Without Calhoun ‘The cuss words are down’

UConn coach Jim Calhoun, right, speaks with associate head coach George Blaney during a 2010 exhibition game in Hartford. Calhoun is taking an indefinite medical leave of absence, the school announced Friday. Blaney will lead the team in Calhoun's absence (AP File Photo)

Here’s some reaction from the UConn players and associate head coach George Blaney to Jim Calhoun’s medical leave of absence.

A rough case of spinal stenosis will cause Calhoun to miss Saturday’s game against Seton Hall and Monday’s game at Louisville, at a minimum.

— Blaney pulled the team “leaders” into a meeting Friday afternoon to tell them of Calhoun’s situation. Shabazz Napier, Alex Oriakhi and Jeremy Lamb then told the rest of the team.

It seems Calhoun had trouble even driving home from the airport after Wednesday night’s game. He didn’t come to the office (or to practice) on Thursday. On Friday morning, it was apparently even worse and Calhoun stayed in bed for most of the day.

It’s a problem that has been around, it seems, but became suddenly worse.

“Back in the fall he had some real back trouble and he went to both UConn and went up to Boston. They looked at it and he wasn’t having trouble with it going it down into his butt or his legs. It was just in his back,” Blaney said. “They tried treating it with rest and some exercise.”

“It was feeling better most of the year. He had different twinges at different times,” Blaney continued. “But when we went to Washington the other day he was really having trouble. It was started hitting his butt, it started hitting his leg.”

The Associated Press (in the form of the venerable Jim O’Connell) reached Calhoun by phone Friday.

“The bottom line is I’m going to need some work done,” Calhoun told AP. “In January the shooting pains were getting worse and after one plane ride I couldn’t even get up. I tried to hide it. I’m taking medicine right now for the pain and they are waiting for things to quiet down and I’ll meet with the doctor next week. “I told (president) Susan (Herbst) about it and said I could make it through the season that there were only 3 1/2 weeks left. But it’s just so bad, even getting through practice. Now I’m going to see what the next step is. The bottom line is I’m hurting.”

— Calhoun has been through a lot, including three fights with cancer and a still undisclosed medial leave in 2010. Is this it for his coaching career?

Blaney seems to think no.

“He’s the toughest guy I know. I don’t know anybody tougher,” Blaney said. “He doesn’t use Novocain when he goes to the dentist.”

— So what’s the difference between playing for Calhoun and for Blaney?

“There’s a big difference. There’s not as much yelling. Obviously the cuss words are down,” guard Ryan Boatright said with a laugh. “Calhoun’s always on you. He gets the best out of you in a different way. Coach Blaney gets the best out of you, too, but in a more calm way.”

Blaney doesn’t foresee any issues with Calhoun’s message still finding the players.

“We’ve been together so long that I kind of know what he wants and I know what we normally do,” Blaney said. “It’s always a little different when I actually coach it. My personality is a little different. But other than that we’re doing what he wants us to do. My main goal is to get us to play together and to get us to play hard.”

— Napier also had a private meeting with Blaney Friday to discuss his recent play (he’s missed his last 17 shots, among other issues).

“I talked with coach Blaney today. We had a real intimate talk, emotional,” Napier said. “We just want to be back on target. We all hate losing. It’s the worst feeling in the world.”

So what specifically is wrong with Shabazz?

“If I knew, I’d let you know,” Napier said.

Napier said he had no problem coming off the bench Wednesday against Georgetown.

“That was not a problem at all. I’m just here to win,” Napier said. “Coach felt like Boatright should be able to start. I felt like he should be able to start with the way I’m playing, too.”

— As for that starting lineup of Boatright, Lamb, Niels Giffey, Roscoe Smith and Andre Drummond, it’s likely to change.

When asked if he’d use the same starting five as the Georgetown game, Blaney was a little vague:

“I don’t know that yet. Probably not,” Blaney said.

My guess would be Napier moves back in but we’ll see.

— Plenty of the players predicted big things from the Huskies, despite the four-game skid they’re on.

“We got ourselves in this predicament. We’re the only ones that can dig ourselves out. We’ve got a team of fighters,” Boatright said. “We’ve been going through a lot but we’re going to turn it around.”



About Neill

Neill Ostrout covers the UConn men's basketball team for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester. He has been a member of the "Horde" for more than 16 years.
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