Calhoun wants toughness from UConn
Jim Calhoun remembers the days when grabbing your teammate, shoving him against the nearest wall and telling him how it is, was — frankly — how it was.
In fact, he lived it.
“There was a kid Henry Payne, great player, All-American from Springfield, Mass.,” Calhoun remembered from his playing days at American International College. “And he was complaining about not getting the ball. And after the game got over and we had lost, I just took him and put him in a locker.
“He was a young freshman, probably weighed (160 pounds) or so but he was a terrific point guard,” he continued. “And I just kind of him put him in a locker. I said, ‘Matter of fact, you know, if you get out of the locker, maybe you’ll get a chance to get the basketball.’"
The story was one Calhoun exchanged both with his coaching staff and prior to practice Wednesday at Gampel Pavilion.
The point was, after the altercation with a man Calhoun calls a “dear friend” now, the problem was resolved. He’s seen some of his best UConn players take the same kind of stand with their teammates, the most recent being Ricky Moore, Caron Butler and even at times, Kevin Freeman.
“He (Freeman) would say, ‘Hey Edmund,’” Calhoun said, referring to Edmund Saunders, “ ‘It’s time, shut up and play.’ A lot of that is discipline.”
It’s the same kind he wants to see out of his current Huskies.
After its 85-82 loss to No. 19 Gonzaga on Saturday in Boston, UConn (5-2) refocused this week on defense, cleaning up the small details and preparing for the four-game stretch-run before Big East play starts after the New Year.
A part of improving is leadership, an area Calhoun’s lauded at times this year and questioned at others. He’s not expecting the same kind he employed 40-plus years ago — it’s a different age, a “live-and-let-live” society now, he said. But he’s still looking for someone to take ownership of “a good basketball team,” he explained, “that can be very good.”
“Absolutely,” A.J. Price said when asked if he tries to be vocal with his teammates. “I definitely have no problem telling somebody when they messed up or what they need to correct and I don’t think anybody else on this team should have a problem telling me the same thing.
“It all falls into the team and we have to take it upon ourselves,” he added. “Like Coach said, make corrections, whether it be on the court or off the court or in the locker room.”
On the court, the Huskies’ attention remains on defense. Whether it be with help ‘D’, recovering off screens or protecting the middle of the paint, UConn has lost a little something in recent weeks that carried it throughout last year.
“It’s what you got in there,” Jeff Adrien said, referring to a player’s inner desire. “You’ve got to wanna play defense. It’s all about here, playing defense. We gotta get our heart back. We had it. We gotta find a way to get it back.”
Hasheem Thabeet is a big part of that, but he sat out the last two practices with a mild hamstring pull. Calhoun, though, expects him to be readyagainst a Northeastern squad (3-4) that gave both Illinois and Maryland (in overtime) close games and features a bona fide scorer in sophomore Matt Janning (15.3 points per game).
“(But) right now, I’m most concerned with UConn,” Calhoun said. “We’re in search of our own team, of finding ownership and trying to get the kids to understand what they have.”
And what they need to do to push each other.
“Sometimes we let things slide,” Jerome Dyson said. “We just gotta be more of a teammate and let people know what things they’re doing.”
When told in Calhoun’s day, that meant putting your friend into a locker, Dyson laughed. But was he surprised?
“Not with him.”
Reach Norwich Bulletin writer Matt Stout at 425-4250 or firstname.lastname@example.org