With total focus on basketball, Calhoun has often used this time to mold teams exactly the way he wanted them to play in February and March.
It won't be that way this season. Things are about to get a little funky – and that realization struck home as coach Jim Calhoun walked out of the postgame interview room Thursday night at the XL Center. Calhoun won't be back on the UConn bench until Jan. 7 when the Huskies play at Rutgers.
When the NCAA sanctioned UConn for recruiting violations, part of that February announcement included a three-game suspension for Calhoun to coincide with the start of the Big East season. That's where the Huskies are now and Calhoun will not be with the team as UConn plays at South Florida (Dec.28), St. John's (Dec. 31) and at Seton Hall (Jan. 3).
Associate head coach George Blaney will fill in for Calhoun – the first time he's had to do that this season. And this feels very different from the other times when Calhoun was ill.
"We're going to miss coach dearly," freshman center Andre Drummond said. "He's our biggest supporter. But Coach Blaney, he's a great coach as well. I think we'll be find as a team. It's going to help us grow as a team and come together."
After the 79-71 victory over Fairfield, the Huskies were allowed to return home or wherever they planned to spend the holidays. They are expected back in Storrs by Sunday night for practice. Calhoun will speak to his players then but will not be allowed to travel to Florida with the team.
And from that point on, he will not be allowed to participate in any basketball activities until Jan. 4, after the Seton Hall game. The team is staying in New Jersey between the Seton Hall and Rutgers game and Calhoun will meet them there at a location yet to be determined.
Details of the suspension and how the staff would operate in Calhoun's absence were not finalized until Wednesday. Calhoun has said repeatedly that this will be difficult for him and he thinks it unfairly penalizes the current players who weren't at UConn when the recruiting violations involving Nate Miles took place. He said alternatives were presented to the NCAA, but not accepted.
This suspension is different from the one served last year by former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, who was allowed to coach at practice between the games he missed. But that suspension was a preemptive strike served by the Southeastern Conference – before NCAA sanctions were announced.
"Call Indianapolis [NCAA headquarters]," Calhoun said when there was an attempt to ask him about the differences. "This is an NCAA sanction. I'm going to miss the team obviously. It will be very difficult for me. But they are in good hands and they are 10-1."
ANDRE THE WALK-ON
The details of the Andre Drummond scholarship/walk-on situation are confusing. Many reporters have been trying to get all the answers regarding the conflicting story from August and October to now. But here's the deal: Privacy rules mean we don't get to know everything. And UConn is under the microscope with all compliance issues after last year's NCAA sanctions. Rest assured NCAA rules have been followed and accept the fact that Drummond and Michael Bradley, who offered his scholarship to Drummond, are extraordinary young men who did the right thing.
"I wanted to come to UConn and play for Coach Calhoun," Drummond said Thursday night. "And if it meant I had to pay to come in, then I'd do it. Mike worked hard to get that scholarship. It's kind of disrespectful to take it from him. I'd never do that. We have a close relationship." How can you not admire a future NBA millionaire with an attitude like that? Drummond is an amazing athlete, but an even better person.
OLANDERS EQUAL WINNERS
Those T-shirts worn by the family and friends of Ryan and Tyler Olander said "Either Way We Win" on the back. That was certainly true. Tyler and his Huskies won the war. Fairfield center Ryan won the individual battle with his brother. And their mom, Tracy, did a great job leading the Pledge of Alliance prior to the game. Everybody won.
Ryan was a big part of Fairfield's rally in the second half and finished with eight points, eight rebounds and two blocks – one of those a convincing stuff of his brother. Tyler struggled and played probably his worst game of the year. He finished with two points and two rebounds, two assists and two turnovers. Ryan also dunked over him. "Tyler wasn't himself," Ryan said. "I don't know if he was nervous or if it was just part of our game plan to get him out of his rhythm."