his watch. Calhoun immediately turned the
program around, leading it to the NIT title the following year and the NCAA
Elite Eight in 1990. Year after year, the Huskies were a team opposing coaches
Calhoun had all the tools needed to excel as a collegiate coach. He had a keen
eye when it came to recruiting, and his players often developed into stars,
the kind professional teams dream about. UConn began sending players to the
NBA on a regular basis as it morphed into one of the top programs in the
nation throughout the 1990s.
The Huskies appeared in seven NCAA Tournaments before making a pair of major
leaps in 1999 with the school's first trip to the Final Four, and its first-
ever national title. Those accomplishments legitimized Calhoun as one of the
elite coaches in the country, but he wasn't about to rest on his laurels.
Five years later, Connecticut took down Georgia Tech to cap off a 33-6 season
and put a second national title in the trophy case. Calhoun added a third NCAA
Championship in 2011 by coaching the Huskies to 11 straight postseason
victories. The win over Butler in the national title tilt made Calhoun, at age
68, the oldest coach ever to win an NCAA Division I men's basketball crown.
The wave of momentum that began with his arrival some 25 years earlier, made
the program that was once a Big East bottom dweller, the center of the sports
"Basketball is a game that has blessed me. It's a game that's consumed me,
that's given me so much," Calhoun stated. "Basketball doesn't care what color
your skin is. It doesn't care what language you speak or what religion you
practice. It doesn't care if you're big or small, fast or slow. It just asks
you to play, to compete, to lose with dignity, to win with humility."
Calhoun's success, while certainly plentiful, was accompanied by both personal
and work-related conflicts. The program was cited by the NCAA for eight major
rules violations in 2010. The citations came after a deep investigation into
the recruiting of former player Nate Miles, who was expelled from UConn in
October of 2008 before ever playing a game for the Huskies.
Many believed Calhoun would retire after winning his third national
championship, but he wanted to return for at least one more season to "make
things right". However, health issues caught up with him. Calhoun has overcome
cancer on three separate occasions, and missed more than a month last season
after severe back pain created a need for spinal surgery.
In addition to accusations of illegal recruiting, Calhoun also faced criticism
for his team's performance in the classroom, which led to the NCAA imposing a
postseason ban for the team in 2013. Kevin Ollie will endure that penalty this
coming season as he steps into his former mentor's shoes.
Calhoun chose Ollie, who spent the last two seasons as a UConn assistant after
a lengthy NBA career, to be his successor. Ollie is just one of a slew of guys
to have played for Calhoun and still to this day, maintain a close, personal
Calhoun was known for his tough-love approach to coaching. He took risks in
recruiting and helped his players reach their maximum potential. Ray Allen
went on to become an NBA superstar after playing at UConn, but he was not an
All-America prospect coming out of high school. Richard Hamilton was a
consensus NCAA All-American twice while with the Huskies, despite being tagged
as just a "skinny shooter" coming into college. Calhoun even took a chance on
Caron Butler, offering him a scholarship despite the fact that he was arrested
15 times by the time he had reached age 16.
Allen, Hamilton and Butler are just three of Calhoun's former players that
went on to enjoy very successful NBA careers. Additionally, all three have
been nothing but positive role models for America's youth.
Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond were picked in the most recent NBA draft,
giving Calhoun 29 total players to have earned that distinction.
In 2005, more than 50 of his former players came to support him when he was
inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, including eight from his first job
at Denham High School. And Calhoun attributed his success and motivation to
the men he spent his days instructing.
"If you ask me how I got here and why I coach, there's your answer."
Calhoun has many critics due to the NCAA infractions and his colorful
personality. However, like Reggie Jackson once said "They don't boo nobodies".
Jim Calhoun retires with three national titles, 877 career wins, and the
respect of those who played for him.
The Sports Network