Championship Column

Three For Calhoun In The Blink Of An Eye

UConn had been playing basketball since 1901, back when it was called Connecticut Agricultural College and it played a single game that year against Windham High School. Ninety-eight years would pass before the school won its first national title.

All those decades, the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, folks in our state grew up and grew old, worked and retired, lived and died. It went on for generations. Who among them, from Thompson to Greenwich really thought a national title was possible?

The game was invented in Springfield, and a state's savior eventually would go to college there, at AIC, but the legends would lie to the west. At Kentucky, Rupp won three in four years during the Truman administration and, in 1958, would add a fourth in 11 years. Wooden, of course, won 10 times in 12 years, at UCLA with names like Alcindor and Walton between 1964 and 1975. His record bridged American sports culture. Indiana's Knight won three times in 12 years, an imperfect man with a perfect season. More recently, Coach K won three in 11 years and four in 20 at Duke.

These men had nicknames for the ages. Baron of the Bluegrass, Wizard of Westwood, the General … UConn only had the Yankee Conference and bus rides to Orono. Calhoun went out of his way to thank Dave Gavitt the other day for the vision that became the Big East Conference. UConn basketball doesn't turn into what it became without the Big East, no way, no how. Not even the Maniac, Brainiac From Braintree could have built all this without a league that would give and take so much each winter. Again, Monday night, Calhoun would brag about the Big East.

Yet there was a time when Calhoun himself looked as if he could leave the game unfulfilled. For a time he was called the best coach in America without a Final Four appearance. He denied such a tag bothered him, but he also cried that day in Phoenix when the Huskies beat Gonzaga in the 1999 Elite Eight.

And now there he was on Monday morning at the ceremony to honor Walker as the winner of the Bob Cousy Award as the nation's top point guard.

"He's as fast as you ever seen," Calhoun would say, "and he might be quicker than that."

Yes, the long, forever road that it took for UConn to gain national respect suddenly, at least by historical perspective, came about quicker than could have been expected.

On March 10, Walker broke Gary McGhee's ankles with his step-back, last-second shot to beat Pitt. He did nothing but break hearts since then. Broke them in New York. Broke them in Washington. Broke them in Anaheim and, finally, in Houston.

Perhaps it's fitting we bring up names like Adolph Rupp, because this game played like the 1946 national title game. Great defense. Bad shooting. The stadium sightlines. Tight rims. Tighter players. Whatever the reason, Butler ended 12-for-64. Make no mistake, most of America was pulling for Butler. With most of America playing to the stereotype that Butler was Simon pure and David small, that UConn was the cheatin' Evil Empire, this game surely will be labeled on talk radio and in newspaper columns as the worst, ugliest final ever played.

Nothing should clog the arteries of joy for this UConn team. These Huskies did nothing wrong. They had nothing to do with NCAA violations. The way they won nine games in 19 days, the way they fought through exhaustion on the Final Four weekend, relying on defense to a glorious finish, was nothing short of beautiful.

Yes, the UConn Huskies won the national championship Monday night.

There.

It has been written … three times in Emily Calhoun's lifetime.


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