The University of Connecticut men's basketball team cannot compete for next year's national championship after the NCAA denied the school's appeal of a postseason ban based on its athletes' academic performance.
Today is a landmark day at the University of Connecticut, where the school's president, Susan Herbst, announced that she has hired a new athletic director. He is Warde Manuel, a 43-year-old former football player at the University of Michigan who spent the last six years serving as the AD at the University of Buffalo. Manuel replaces not only Jeff Hathaway, who was forced out of the position last summer, but also Paul Pendergast, who had served as an interim AD while Herbst conducted her search.
When word spread Friday afternoon that Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was taking an immediate leave of absence -- his fifth while in charge of the Huskies -- it prompted immediate thoughts of a conversation with Calhoun from last season. Not one of the several about Kemba Walker's brilliance or his team's shocking stampede through March, but a longer sit-down in the coaches' locker room at Gampel Pavilion on the eve of the campaign's first scrimmage.
HOUSTON -- Jim Calhoun knew better than to answer the burning question in a swirl of confetti Monday night. "The worst time to make a decision about any kind of coaching situation," Calhoun said, "is to do it in the great emotion of great things happening to you."
HOUSTON -- The visions came to Kemba Walker at some point during his historic comet-ride through college basketball's postseason. The Connecticut guard can't remember when they began, but he knows that by the time the Huskies arrived in Houston for the Final Four, he couldn't close his eyes without seeing them. Walker's mind had crafted a hoops fantasy slideshow. A ladder. Scissors. A net. His teammates standing on a stage, smiling and singing along to One Shining Moment.
HOUSTON -- Do not expect, in 35 years, to click on some future version of YouTube and find a clip titled "Brad Stevens likes the F-word" that features the coach verbally undressing a reporter who asked a somewhat silly question about a recruit who got away. If you'd like to see something like that now, simply insert that phrase into Google and replace "Brad Stevens" with "Jim Calhoun."
My hometown of Boston is not a mecca of college basketball. Here in the Hub we dig the pro game. The Celtics put the NBA on the map, winning 11 championships in 13 seasons in the 1950s and 60s. We've celebrated Auerbach, Cousy, Russell, Havlicek, Bird, Parish and McHale.
NEW YORK -- Each time Kemba Walker stepped to the free-throw line during the first half of Wednesday's Big East tournament game against Georgetown, a pocket of red-clad St. John's students behind the basket greeted him with the taunt "Hardy's better." With all due respect to Red Storm star Dwight Hardy -- no, he's not.
I wish I could just write about seeds and bubble teams today, but last week's headlines preclude it. At the very time of year when the world finally turns its sights to college hoops, our beloved sport suffered twin black eyes with the revelations regarding NCAA investigations at UConn and Tennessee. There seems to be a lot of confusion about these two cases -- what happened, how they're related, and where both schools go from here. Here are answers to the main questions last week's events raised:
STORRS, Conn. -- In the hallway outside UConn's locker room, after a hard-fought, last-second 61-59 win over Villanova, Jim Calhoun was asked, in numerous ways and levels of subtlety, if his team -- picked 10th in the Big East preseason poll -- is overachieving.
Because he was in such demand by the media, Kemba Walker was the last man to board the UConn bus following the Huskies' 84-67 win over Kentucky in the championship game of last week's Maui Invitational. Walker scored 90 points in the Huskies' three wins, which included a semifinal upset of then-No. 2 Michigan State, making him the easy choice for tournament MVP. But for all the cheers he heard inside the Lahaina Civic Center, the best ovation was yet to come.
STORRS, Conn. -- UConn point guard Kemba Walker, the undisputed leader of this year's youthful Huskies, sat in the team's weight room answering questions after their uneven exhibition-game performance against American International College. Each response was delivered in upbeat, politically safe tones -- until one reporter asked whether the Big East media poll, in which the Huskies were picked 10th, had gotten anyone's attention.
STORRS, Conn. -- After his team's shootaround before last Wednesday's exhibition opener, Jim Calhoun slowly ambled off the Gampel Pavilion court, headed down a corridor and stopped in front of the locked door to the UConn coaches' room. A sign to the right of the door identified it as "The Bunker."
NEW YORK -- About a decade ago, a group of 13 former coaches and players assembled for a three-day golf outing at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina. Among those in attendance were Chuck Daly, Billy Cunningham and various members of the North Carolina family, including Dean Smith. They lived like frat brothers, playing 36 holes each day.
It's not easy to come up with good ideas for column leads. (I only make it look easy.) So I am always grateful to all you Hoop Thinkers for coming up with terrific suggestions to start the day off right. So let's tip off this week's Mailbag with an intriguing question from Shane Hale of Las Vegas:
This summer, I attended Jim Calhoun's charity golf tournament headquartered at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn. I took the opportunity to introduce Calhoun to my wife, and as the three of us chatted, I asked him, "What's the over-under on when you'll retire?"
