UNCASVILLE — The faces of UConn basketball — spanning from the 1980s to present day — gathered midcourt at the Mohegan Sun Arena Saturday night.
There were 41 men in total, all posing for the camera: Ray Allen sat front and center clutching a basketball, flanked by Kemba Walker on one side and Donyell Marshall on the other. There was Bridgeport’s Chris Smith, the school’s all-time leading scorer, with his arms folded behind his back. There was Travis Knight, sporting his long, flowing hair and a No. 40 Connecticut jersey. There was Jeremy Lamb, wearing a wide smile.
This, as Kevin Ollie later bellowed to the crowd, was the “UConn family.” It was simply missing its patriarch.
On the afternoon of the 2012 Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic All-Star Game, UConn’s Hall of Fame head coach took a spill on his bicycle, which resulted in a fractured hip, the school confirmed. Calhoun, 70, was scheduled to undergo surgery at the UConn Health Center as his former players — all of whom made the trip to Connecticut with the intention of seeing their coach — competed in his charity game.
At press time, the outcome of the surgery was unknown.
Word of Calhoun’s injury spread as the ex-Huskies filed into Mohegan Sun: Hasheem Thabeet said he had known since the morning. Kemba Walker found out from his mother, but was still fuzzy on the details. And Ricky Moore, an unsung hero on Calhoun’s first national championship team, was signing an autograph when a stranger informed him.
“I thought the guy was joking,” Moore said.
Calhoun fell off his bike when he “hit some sand,” according to UConn associate coach George Blaney, during a ride near his summer home in Madison. He was taken to a nearby clinic before being transported to the UConn Health Center in Farmington in the late afternoon.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Jim for a speedy recovery,” UConn athletic director Warde Manuel said. “He’s had some bad breaks this last year or so.”
Indeed, the injury is the latest of several physical obstacles life has thrown Calhoun’s way: He’s twice defeated cancer, he broke five ribs during a 2009 bicycle accident (and finished the charity ride, by the way), and just five months ago, he returned to the sidelines after undergoing surgery to repair spinal stenosis in his lower back.
“Jim Calhoun is tough,” said Smith, now the head coach at Kolbe Cathedral High. “He’ll look at this as `anybody could have broken their hip.’ He’s just going to come out there and coach and do what he does.”
Added Moore, “He takes everything as a challenge. That’s why he’s a Hall of Fame coach. I think he’s going to come back from it.”
Right now, his greatest challenge — health issues aside — is seeing UConn through a transitional phase, ensuring that a one-year postseason ban doesn’t have a lasting effect on the program’s future. Although he hasn’t made an official announcement about his coaching status for next season, he’s been going about business as usual, reciting “I have two years left on my contract” to anyone who inquires about the possibility of retirement. He spent the summer on the recruiting trail, where he ran into Moore, an assistant at Dartmouth.
“He’s a lot more relaxed now than he was when I came to UConn,” Moore said. “Back then, we were trying to get over the hump, get to another level. It was a little more stressful back then.”
Today, Calhoun’s legacy is illustrated by the 41 men posing at center court: Those players have helped him win 650 games at UConn, including 17 Big East regular-season and tournament championships. He’s sent nearly two dozen players to the NBA, and so many — coaches and players alike — remain loyal, flocking to Connecticut from all corners of the country.
“He’s one of the people who has always been there for me in all kinds of ways,” said Thabeet, who recently signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder. “I just hope the best for him.”
Because of his age and the fractured hip, questions about retirement seem plenty legitimate. But there was a consensus within the Husky family Saturday night: You haven’t seen the last of Jim Calhoun.
“I’m pretty sure he isn’t thinking about retiring now,” Walker said. “He’s probably thinking about recovering.”