Hall of a Weekend for Jim Calhoun

"Basketball doesn't care what color your skin is, it doesn't care what language you speak, or what religion you practice. It doesn't care if you're big or small, fast or slow. It just asks you to play, to compete, to lose with dignity, and to win with humility. To make your teammates look good and to respect your opponents. The game asks that you work to improve, that you put something into it, that you also give something back to it. It's taken me places I never dreamed of." -- Jim Calhoun

I fully intended to contribute at least two more articles about Jim Calhoun. One about how he and Jim Boeheim were the perfect pair of inductees to take their place in Springfield on the same night. Another was about how Calhoun's coaching tree continues to flourish. But once the 20-year UConn coach finished his Hall of Fame speech, I knew I'd pursue a different angle.

Imagine the daunting task at hand prior to his Hall of Fame induction. Jim Calhoun is 63-years old with a repertoire of life-changing events etched in his memory. How in the world would he give people a glimpse of all that's important in a 3-5 minute speech? He was struggling with the idea a week ago, and I can only imagine how hard the task became as the event neared.

After Friday's Hall of Fame festivities a question came to mind for Jim Calhoun: What's a greater honor…a Hall of Fame induction? Or having 54 former players attending it? That might be a tough one to answer for the 20-year Husky coach. Over 30 UConn players alone attended the event and Doron Scheffer even made the trek from Israel. Nothing could possibly touch a coach more than an outpouring of that magnitude from former players. The players left little doubt about how they feel about their former coach.

This had to be exactly what Calhoun had in mind when he first put that whistle to his mouth as an assistant at American International College in Springfield. That was the time when he realized he could change people's lives and make an impact. From that point on he wanted to coach. So to have a roomful of people whose lives he's changed had to be the ultimate honor.

It wasn't just the row containing his wife Pat, their sons and their closest relatives. The entire room felt like family.

Calhoun has always treated his former assistants and players like family, and the veteran coach serves as a father-figure to both. He teaches them life's lessons, watches them grow up but then has to let them go experience life for themselves. The Calhoun coaching tree is alive and well and papa is very proud. I had the privilege of talking to several former UConn assistants in January about their former boss. Howie Dickenman was choked up talking about his former mentor's walk to the stage in Springfield. Dave Leitao spoke about the magnitude of the coaching job he's done while Karl Hobbs marveled at the energy Calhoun brings to the job everyday even this deep into his career. 

We're used to Calhoun rambling and as he said so pointedly last week, "as you can tell, I have no problem talking."  We're sometimes left having to decipher words and cut through that thick Boston accent but I don't think UConn fans have ever understood Calhoun better than they did Friday night. He wrote his speech – and it was from the heart and directed to those close to his heart.  Jim Boeheim was entertaining and Hubie Brown rambled – but ultimately it was Calhoun who encapsulated a 34-year college coaching career beautifully. He gave us a glimpse of what makes up the man and the coach taking us from his roots in Braintree, MA where he lost his father at age 15, to how Fred Herget's influence helped change his life.

But he fittingly ended his speech with another tribute to his players and another moment that Husky fans won't forget anytime soon.

"Most importantly for any coach, I want to thank my players. I've had the privilege of coaching you and you have filled my life with so many memories, so many treasures, some you'll never know," said Calhoun. "As I receive this honor tonight, I want you to know that I take a piece of each and every one of you into the Hall with me. You have given of yourselves, you have dared to dream, you have enriched my life, and you have made this special game even more beautiful."

Then it was his closing line that did me in and made that little tear that had welled-up finally drip down my cheek.

After asking every player in attendance to stand, Calhoun finished with, "If you ask me
why I coach, there's your answer."

Finally, kudos to Jim Calhoun for a great speech, a great career and congratulations on taking a spot among the game's greats. And if we know anything about the man who's amassed over 700 wins, he back at work already.


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