UConn Tired of Losing

STORRS, Conn. - When the alarm went off Thursday morning, Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun couldn't get out of bed.

According to George Blaney, Calhoun's longtime friend and associate head coach of the UConn basketball team, that's when another alarm went off. It was time for Calhoun to deal with the lower back condition that has been hampering his mobility and causing so much pain in recent months.

"Nobody tells Jim what to do," Blaney said after practice Friday at Gampel Pavilion. "I think he knew. He couldn't get out of bed."

Calhoun called Blaney Thursday morning and said he wouldn't be coming into the office. Calhoun spent the day in bed, thinking rest would help him with his worsening spinal stenosis.

But it didn't.

So Blaney took another phone call Friday morning. This time Calhoun told him he would be taking an indefinite medical leave of absence, and that the physical therapy and stretching no longer was working. Blaney figured that already. He had noticed Calhoun struggle to get out of his airplane seat when the team returned from its loss to Georgetown Wednesday night. And he knew Calhoun had problems getting into his car.

"He's the toughest guy I know," Blaney said. "He doesn't use Novocaine when he goes to the dentist. He's a tough guy."

Blaney and the Huskies have been through this drill before. Earlier this season, Calhoun served his three-game suspension for NCAA rules violations. Blaney took over. During his Hall of Fame career, Calhoun has missed 21 games in their entirety because of illness or medical reasons. Blaney served as bench coach in 18 of those games and has a 9-9 record. In addition, there have been 11 other games when Calhoun had to excuse himself and miss part of the action.

So Blaney started executing the plan.

"I brought Shabbazz [Napier], Jeremy [Lamb] and Alex [Oriakhi] into the room just before practice and talked to them about [the fact] this is Coach Calhoun's team," Blaney said. "My voice is the voice they're going to have to listen to now for whatever amount of games. I need their help and the coaching staff needs their help. I want them to take control of the team again in the locker room."

Dr. Peter Schulman, Calhoun's primary health care physician, has been treating the coach for spinal stenosis since last summer. Calhoun also has seen two back specialists. Calhoun had managed the pain until this last trip. So the decision has been made that he will miss Saturday's home game against Seton Hall and Monday's game at Louisville.

Whether or not Calhoun will need surgery isn't known right now. If it is determined Calhoun needs surgery soon, it is possible he won't return to the bench this season. If that's the case, Calhoun, who will turn 70 in May, will face a decision about his career. He is at the point where he knows there aren't many basketball seasons in his future and he almost stepped down after winning the national championship in 2001.

"The bottom line is I'm going to need some work done," Calhoun told The Associated Press in a phone interview Friday. "In January the shooting pains were getting worse and after one plane ride I couldn't even get up. I tried to hide it. I'm taking medicine right now for the pain. They are waiting for things to quiet down, and I'll meet with the doctor next week."

Calhoun is a three-time cancer survivor. After prostate cancer surgery in 2003, Calhoun returned to the bench after missing five games. He has been treated twice for skin cancer, most recently in 2008. That included a summer of regular chemotherapy treatments. But rarely has he spoken publicly about experiencing pain.

"I had back pain like never before last summer, thought it was back spasms," Calhoun told the AP. "I saw a neurologist and he told me about scoliosis, stenosis and other things and that there could be things like a bone spur and that I could probably need something done at some point. I went for the physical therapy and it worked, but it started to lock up sometimes recently and it was worse."

Calhoun ranks No. 6 on the all-time wins list with 867. Since taking the UConn job in 1986, he has led the Huskies to the Final Four on four occasions and won three national championships. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005.

The Huskies will be trying to snap a four-game losing streak Saturday against Seton Hall as their head coach begins this leave of absence. There is already talk of UConn, a former top five team this season, slipping to "bubble" status for the NCAA Tournament, if this team doesn't turn things around quickly.

After meeting with Blaney on Friday, Napier and Oriakhi called a players-only meeting to let all the Huskies air their thoughts on the slump.

"Alex was the main one who called it," freshman guard Ryan Boatright said. "His freshman year, they went through what they went through and didn't make the [NCAA] tournament. He said it was one of the worst feelings in his life because he had to sit on his couch and watch a bunch of other teams play in the tournament.

