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UConn honors 2004 national championship team

Jan. 28—HARTFORD — Some things never change. Even 20 years removed from winning a national championship.

Rashad Anderson, a deadly shooter and first-class jokester during his UConn basketball playing career, poked his head into a media scrum around Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun in an XL Center locker room on Sunday.

"Once Rashad left, they put me away for six months," Calhoun kidded when he spotted Anderson.

"I definitely drove him crazy," Anderson said.

Calhoun, Anderson and the other members of the 2004 national championship team were honored during halftime of Sunday's Big East game against Xavier.

It was just part of a reunion weekend for the group.

Those Huskies started out the season as the No. 1 ranked team and went 33-6 overall, capping off their magical postseason run by beating Georgia Tech, 82-73, in the national title game in San Antonio.

Taliek Brown, the team's tough-as-nails point guard, made the trip from New York. He's now an assistant on Rick Pitino's staff at St. John's, which hosts the Huskies on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

"It's a great feeling just to be back with my guys," Brown said. "We accomplished a lot, so it's a good feeling just to bring back all the memories and talk about everything.

Several players spoke about the tight bond that their team had, one that remains strong today.

"We came to work every single day," Brown said. "We weren't selfish. We were all about one another. It was just a real team. That's why we're a real family to this day."

Anderson added: "We just held each other accountable, more than anything. Probably the closest team I've ever been on in my life."

UConn left no doubt about the best team during the 2003-24 season. The Huskies won their first four NCAA tournament games by an average of 17 points before running into Duke, one of college basketball's premier programs.

In the national semifinal, star center Emeka Okafor spent most of the first half on the bench in foul trouble. And the Huskies trailed by eight with two minutes, 42 seconds left.

Led by Okafor, UConn scored 12 straight points to take the lead for good and rallied for a 79-78 win.

"That game remains one of my best basketball moments, just the emotional rollercoaster of it and it's the Final Four and we're playing a storied program in Duke," Okafor said. "Literally snatching victory from the jaws of defeat and the elation of what that meant. ... That was a very, very fun moment."

Coach Dan Hurley attended that UConn-Duke game with his brother Bobby, a former Duke player.

"I definitely wanted UConn to win...," Hurley said. "I loved that UConn team. That was such a great team."

In an anticlimactic title game, UConn seized control early and put Georgia Tech, a team that beat the Huskies earlier in the season, away in the second half.

"It was a wrap," Anderson said. "We smelled blood in the water when we saw them."

While Anderson sees some similarities between the 2004 and 2023 teams, he believes his Huskies are the best national championship team in program history.

Here's what Calhoun said:

"This team went nine or 10 deep," Calhoun said. "We had six first round draft choices and good kids. I really thought we had a chance that year. ... We did everything humanly possible to push them as hard as we could for two hours (in practice) and then find a way that they'd be as tight off the court as they were on the court. They went to more meals and more different things to make sure this team was a team."

During a brief speech during the halftime ceremony, Calhoun told the crowd, "Let's get another one."

"The program continues," Calhoun said before the game. "Danny (Hurley) has done a terrific job of maintaining our program. I respect what he's doing."

Ranked No. 1 and on a roll, the 2023-24 Huskies could be the next UConn program to make a run at a national title.

"Just to see that we still produce and perform every year and give ourselves a chance to win a championship every year, it's tremendous," Charlie Villanueva said. "Look at what they did last year and look at what they're doing now, being ranked No. 1.

"It's greatness. Greatness starts at Storrs."

Other 2004 national championship players in attendance Sunday included: Josh Boone, Ben Gordon, Ed Nelson, Shamon Tooles, Jason Baisch, Ryan Thompson, Justin Evanovich and Ryan Swaller. Assistant coaches George Blaney, Andre LaFleur and Clyde Vaughan also made the trip to Hartford.

g.keefe@theday.com