The Return of Jim Calhoun

STORRS, Conn. – Connecticut center Andre Drummond had no idea coach Jim Calhoun would be returning to basketball practice Friday afternoon – so soon after having back surgery on Monday. Drummond walked on the Gampel Pavilion court, did a double take, then ran over to the Hall of Fame coach and gave him a big hug.

"It was a surprise," Drummond said. "I saw him and I'm like, ‘That can't be serious.' I look again and it was him. I ran over to him. I just wanted to see how he was doing."

Calhoun's answer to that question was "fine" but also "tired" after five hours at the office, in meetings and leading practice as the Huskies prepared to play Pittsburgh Saturday in the final regular season game of the season.

"I'm still my cranky self, so that's a good thing," Calhoun said. "I'm getting back to normal. Not quite as cranky as I should be – but getting there."

Spinal stenosis forced Calhoun, 69, to take a medical leave of absence on Feb. 3 after UConn's loss at Georgetown. While he searched for the right treatment plan – and ultimately decided to have surgery in New York Monday – the Huskies won three games and lost five under associate head coach George Blaney.

Calhoun said he thought it was a good idea to return Friday "even though my doctors didn't agree." The pain from the spinal stenosis was gone as soon as he came out of surgery, he said. But recovery does take time.

"I just couldn't stay home any longer," Calhoun said. "I didn't know what I was going to do. I was almost going to come in yesterday and decided physically I just couldn't do it.

"I'm more fatigued than anything else. I do have some pain from the operation itself. I don't think it's my age."

Calhoun said he felt "caged" away from the game and he wanted to get back to see his players. His doctors told him not to return to practice so soon, but he has disobeyed orders before.

Calhoun wouldn't say for sure he would be at Saturday's game (Gampel Pavilion, noon).

"I'll see how I feel tomorrow when I get up, to see if I'm going to come to the game," Calhoun said. "It's not a mystery thing; I just want to feel I can give the kids my best at 12 o'clock tomorrow.

"Hopefully, I'll feel good in the morning and be able to coach. If not, I'll be here on Sunday to practice and get ready for the Big East tournament."

Calhoun's players believe the wait is over. Forward Alex Oriakhi expects to see his coach again Saturday – on the bench and doing all the things he usually does.

"It says a lot about his toughness," Oriakhi said. "One thing that he said was, ‘I came back for you guys.' He just showed he really cares about us. Knowing how tough he is, I think he will [coach Saturday]."

The Huskies seem to understand it would be uncharacteristic for Calhoun to stop again – right after starting his comeback.

"He's going to be here," Drummond said. "He'll be there. I have no doubt in my mind."

Calhoun said watching his team from a distance doesn't make him happy.

"I didn't like that, obviously," Calhoun said.

And even though there has been a lot of speculation that this physical setback will lead Calhoun to retire after this season, he didn't sound like a man headed into the final games of his career.

"This is my team, our team, George's team, all of us," Calhoun said. "I started this thing 26 years ago and I haven't made any plans to do anything else. A back and a few other things along the way have just gotten in my way."

Calhoun said the doctors have told him to rest, exercise and "don't jump around - which means we'll have to eliminate the three officials tomorrow."

That part of the job comes naturally – and without pain - for Calhoun. Asked about how the coaching duties might be split if Calhoun is back on Saturday, Blaney said, "I think he's still going to yell at the refs."

That seems to be a certainty, even if Calhoun has to do it from a sitting position.

UCONN Playbook Top Stories