It is hard to imagine UConn basketball minus Jim Calhoun. The Huskies weren't even on the map when Calhoun became head coach in 1986. Three national championships and seven Big East titles later, Connecticut is one of a handful of elite programs in the country, and Calhoun is rightly regarded as one of the nation's top coaches.
But for how much longer will the Hall-of-Fame coach stick around? As the Huskies face their most uncertain offseason ever, Calhoun, who will turn 70 next month, hasn't said much about his future, which of course leads to more speculation. Here's my take:
For starters, there's been no shortage of drama since last season ended. The NCAA has ruled that the Huskies, because of a low Academic Progress Rate score, are ineligible for the postseason tournament in 2013. There will be no Big East tournament either. Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond are headed to the NBA, Alex Oriakhi is transferring to Missouri, and Roscoe Smith and Michael Bradley were recently released from their scholarships. There is also the question of incoming recruits and what impact the sanctions - and questions about Calhoun's future - will have, or have had, on their decision.
But it all seems to come back to Calhoun. Given his age, health (he missed eight games last year due to spinal stenosis), and the current state of the program, is he up for what may be the most challenging chapter of his career?
On the one hand, logic would tell you that Calhoun wouldn't want to coach a team that had no chance to play for any sort of championship. To do so at this stage of his career, with only six scholarship players returning, doesn't seem all that appealing.
On the other hand, right now there are eight players on scholarship for next season, including Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, and Tyler Olander, key members of this year's team. R.J. Evans will transfer in from Holy Cross and Omar Calhoun, a New York City product and prize recruit, is headed to Storrs. That roster gives Calhoun something to work with.
And remember, underdog teams seem to bring out the best in Jim Calhoun's coaching. Last year, when Drummond committed to Storrs, folks were talking about UConn repeating as national champions. Instead, it was a disappointing season on so many levels, ending with the Huskies getting knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the first round. Certainly not what anyone expected considering the talent up and down the roster. In contrast, think back one year when nobody expected the Huskies to make the run that they did. Or go all the way back to 1999, the team that "shocked the world." Give Calhoun a wood floor, two hoops, and a basketball, and he can coach.
Here is perhaps the most important thing to consider: Calhoun is a warrior, a coach who demands 100 percent from his players, coaches, and himself. If he sees this as the ultimate challenge, my money is on Calhoun staying.
There's also the issue of legacy. Is this the way he wants to go out? A first round loss that marked the end to a disappointing season, and headlines dominated by everything his program has done wrong, instead of all the games and championships that have been won?
Like all great coaches, Calhoun has an ego. I'd have to believe he'd like to go out on top. This is not on top.
Charles Costello is a lifelong resident of Connecticut who has followed the UConn Huskies since the late 1980s. Costello has covered college basketball for five years as a beat writer and radio broadcaster. He is a Yahoo! Sports Featured Contributor.
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