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UConn, Calhoun face critical time

Jim Calhoun missed much of the season because of health issues. G Fiume/Getty Images

The 2009-10 season has been the worst one for UConn in years. And now for the bad news: 2010-11 could be even worse.

This spring, Connecticut will lose Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson, as well as senior Gavin Edwards, and that's going to leave a very young, very open starting lineup in Storrs. Jim Calhoun is seeking to remedy that, so he'd like high school stars to know one very important fact: If you want playing time, UConn's your place:

"If you're looking for playing time right away, at UConn, that's going to be available," said Calhoun.

You'd think this would be a pretty normal problem for Calhoun; he graduates stars all the time, and Connecticut always manages to field a nationally elite team. Same old, same old, right?

Not so much, actually. Calhoun missed a large chunk of this season with health issues, and at 67 years old, it's reasonable for recruits to wonder how much longer Calhoun will be at the school. This is a pressing concern:

Roscoe Smith, a 6-8 forward at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, and Cleveland Melvin, a 6-8 forward from Fitchburg (Mass.) Notre Dame Prep, have verbally committed but not signed. Calhoun's health has been a complicating factor for several recruits. Smith, whose team played back-to-back games at the PrimeTime Shootout, conceded that he had "doubts" about his commitment when Calhoun missed seven games for what he later told Smith was high blood pressure.

"The situation with Calhoun is a big factor because that's the main reason why I'm going to UConn," Smith said last Feb. 13 after Oak Hill edged Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick, 79-78, on ESPNU. Smith, who has yet to sign his letter of intent, said Calhoun called him that week to notify him he would be back from his medical leave.

"Yes, he called me personally and he called my family," Smith said. "He said he's doing fine. He said he will be coaching the next game. For me and my family, that's a good thing to hear, you know?"

Connecticut has a decision to make. How long do they stand by Calhoun? Can they plausibly phase out the coach that built the Huskies program from scratch, won national titles, and made UConn the sort of place where 15-11 seasons are considered grave disappointments? Can Calhoun come to grips with the fact that maybe it would be a good idea -- both for his own health and for the health of Huskies basketball -- to retire? It's hard to imagine that happening anytime soon. Calhoun clearly still wants to compete. For once, though, that impulse stands to hurt UConn more than help.