Day 7: Traveling Violations | Connecticut
STORRS, Conn. – The Connecticut Huskies headed West on Wednesday morning, first for a game at Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif., and then for the most loaded Maui Classic field ever. The players are excited about more than the weather.
"It is cold in July in Storrs," notes sophomore Rudy Gay.
After a fall of turmoil – mainly the computer theft charges against guard A.J. Price (gone for the year) and Marcus Williams (gone until December) – everyone is ready to get started and take measure of exactly how capable this team is of capturing the school's third national title in eight years.
No. 2 UConn is that good. In the interim though, so is much of the Maui Field, which also includes No. 4 Michigan State, No. 9 Gonzaga, No. 10 Arizona, No. 24 Maryland, Kansas, Arkansas and Chaminade.
In terms of an in-season tournament, this may be the greatest field ever.
"I'll guarantee that one team will go 1-2 and at least make their regional finals," said UConn coach Jim Calhoun. "Someone has to lose. Just like someone has got to win."
For UConn the big question will be at point guard, where the suspensions of Williams and Price hurt. Calhoun has turned to freshman Craig Austrie, a 6-foot-2, 186-pounder out of Stamford, Conn.
That is a heck of a start for a true freshman.
"He's good," said Calhoun. "He's solid. He is bigger and stronger than what you think he is. He has an innate strength about him. He has an incredible disposition, nothing seems to bother him. Hopefully it will hold us in good steed."
- Calhoun attended American International College in Springfield, Mass. and remembers going to the original Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame when it was located on the campus of Springfield College. Just one reason his induction into the Hall this year was so special.
"That was surreal," he said Tuesday before practice at Gampel Pavilion. "When the call came from that point it became [a party], from old friends, to my own players, it was almost nine months of (celebration)."
He invited 90 friends and family and probably that many more just showed up. Over 60 former players were there, including eight he coached at Dedham (Mass.) High School in his first job.
"It was awfully, awfully special," he said.
- Email of the day:
"After Villanova's exhibition game victory over West Chester, Jay Wright took us out to Kelly's, a somewhat historic Villanova-type establishment that has been nicely renovated."
Does the establishment's "art gallery" feature a 5'x2' reproduction of the Morgan Fairchild Penthouse cover, a framed action photo of the Erving-Bird brawl, and a 1984-85 Villanova men's basketball team photo with a small baggie of baking soda pasted under Gary McLain's face?
Does the establishment have an all-45 jukebox with lots of "current" hits like Ian Hunter's "Cleveland Rocks"?
Does the men's restroom have a broken condom vending machine emblazoned with the instructive graffito, "This is the worst gum I've ever tasted"?
If not, then it's not "Kelly's," no matter what the sign says outside.
OK, with that you win a copy of "Runnin' Rebel," our new book with Jerry Tarkanian where Tark tells all his wildest and most outrageous recruiting stories (among other things). We mention this in part to frustrate valued reader Rudy in Melbourne, Fla.
Now, onto what Jim is talking about. Jay Wright filled us in on the controversy. The old Kelly's was out of the great, nasty college dive genre, as Jim so eloquently described. It got shut down, though. The new Kelly's is bright, airy and rather classy. Some of the old alums obviously hate it. Great email.
- New York area festivities begin Wednesday. First, Jerry Tarkanian will be signing "Runnin' Rebel" at Bookends in Ridgewood, N.J., at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, and then Tark and I will be at the Borders Wall Street (100 Broadway) in Manhattan starting at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. How can you resist.
- As for all the people who want to meet up in New York, some of whom I even know, Wednesday night you should go to Jameson's (52nd and 2nd) for the birthday party of our pal Pete Thamel, who writes for the New York Times. We've known Pete a while and it is fairly safe to assume he doesn't have many friends so this party could probably use some additional guests.
Thus, if you are a friend of mine, acquaintance, my cousin, or anyone else who just wants to hang out and talk hoops, come on down. I really don't care if I know you or not. I may not be there until late (I have to write these stories) but I will be there. Trust me, after 1,800 miles of driving nothing could keep me away.
Sensitive types will bring Pete a card.
- In terms of talent, UConn is just an embarrassment of riches. We joked with Calhoun and assistant coach George Blaney that you could take just two of the Husky players who won't see anything but mop-up time and win the America East.
"We've got 11 good players," Calhoun nodded.
He could lose as many as six to either the NBA or graduation, so to make sure the machine keeps roaring up here, he picked up six more big-time recruits last week.
- It may not be the 10 NCAA championship banners hanging in Pauley Pavilion or the seven NCAA and nearly 40 SEC banners at Kentucky, but the seven national title flags hanging inside Gampel Pavilion in the middle of campus (five for the women, two for the men) are pretty cool. This has been college basketball central the last decade.
- UConn has four players over 6-foot-8 and a bunch of other guys who can jump out of the gym. Defensively they can just terrorize you, which may explain the combined 34 blocked shots in the Huskies' first two exhibition games.
- We have to confess that we broke the no chain restaurant policy of the trip. We couldn't help it. We got a coffee and a bagel at the authentic Blue Colony Diner in Newton, Conn., near Danbury, but later we spied a Friendly's and being of New England stock, couldn't help but stop for a Fribble. Please accept our apologies.
- Total mileage thus far: 1,714.1 miles
- Campaign stop tomorrow: New York, N.Y.