HARTFORD, Conn. – Jim Calhoun’s latest medical condition isn’t going to end his career at Connecticut.
That’s how emphatic UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway was about Calhoun’s abrupt departure from coaching the Huskies. Hathaway said during a pregame news conference Wednesday at the XL Center that Calhoun’s condition wasn’t career ending. Later, Hathaway confirmed that Calhoun’s leave of absence has nothing to do with his current contract negotiations and will not affect the agreement that is in place.
The two sides have agreed in principle on a new four-year contract. Neither side has signed the contract but that isn’t abnormal in negotiations with an existing coach, certainly one that is a Hall of Famer and two-time national champion. The two sides have been working on the final wording of the deal. His current contract ends on June 30.
Throughout Wednesday’s walkup to the game against St. John’s, the staff seemed confident that Calhoun would return to the team in due course. But Hathaway said that Calhoun wouldn’t return until he had been given the clearance by his personal physician, Dr. Peter Schulman of the University of Connecticut Health Center. Hathaway indicated that Calhoun wouldn’t return with conditions. Once he’s ready to return in full he will be back. Whether that takes days, weeks or months is unknown.
Outside of saying that Calhoun didn’t have a recurring cancer issue (he has had three bouts) or cardiac problem, UConn didn’t divulge Calhoun’s condition. Hathaway said that would be up to Calhoun. Associate head coach George Blaney, who will coach the team in Calhoun’s absence, said that Calhoun, 67, told him that he needed to listen to his doctor on this one.
For those that know Calhoun, a driven, intense and at times admittedly stubborn man, this was a clear indication that he had to heed his physician’s advice.
The timeline for Calhoun’s absence moved rather quickly. Neither Hathaway nor Blaney said Calhoun had showed any signs of needing to take a break prior to his regularly scheduled doctor appointment Tuesday. Blaney said that Calhoun called him from the hospital Tuesday afternoon and told him he wasn’t going to be attending practice and that he needed a break. Blaney said he hadn’t spoken to Calhoun since then, while Hathaway said he did speak with Calhoun early Wednesday. He said he also spoke with Schulman.
Blaney characterized Calhoun as his usual “cantankerous self” while Hathaway said he sounded like a man who wanted to coach his team. Blaney said he wasn’t sure if Calhoun would watch Wednesday’s game, but that it seemed that would be against the doctor’s orders. Blaney said earlier Wednesday that he was told he had to stay away from the team and his job, meaning that he wouldn’t be checking in at his office until he was cleared. He wasn’t hospitalized and is believed to be resting at home.
Once it was apparent that Calhoun was going to take a break, Blaney called into his UConn office Kemba Walker, Stanley Robinson, Gavin Edwards and Jerome Dyson, the four most integral players on the team. He said he told them that he needed their help with the younger players because they had gone through this before last March when dehydration forced Calhoun to miss the NCAA tournament first-round win over Chattanooga. Blaney said those players know how to deal with adversity.
During Wednesday’s shootaround the Huskies were upbeat, but they did hear from various voices, unlike normal practices where Calhoun is the dominant presence. UConn moved Beau Archibald from director of basketball operations up to assistant coach once it got approval from the NCAA to do so during Calhoun’s absence.
Blaney said that he considered making a starting lineup change in Calhoun’s absence with Gavin Edwards in place of Charles Okwandu, but instead decided against it and said he would keep bringing in Edwards off the bench. He said he might make more substitutions than Calhoun early in the game.
Meanwhile, the St. John’s game has become a critical one for the Huskies after losing three straight and with top-ranked Texas coming to Storrs Saturday. The Huskies, 11-6, 2-3 in the Big East, lost at Georgetown, to Pitt and at Michigan in their past three games.