Calhoun Misses Charity Game

UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Ten years had passed since Richard Hamilton's last appearance at the Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic All-Star Game. When he walked onto the court at Mohegan Sun Arena Saturday night, he had just heard the news that the man everyone came to honor wouldn't be in attendance.

Calhoun, 70, suffered a hip fracture while biking Saturday afternoon, just hours before the main event of his three-day charity event. He was scheduled for surgery Saturday night at the John Dempsey Hospital at the UConn Health Center in Farmington. Calhoun, an avid bicyclist in recent years, was riding near his home in Madison when the bicycle slipped on a patch of sand and led to his fall.

With the game scheduled for 7:30 p.m. many of Calhoun's former players, assistant coaches and others first learned of the accident as they arrived at the arena beginning around 5 p.m. Many of the former UConn players found out from members of the media.

"I just asked a whole bunch of people about that and said, ‘Hey man, I haven't been here in 10 years, where's Coach at?' " said Hamilton, who was one of the final players on the floor before introductions. "He had a little spill, but hopefully he'll be all right and hopefully he'll come back at the beginning of the season."

A statement issued by UConn said Calhoun is expected to make a full recovery after a short stay at the hospital.

But this game, held every two years - along with a celebrity golf outing in Baltic Sunday, a cabaret night at Mohegan Sun Sunday night, and a golf tournament Monday in Avon- is something that the Hall of Fame coach looks forward to with enormous passion. Hamilton, Ray Allen, Kemba Walker, Donyell Marshall and Rudy Gay led a contingent of 36 players who returned to play before a crowd of 7,241 at Mohegan Sun.

Charity game team photo (Ken Davis)

This was the sixth reunion game held to raise money for the Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at the UConn Health Center. Normally, it is a night when Calhoun can relax, step away from his stomping and yelling at referees, and simply grin as he mingles with his family of players during the game.

In 2008, the charity game was held one day after the last of 33 sessions of radiation treatment following surgery for the removal of a cancerous mass in Calhoun's neck. He was weak and tired but he was there and enjoyed himself immensely.

In July 2009, Calhoun broke five ribs when in an accident that took place during his own charity bike race. He is a survivor of skin and prostate cancer. And he missed eight games last season with spinal stenosis.

"He's such a competitor that he just wants to push all the time and he pushes riding the bike," said associate head coach George Blaney. "The bike can be a tough thing. He hit some sand apparently and because he's got the clip-ons (pedals and shoes), it kinda forces you to the ground.

"I feel bad and I know what will really disturb him is that he can't see his players. That's going to bother him more than anything."

News of Calhoun's accident traveled quickly through social media. Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour de France winner, tweeted "Get well soon coach Calhoun" on his Twitter account.

"My thoughts and prayers are with Jim for a speedy recovery," UConn athletic director Warde Manuel said. "He's had some bad breaks this past year or so and we just hope he has a speedy recovery."

Blaney and assistant coach Kevin Ollie grabbed microphones and addressed the crowd before the game. When Blaney explained Calhoun's accident and said he would undergo an operation Saturday night, it was obvious by the crowd's reaction that most of the fans had not heard the news.

Ollie thanked the fans "as family."

"We can't control coach falling and we can't control the sanctions," Ollie said, referring to the NCAA ban that will keep UConn out of postseason play in 2013 because of failure to meet academic progress standards. He said UConn can control how to address the problems and that the Huskies would "run right into the storm" and overcome the odds.

Until Calhoun's injury, that figured to be the mood of the night. With the UConn program and Calhoun making headlines for all the wrong reasons during the 2011-12 season, the turnout of former players was perceived as a show of support – especially since Calhoun hasn't officially announced he is coming back for his 27th season as UConn coach.

"It seems like something happens every year," said Chris Smith, UConn's all-time leading scorer. "Calhoun is one of the toughest guys I've ever been around. He will never say it's because of his age. I'm sure he would really want to be here.

"Everybody here comes here for Coach. We just want to give back to the program and what a great way to do it. We've got a lot of fans out here who really love Connecticut basketball for a long, long time."

Smith was one of many players who said he can't ever imagine Calhoun retiring.

"I still can't see it," Smith said. "He's such a vital part of this program. He is the program. Guys come to UConn because of Jim Calhoun."

Walker, who scored 38 points and was named MVP of the all-star game, echoed the disappointment over Calhoun's absence. He said he heard the news from his mother.

"I don't know what to say; I wish he was here," Walker said. "Bad things happen in life. He'll be OK though."

Marshall and Travis Knight offered the suggestion that Calhoun ride a stationary bike from now on. "A bike with a TV on it," Knight said.

"I saw [Calhoun] on the road recruiting," said Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell, one of eight UConn assistants, past and present, who came to the game. "He looked great. Recruiting is grueling. I'm always amazed. I'm 43 and it's grueling. He's 70 years old. It's amazing to me that he keeps doing it."

But even without the father of the UConn family, everyone was glad to be back together and renew old friendships.

"I was just telling Coach [Karl] Hobbs it's a good feeling to be back and be around the fans and things like that," Hamilton said. "They meant so much to me for my career when I was just 18 years old.

"[Calhoun] is a great man. You look at everybody that's here right now. He not just produced great players, but he produced us into great people and great men."

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