UConn's NCAA Tourney game takes a back seat to recruitment saga

Matt Stout

Jim Calhoun received the phone call some time between 11 and midnight on Tuesday. Roughly six hours later — 5:30 a.m. in Glendale, Ariz. — the UConn men’s basketball coach was on the phone with his athletic director. Roughly eight hours after that, he sat before the media.

Calhoun was calm, yet he looked somewhat tired Wednesday afternoon. He jumped at any question concerning basketball, addressed others that didn’t. And through it all, he stood by one prevailing thought in the firestorm that now surrounds him and his team.

“The only thing we can do is play basketball,” he said, “and hopefully advance our way to Saturday.”

Even if the top-seeded Huskies do so by virtue of a win over Purdue in today’s West Regional semifinal (7:07 p.m., CBS), this won’t go away.

It won’t for a long, long time.

UConn may have committed NCAA violations in its recruitment of former guard/forward Nate Miles, according to a Yahoo Sports report, which include exceeding call limits to the former recruit in addition to Miles being provided lodging, transportation, restaurant meals and representation by a former UConn student manager.

The detailed report specifies that UConn coaches traded at least 1,565 phone and text messages with Josh Nochimson, the former team manager and pro agent. As a “representative of UConn’s athletic interests” — per the report — Nochimson falls under the same restrictions of a university booster. And if the NCAA, through its own investigation, deems Calhoun and UConn were aware of the relationship he had with Miles, major sanctions could follow.

Yet, as Calhoun and a university statement indicated, that likely won’t include forfeiture of any games this season, as Miles, who was expelled on Oct. 2, never played a single game for the Huskies.

But the 33 UConn has played really don’t matter right now. And in the fall-out from this saga, any potential damage to the program and to the reputations of those involved could dwarf today’s outcome, too.

All that remains to be seen. The initial impact of the stunning report will be found in one place: On the University of Phoenix scoreboard late tonight, when it tells if the Huskies have a future in the NCAA tournament or an uncertain one to look forward to back home.

For now, they have a game. They say no distraction is too large to ignore, even one like this.

“I said to them,” Calhoun said, referring to his players, “‘Fellas, you probably are going to see something on TV, a couple different things. It is something that occurred a year or two ago, whatever it may be. Just to let you know very simply, the university is taking very good care of it. … As far as we’re concerned and I’m concerned, we are here to beat Purdue and I want you to know that. If you vary from that, you will look back and say I was worried about something that didn’t really affect me one way or the other, and yet we let opportunities slip by.’ ”

The Huskies, or at least their leaders, seemed to listen. A.J. Price stuck to his “one game at a time” rhetoric — the same he’s used since Selection Sunday — and Jeff Adrien said the team has taken on perhaps their coach’s greatest strength: mental toughness.

“We don’t really know anything about it,” Price said of the report. “Have nothing to say about it.”

With a scheduled press conference, Calhoun had to. So how will he handle this with a trip to his eighth Elite Eight on the line?

“The best way I can,” he said. “All I know is to go forward.”

And this will be there waiting.

Norwich Bulletin