Calhoun Tones It Down With Kiddie Corps

By David Scott - November 20, 2006

HARTFORD - The fast-talking coach is getting older, in this, his 21st season as the head coach of the University of Connecticut - his 35th overall. The answers still come at warp speed, the “very, very, very’s” interspersed with the all-knowing nods of an old veteran of this circuit.

Older, yes. But Jim Calhoun is wiser, too.

“I give him a lot of credit for the way he’s realized that he has to deal with us in a different way,” said sophomore UConn point guard, AJ Price (who, in reality is playing his freshman year). “Coach Calhoun, I think after the (too-close-for-comfort, 53-46 Husky win over) Quinnipiac, he realized we aren’t last year’s team.”

“He toned it down a little bit after that game,” agreed sophomore Jeff Adrien. “He’ll still get on me, because he knows I can take it, but I think for the younger guys, he changed a little bit.”

The “younger guys” are basically everyone else on the UConn roster. The starting line-up for the Huskies’ 77-59 win over Ole Miss on Sunday night, before 14,813 at the Hartford Civic Center, was Adrien, Price, sophomore Marcus Johnson and two freshmen, Hasheem Thabeet and Jerome Dyson. The next two leading-minute getters after the starting five were a freshman (Stanley Robinson) and a sophomore (Craig Austrie). The remaining 17 minutes of playing time also went to freshmen.

“We’ve made some giant strides in the nine days since the Quinnipiac game,” said Calhoun, 64, and coming off an Elite 8 appearance from last year. “You’ve got to pay attention to the details and keep growing.”

The Husky puppies are doing just that (although if 7-foot-3 Thabeet keeps growing, the on-going renovations to the Hartford Civic Center are going to need the inclusion of a retractable roof). Price played a complete game on Sunday with 23 points (9 of 13 from the field), four assists and a steal (and three turnovers). Thabeet was quiet, but Ole Miss had game-planned so much against the big man, that he had already made his impact before tip - simply on his near seven blocks per game that he entered with.

Adrien notched his fourth straight double-double, Johnson had 10 points and eight rebounds and Dyson went for 16 points, four assists and two steals. The Huskies had balance, poise and a 52 percent night form the field.

“They have all grown in the past nine days and I’m satisfied with who we are right now,” said Calhoun, who has also masterfully scheduled an 11-game stretch of home games against vastly inferior programs to instill some confidence in his young team. “Am I surprised? I’m surprised how quick they got the message since Quinnipiac. Their transformation has been very, very, very good. We’ve got to keep making progress. But this is far and away the best we’ve played this year.”

Calhoun’s expectations are much different for this year’s squad. Not necessarily the final expectations, because in Storrs, they compete for national titles year in and year out. But in terms of what he has now, at this point in the season. Last year, around this time, UConn won the Maui Invitational; this past weekend they won something called the Hispanic College Fund tournament (with Adrien as the MVP). But the significance isn’t as vast as one would think.

As Calhoun analogized, that team had Rudy Gay, Josh Boone, Hilton Armstrong, Denham Brown and Marcus Williams - juniors and seniors, all. This team has a bunch of infants still figuring out how to crawl and feed themselves.

“These kids are babies,” said Ole Miss coach, Andy Kennedy. “People would be foolish to sleep on UConn this year, come January. [With Thabeet in the middle], I don’t know if there’s a bigger defensive presence in the country.”

And the seven-footer from Tanzania is just four games into his college career. A baby on the verge of manhood.

Maybe Calhoun’s not all that much older, nor all that much wiser after all.

He’s just enjoying the nursery he’s overseeing in Storrs.

. . . After the game, UConn got a verbal commitment from high school junior (Class of 2008), Nate Miles of Conrnerstone Christian in San Antonio. Miles has been coveted by many schools, including, according the to 6-7, 180-pounder, “Louisville, Baylor, Illinois, Kansas, Houston, Indiana, Georgetown, Syracuse. . .”

The thing that convinced Miles to choose UConn? Jim Calhoun, mostly.

“He don’t play (around),” explained Miles. “Whatever he wants done, that’s how it is.”

Asked to describe his game, Miles said: “Shooting, passing. I can do it all.”

The commitment was a bit unexpected, but Miles said he felt comfortable watching how UConn plays and was anxious to get the recruiting process over so he can focus on his studies and his game.

Posted by David Scott at 02:05 AM on November 20, 2006

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