While UConn practiced on Tuesday afternoon in Storrs, Jim Calhoun was at home, serving the first day of his medical leave of absence. His doctor had recommended that the 67-year-old Hall of Fame coach "address some temporary medical issues" -- issues that are not a cardiac problem or cancer, according to a UConn spokesman. Calhoun is a three-time cancer survivor who has also dealt with lesser health problems: He missed UConn's first-round NCAA Tournament game last March after being hospitalized due to dehydration, and this summer, broke several ribs (and later fainted) in a charity bike-race accident. So while Tuesday's news about his health was breaking, it was not, in any way, out of the ordinary.
HARTFORD, Conn. -- Ater Majok's incredible journey from Sudan to the courts of college basketball included the scars of war and hatred, harsh memories of an Egyptian refugee camp, relocation to Australia with the help of the United Nations, and a lengthy NCAA review of his academic records.
STORRS, Conn. -- The navy blue Nissan rolls inside the black gates to Storrs Memorial Cemetery and swerves onto the grass on the first Sunday evening in October. Two UConn Huskies -- Kemba Walker and Gavin Edwards -- jump out. Nine more teammates, dressed in shades of gray, red and blue stretch their legs on a stone fence.
Hasheem Thabeet will forego his final year of eligibility at UConn and declare for the NBA Draft, he told SI.com on Tuesday. The 7-foot-3 Tanzanian, who was a second-team All-American and Big East co-Player of the Year as a junior, said he intends to begin the process of interviewing agents soon.
GLENDALE, Ariz -- The night before Saturday's West Regional final, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun told freshman point guard Kemba Walker that he needed to "stop enjoying the trip and go out and play basketball." Translated from coach-speak, Calhoun meant that Walker needed to go from bit player to a headliner.
GLENDALE, ARIZ -- Jim Calhoun is officially dancing. Not the dance into the NCAA Tournament, the Big Dance, but rather the sidesteps coaches make when their program is in the crosshairs following allegations of NCAA violations, when a hole has been opened and a program's actions are to be judged.
PHOENIX -- If Connecticut had what Huskies coach Jim Calhoun called a "normal center," Purdue might have had a chance of knocking off the top-seed in the West Regional on Thursday at University of Phoenix Stadium.
For Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, the first weekend of the NCAA tournament started with a trip to the hospital, where he was treated for dehydration. The second week started with a nationally televised news conference, where he tried to defend his program against alleged recruiting violations.
He is a senior without a ring, the most desperate of NCAA tournament players, driven one last time to punctuate his career with a net draped around his neck and confetti in the air. Four and a half years have passed since A.J. Price's life was interrupted. One day he was greatness in waiting; the next he was fighting for survival. As a freshman at Connecticut in the fall of 2004, he became gravely ill from a congenital abnormality in the blood vessels of his brain. He spent his 18th birthday in the intensive care unit of a Hartford hospital, disconnected from basketball in the most terrifying manner.
The game was a model of normalcy. Sixteen seeds do not beat No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, and the reasons for this were on full display in Connecticut's 103-47 destruction of Chattanooga late Thursday afternoon at the Wachovia Center. What transpired in the hours before -- and minutes afterward -- was not close to normal, except in the sense that Connecticut has been in this very odd place far more often than most basketball teams.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- On Monday afternoon, UConn was anointed as the new No. 1 team in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, and this, while nice, meant nothing. Four other teams had held the same title over the previous five weeks -- North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and lastly Duke -- and it was more the Huskies' turn to be No. 1 rather than something they had earned. As they sat in their Louisville hotel on a crisp February day, whittling away the hours before they would face the hottest team in the Big East, UConn's players were aware they had yet to offer hard evidence of being superior to the rest of the top-ranked pack.
1. The national Player of the Year race. This contest will be every bit as exciting and star-studded as was the campaign for college football's Heisman Trophy. North Carolina senior forward Tyler Hansbrough is, a la Tim Tebow, the reigning incumbent, but for the moment he is not the front-runner. Instead, that mantle is being carried by Blake Griffin, Oklahoma's powerful but agile 6-foot-9 sophomore forward who averaged 23 points and 14 rebounds while staking the Sooners to a 12-0 start and a No. 4 ranking. The sentimental favorite is Davidson guard Stephen Curry, the baby-faced sharp shooter who is leading the country in scoring at 30 points a game.
The 'Bag hopes everyone is enjoying "Championship Week," a.k.a. Cheap TV Drama Week, a.k.a. "Let's Pump Up Bad Teams as Bubble Teams Week." But here at the 'Bag, we've always been a curmudgeon about the inanity of conference tournaments, and that will probably never change.
Practice is barely a few minutes old and UConn coach Jim Calhoun is not happy. He may not be ready to blow a gasket -- yet -- but with his team dripping from exhaustion during a morning workout and showing the same sluggishness and inability to finish that led to a dismal 17-14 finish last season, Calhoun looks up and sees the same problems that caused the Huskies to have their worst season since 1997. There is one bright spot, however: A.J. Price.