Players want Jim Calhoun to return

HARTFORD, Conn. -- Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun did not appear with his players Thursday as they were honored by lawmakers at the state Capitol's annual "Husky Day."

But captain Shabazz Napier says the team is hopeful the coach will be with them when it counts -- on the sideline next season.

"I feel as though he doesn't want to leave on a bad ending," Napier told The Associated Press. "I feel as though he's loyal to the very end of his bones. He's our captain and he wants to lead us down the right path. But there may be some other issues he's dealing with that I don't know about."

Associate head coach George Blaney said Calhoun's reasons for skipping "Husky Day" were personal, but added that he doesn't believe Calhoun, who will turn 70 next month, has made a decision yet about whether he will return next season.

"You're talking about a Hall of Fame coach and the amount of wins he has, his ability to motivate, to bring teams together to learn how to become a great team, all of those things are so vital, so yeah, it would be great to have him come back," Blaney said. "But he needs to do what is best for him."

Five underclassmen have left the Huskies since the NCAA last month denied the school's request for a waiver of new academic requirements.

The Huskies won't qualify for the 2013 NCAA tournament under those rules, which use academic scores from the four years that ended in 2010-11 to determine eligibility.

Under the new rules, a school must have a two-year average score of 930 or a four-year average of 900 on the NCAA's annual APR, which measures the academic performance of student athletes.

Connecticut men's basketball scored 826 on the APR for 2009-10. School officials have said it will come in at 978 for 2010-11. The scores are expected to be about 975 for 2011-12.

The Big East has indicated that if UConn doesn't meet the academic standards for the NCAA tournament, it also will not be allowed to play in the conference tournament.

On Thursday, the NCAA gave some schools deemed to be "low-resource" institutions more time to meet the new guidelines. Athletic director Warde Manuel said that was an appropriate decision. But he said the governing body also needs to address why it isn't using the most recent data available in punishing other schools, such as UConn.

"I'm very proud of these players' effort academically," he said. "And I think how they are judged and whether they are allowed to play should be based on the last four years, not on a year lag, and scores they had no part in."

Sophomore guard Jeremy Lamb and freshman center Andre Drummond announced earlier this month that they will enter this year's NBA draft, a move both were expected to make even if UConn had been eligible for the tournament.

Alex Oriakhi transferred to Missouri for his senior season, citing the NCAA decision. Sophomore forward Roscoe Smith and redshirt freshman center Michael Bradley also have been granted a release from their scholarships in order to seek transfers.

Napier said he believes the Huskies will have a strong team next season, despite those players "jumping ship." He said the ordeal has brought those that remain in Storrs closer together, and they are still hopeful they will be allowed to play in the postseason.

"Everyone understands that their back is to the wall," Napier said. "And when your back is to the wall, the best thing you can do is fight with the person beside you. Some people just turned and ran, but that's on them.

"I'm just happy with the group of guys I have."