Jim Calhoun, the Recruiter

Jim Calhoun is headed to Springfield for a variety of reasons; his influence on New England basketball, 2 national championships and the incredible job he's done transforming the Connecticut program into one of the nation's elite. But you don't produce Hall of Fame numbers without talent. UConnfan.com looks at how the Huskies' head honcho has become one of the nation's best recruiters.

The 20-year Husky coach points to the signing of Bridgeport's Chris Smith as one of the most critical stepping stones for the program. Smitty showed everyone it was "ok" to go to the state school. He ended his career as a 2nd team All-American and UConn's all-time leading scorer. Soon after that Calhoun gave recruiting a global feel when he brought Israel's Nadav Henefeld to Storrs. The Nutmeg State fell in love with the "Dove" and he helped lead UConn to an Elite 8 appearance. "The Dream Season" helped catapult UConn's recruiting to a higher echelon.

 

Now in 2005, only two programs can boast of having more players on current NBA rosters than the Huskies; Duke and Kentucky. But it's actually UConn who has more players averaging in double figures than any other school.

 

"The point is we truly think we prepare our kids to win, we prepare our kids to be the best they can be, and we hopefully mature them so that by the time they are ready to take that step that they just don't go to the NBA – they make an impact in the NBA," Calhoun stated emphatically. "You could make a case that we've had some kids who've had just incredibly special careers and some emerging young kids who are doing even better."

 

Calhoun might just be referring to Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon who took two prestigious NBA awards last season; Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man. But neither player was a McDonald's All-American coming out of high school.

 

"The key is to recognize players. Number 56 in his senior class was a kid named Ray Allen. He didn't end up 56. Emeka Okafor didn't crack the top 100. He has since gone on to prove that rating system is not justified."

 

Calhoun has impressively molded his newcomers into a championship-caliber team without an abundance of McDonald's All-Americans. In the 2004 Final Four the McDonald's All-American scoreboard showed Duke with the edge over UConn 6-2. But it was the Huskies who advanced and claimed their 2nd national championship. Calhoun has coached seven in his 20-year career at UConn, Duke had 39 entering the 2004-2005 season and five more will head to Durham this season. Calhoun's first McDonald's All-American was Donyell Marshall who gave the Huskies nod back in 1991. Coincidently, Marshall was also Calhoun's first-ever lottery pick. But historically Calhoun has ignored the number in front of the name and judged by potential alone. The Braintree, MA native has a keen eye for talent and surrounds himself with capable assistants.

 

"I think the number one thing is to have great assistant coaches which I've had -- from Karl Hobbs to Dave Leitao to Howie Dickenman and now to Tom Moore, who I think is the best assistant and one of the best evaluators I've ever been around – he's just absolutely fantastic," said Calhoun.

 

But being a part of a winning program is demanding, time consuming, and tough. The strong-minded Calhoun pushes players and pushes the right buttons to extract the best out of a prospect.

 

"What we've had is a many kids who have great potential who are willing to buy into our work ethic," Calhoun stated.

 

Sometimes that's not easy and assistant coach Tom Moore admits the inability to match Calhoun's work ethic and intensity can present problems for incoming high schoolers.  

 

"In working with him, you find yourself trying to match his intensity", said Moore.  "A lot of players who have left (the program)…it's not usually because of a talent issue. Most of the kids who have left weren't tough enough to keep up or they're not tough enough for the daily challenges, peer pressures, and competition he loves so much."

 

When a prospect comes to Calhoun and professes their desire to advance to the next level, the pitch by the Husky coach goes like this…

 

"When you come to UConn there's going to be days you don't particularly care for me because I'm going to ask the best of you and when you get there? I'm going to ask more of you," Calhoun stated. "So if you have any dreams of a basketball future or a basketball career, I can promise you this, other schools may push you but no one is going to be as involved and the take the time to be involved as much or anymore than we do."


He certainly has proof scattered all over the NBA. But there were plenty of unheralded high school players that Calhoun placed in the NBA. Like Donny Marshall, like Kevin Ollie…And for every Ray Allen and Ben Gordon, Calhoun has also corralled key guys like Murray Williams and Ricky Moore who never made it at the next level, but filled their role adimirably at UConn. These players were just as critical to the UConn's rise to the top.

 

You don't have to delve very deep to find the reason the Huskies remain on the tip of of any young prospect's tongue – Look no further than the head coach. The coach is clearly one of the biggest reasons aspiring hoop stars look to Storrs.

 

 


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