"He got everybody together and now we're all on the same page."

Could it be that simple? The Huskies have had serious chemistry issues all season. The loss of Calhoun could help them bond. But if they try to tackle their issues individually, Calhoun isn't going to like what he sees on TV.

Blaney wants the Huskies to have fun "trying to get back to playing as hard as they can." "When adversity hits you watch what people can and what they can't do," Blaney said. "It's time for them to step up and do it. We've had that in the past and there's no reason to not believe that we shouldn't have it now. "I'm not worried about adversity. I'm worried about playing hard."


Seton Hall (15-7, 4-6 Big East) at UConn (14-7, 4-5)

Date: Feb. 4, 2012

Time: Noon

Site: XL Center, Hartford

TV: SNY (Eamon McAnaney, Bob Wenzel)

Radio: UConn Radio Network/WTIC-AM 1080 (Joe D'Ambrosio, Wayne Norman)

Series: UConn leads 42-19

Notes: The Huskies hold a 40-17 advantage in Big East games. Prior to UConn's loss in Newark on Jan. 3 the Huskies had won 11 straight. UConn is 21-5 at home, including a 4-4 record at the XL Center.

Last meeting: Seton Hall 75-63 (Jan. 3, 2012)

Four Seton Hall players scored in double figures, led by Jordan Theodore with 19 points. Theodore also had 11 assists. The Pirates were 10-for-20 from three-point range. Jeremy Lamb led UConn with 19 points but the Huskies shot 35.1 percent.


G 4 Aaron Cosby Fr. 6-2 190 7.5 ppg

G 1 Jordan Theodore Sr. 6-0 164 15.7 ppg

F 15 Herb Pope Sr. 6-8 236 15.9ppg

F 2 Brandon Mobley Fr. 6-9 210 4.3 ppg

F 23 Fuquan Edwin So. 6-6 205 13.6 ppg


G 13 Shabazz Napier So. 6-1 171 13.6 ppg

G 3 Jeremy Lamb So. 6-5 180 17.7 ppg

C 12 Andre Drummond Fr. 6-10 270 10.3 ppg

F 2 DeAndre Daniels Fr. 6-8 195 3.9 ppg

F 34 Alex Oriakhi Jr. 609 240 6.2 ppg


LOSING STREAKS: UConn has lost four consecutive games and Seton Hall brings a five-game losing streak into the game. "They're going through the same thing we're going through," Blaney said. "It's so easy for this to happen in the league. It happened about three years ago to Georgetown and Notre Dame. Both of them lost four or five games in a row and couldn't get out of the cycle. If you can't get yourself out of the cycle, you're easily going to lose three, four or five games in a row. Then that can turn into a 10- or 12-loss season in the league. You need to turn that around as soon as possible. Losing nine games last year [in the Big East], we were still playing better than we are right now."

NAPIER ON THE TEAM MEETING: "We look at tapes and we see that we don't have the effort. I think the team meeting we had today is going to push us to understand that we're not all perfect. We all have faults and all have reasons for not playing hard. We've just got to figure that out."

NAPIER ON OFFENSIVE PROBLEMS: "We're not fast-breaking. I think that's the main factor. If we run our lanes, I think we'll be all set. We do it well in practice. It's a difficult time when we get on the court. We're just looking to win a game. We're not running, we're not rebounding. We're not getting back on defense. The basic thing is we're not really talking. When you don't talk, there's no reason to play with the other four guys. Coach Blaney always tells us, ‘If you ain't talking, you might as well play tennis or golf.' "

DRUMMOND ON PLAYING HARD: "We'll show spurts of having that fire during games. I think [against Seton Hall] it's going to be a whole game. If one of us makes a bad play, we've gotten down on ourselves and down on each other. We've got to pick each other up. We can't get down like that."

RYAN BOATRIGHT ON COMMUNICATION: "I don't know why we're not talking. I know we're going to start talking though, because everybody wants to win. It was there a little bit, but it was never great. We're just in a slump right now and I can't explain it. When you're losing, it's not fun at all. Practice isn't the same. You can't sleep at night. You don't feel like eating. We hate losing and we're doing our best to turn it around."

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