Dom Amore: Jim Calhoun’s thoughts on friend and rival Jim Boeheim, a short-term answer for UHart, and more in the Sunday Read
NEW YORK — Jim Boeheim’s exit from Syracuse was awkward, though since clarified.
In midseason, he said Friday, he had decided it was time to retire and he let his team know before what proved to be his last game, the loss to Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament.
This news, and the coach himself, could be interpreted different ways by different people, but we do know that in Connecticut, another figure, maybe the last, from UConn’s rise and glory days in the original Big East has left the college basketball scene.
“He was a Big East guy through and through,” former UConn coach and Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun said. “They don’t fit [in the ACC] anywhere near as well as they fit in the Big East.”
Calhoun, Boeheim, Lou Carnesecca, John Thompson, Rollie Massimino, these were among the coaching titans of the original conference, and as UConn rose to join them in the early 1990s, the UConn-Syracuse matchups were center stage.
Calhoun and Boeheim, Hall of Famers, squared off 56 times, Boeheim winning the series, 29-27. The first one you think about, with good reason, is the six-OT Big East quarterfinal game in 2009, eventually won by Boeheim and Syracuse, but the first image that comes to Calhoun was of just watching Boeheim be Boeheim in a 1986 classic vs. Notre Dame.
“Digger [Phelps’] team made a basket to beat them there and he came over to hug Jimmy,” Calhoun said, “and the look Jimmy gave him is still one of my greatest memories of watching Jimmy coach. He wasn’t going to be jumping up and down if he won, or crying if he lost. He was consistent to who he was, just like his teams were. His teams played like his personality, they played tough, stayed in the zone, did what he said. If you don’t like it, he’ll take you out.”
Boeheim first coached against UConn on Nov. 30, 1977, defeating Dom Perno’s Huskies 101-61 before 8,566 in the old Manley Field House, pre-Big East, pre-Dome. In their last meeting, Dan Hurley’s Huskies pulled an upset, 83-76, at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 18, 2018. Sum total, Boeheim was 56-29 vs. UConn though, as Huskies fans are apt to point, the national championships over that arc are 4-1, the other way.
With Boeheim’s retirement at 78, all of it becomes fixed in history. Perhaps Boeheim’s legacy will be clouded by his prickly personality, often seen in his snark toward student journalists in postgame pressers. This wasn’t a great look, but how things looked never concerned Boeheim, and that was part of the reason he stayed committed to his signature zone defense and won so much. Including 101 wins vacated by the NCAA, he was 1,116-440.
Calhoun, 80, hasn’t spoken to Boeheim this week, but will reach out when the time is right.
“Jim is a good guy who doesn’t want to let anybody know he is,” Calhoun said. “Jimmy’s not the kind of guy that you’re going to have a big hug and kiss with. But I’ll tell you what he was great at, he believed in what he believed in. He truly believes Syracuse University is the greatest university in the world. Really good coach, a really good man and I carry the fact I have a really good friendship with him.
“Let’s put it this way: if you were a young coach, hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to have the career Jim Boeheim had.”
Questions, answers for UHart
With the announcement on Feb. 26 that Gregory Woodward will retire as president at the University of Hartford, there is much speculation as to what is next. Those who love the school’s athletics and abhor the move to Division III now in progress, former men’s basketball coach John Gallagher’s “neighborhood,” hope the course can be reversed and, of course, are quite passionate about it.
The university’s Board of Regents will choose an interim president and determine a path forward, perhaps as soon as this month, and there is groundswell support among alums and donors for asking Walter Harrison to come out of retirement and right the ship. Athletics, the front porch of any university, is only that, in this case the front porch of a house with many problems that must be addressed.
Folks close to Harrison, 76, who retired in 2016, say he would serve if asked, and a petition started on change.org has garnered 681 signees as of Saturday. Walking away from the process of moving to D-III, returning to D-I and finding a conference to take the Hawks, or in America East’s case, take them back, would be tricky, maybe too costly. But Harrison would at least push to re-examine the studies that precipitated the move two years ago and reconsider the future of athletics in a transparent way.
The potential of the Hawks’ trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2021 was tossed away with the announcement of the move two months later, but a rebirth could reclaim some of it.
What UHart needs most right now, in athletics and beyond, is stability, with trust and integrity as its elements. Harrison would bring that much, and more, and the decision makers could not do better than to turn to him.
Sunday short takes
* Dan Hurley had a timeout left, but didn’t use it to set up a play for UConn’s last possession in the 70-68 loss to Marquette in the Big East semifinals. Coaches often do this, go for the transition basket rather than allow the opponent to set up its defense, but in this case the Huskies didn’t get off a great shot. Bottom line is this: UConn needs to get better, and quickly, at late-game decision-making.
* Saint Joe’s season came to an end in the Division III Sweet 16, but what a year for state small college basketball. The Blue Jays were joined by Mitchell and Albertus Magnus in the men’s tournament, and Western Connecticut, losing its conference final in OT, nearly made it four.
Trinity women reached the Elite Eight and were playing Saturday night for a chance to play in the semis, which will be played in Hartford.
* Whenever a Yankees executive refers to an injury as “slight,” as Brian Cashman did with Carlos Rodon’s elbow strain this week, I tend to think, “See ya next year.”
* Seems like a Rick Pitino return to the Big East is inevitable. Hofstra’s Speedy Claxton is a hot name to land wherever Pitino doesn’t.
* A legendary Packers quarterback coming to the Jets? What could possibly go wrong?
* Geno Auriemma had a dilemma. Selection Sunday or the Bruce Springsteen concert to which he had tickets? Of course, he’ll be with his team but speaking as a card-carrying member of the Baseball Writers, a group well known for its preponderance of Boss backers, I would have forgiven him.
*The Sacred Heart women’s basketball team won its opener, then lost eight in a row in November and December. On Sunday, they are in the NEC Final, playing FDU for a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament.
Former Knick Cam Reddish criticized coach Tom Thibodeau for “favoritism.” Based on the way the Knicks are playing, 29-15 since Dec. 4, seems like Thibs, the New Britain guy, favors winning.