UConn Men's Basketball: Calhoun/Moore not quite Belichick/Mangini

Matt Stout

Mentor and protégé talked at length last Saturday morning.

They joked, they discussed their teams, they traded strategies. Jim Calhoun was even a little more candid than Tom Moore, the former UConn men’s basketball assistant and current head coach of Quinnipiac, expected.

“Maybe because it was eight days before the game,” Moore said, referring to the Bobcats’ and Huskies’ game this Sunday at the Hartford Civic Center. “(But) he was terrific. I joked with him. I said, ‘Get your zone offense dusted off because I don’t want to catch you by surprise.’”

Calhoun, of course, expects that.

“I said, ‘The zone is how I would play us,’ ” Calhoun said. “ ‘If you hold the ball, make sure of one thing: Take pictures. You will not be invited back.’ ”

Moore, though, may always have a place (sentimentally, at least) with UConn, where he returns this Sunday at 2 p.m.

An assistant for 13 years under Calhoun, Moore took his first Division-I head-coaching job with Quinnipiac in March, and the whirlwind of responsibility hasn’t stopped since.

From forming a coaching staff to building a team, to recruiting to preparing his players for Northeast Conference play, Moore said he hasn’t had time to stop and reflect on his UConn days leading up to this weekend’s match-up. A self-described “fairly emotional person,” he’s even surprised himself by how little he’s thought of his homecoming in those terms.

That’s why much of Moore’s thoughts have been about trying to pull an upset (think slow-down defense) and making sure his players — not him — don’t turn the game into the “be-all and end-all of our program” from an emotional standpoint.

“Managing those things in the game, I don’t think I’m going to have time to be concerned with Coach Calhoun’s feelings or what he’s saying to his team,” Moore said. “I know for a fact, nor he will care what I’m doing from his point of view down on my end either.”

The Bobcats (4-4) have won two straight games entering Sunday, but in general, they’re a young team led by two seniors in DeMario and Karl Anderson (not related). DeMario leads the team in scoring (19.5 points per game) while Karl has played in only four games due to injury, his production largely made up in the presence of freshman Evann Baker (11.0).

Bryan Geffen, a transfer from Boston University (Moore’s alma mater), has also given them scoring off the bench.

“Tommy’s done a great job,” Calhoun said. “They’re improved.”

But it doesn’t mean Moore hasn’t kept tabs on UConn, made up of all the players he recruited. He’s caught the Huskies’ games against Gonzaga, Gardner-Webb and Memphis, and of everyone, he feels A.J. Price is the most improved.

“When he’s be on, he’s looked closer to the guy that we remember three or four summers ago, somebody that was a really special player,” Moore said.

Moore probably knows the Huskies better than any opposing coach out there, and Scott Burrell, the former UConn great who now serves as a Quinnipiac assistant, has gone to him for info throughout this week as he’s poured over tape and scouting reports of his alma mater.

So he also knows why the Huskies haven’t lived up to the expectations that many have perhaps set for them.

The typical UConn player in recent years, Moore explained, benefited immensely by having NBA-ready upperclassmen ahead of him, working him through practice, eating up the majority of the minutes and allowing the talented youngster behind them the necessary time to grow.

Charlie Villanueva and Hilton Armstrong enjoyed that luxury when they played with Emeka Okafor and Josh Boone. Stanley Robinson would have if Rudy Gay had stayed. Jeff Adrien would have if Boone had.

“So I think you have a core (group) of them who came in and came in together and were handed something they weren’t ready for,” Moore said. “And when you’re in such a public program like UConn, they’ve had some failure, people are doubting them, so you have a group who sometimes doesn’t look confident together.

“I think that’s why you see Coach (Calhoun) so demonstrative on the sidelines, like he was in the Northeastern game,” he continued, referring to last Thursday’s contest in which Calhoun was ejected. “Because when he doesn’t feel they’re capable together as a unit, pushing themselves through it, I think he feels that he has to be the Doron Sheffer or the Caron Butler, the Ricky Moore as a senior, the Taliek Brown, the Kevin Ollie, where, ‘I’ll be the voice, I’ll tell you guys what to do and how to do it.’

“They’re going to have to win games and grow up fairly quickly.”

On a different level, so are the Bobcats.

“This,” Moore said of returning to UConn, one of many firsts for him this year, “is certainly unique.”

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