Everyone who has known me for more than about 10 minutes knows how much I hate UConn. In a sport with some of the most obnoxious douchebags in all of sports, Calhoun might be number one.
My initial hate came from when I was younger, growing up as a UMass fan. UConn had been the dominant team in New England, but then John Calipari came in and took over at UMass in 1988. UConn played UMass for one season when Calipari first got there, but after Calipari claimed that his program was the kind of New England, Calhoun chose not to schedule any more games against UMass.
Calhoun’s first responded to this challenge by saying, “John came in from Moon Township (Pa.) and said their program was king of New England and he didn’t know what ‘chowda’ was with an A. You’ve got to know what clam chowda is before you start saying that, especially to a guy from South Boston, it’s very tough to hear a guy say that.” It seemed absurd that that one quote could have been the reason for Calhoun to stop scheduling UMass, but when pressed further on his reason for ending the rivalry he said, “I ended the series because of John Calipari. I had my own personal reasons.” As far as anyone could tell, there had never been any incidents before that, with the exception of that one quote by Calipari.
People don’t remember this about John Calipari anymore, but he didn’t use to be a guy with NBA talent all over the court. He actually knew how to coach his players at one point in time. His first Sweet 16 team with UMass featured a 6’3” power forward and a 6’7” center. ESPN writer, Pat Forde, described that 1992 UMass team as such:
His 1992 Massachusetts team remains one of the most overachieving units The Minutes has ever seen, featuring a shooting guard with range so limited he made one 3-pointer all season (Jim McCoy), a 6-foot-3 power forward (Will Herndon), and a left-handed center who stood all of 6-7 (Harper Williams). Somehow, that collection of marginal talent went 30-5 and advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16.
But in spite of their lack of talent, Calipari had them believing they could beat anyone. When UConn refused to play them, Calipari had a T-shirt made that read on the front: “UMass Refused to Lose.” On the back there was an outline of the state of Connecticut, along with these words: UScared. What’s Your Excuse For Not Playing This Year?”
Then in 1993, Calipari did the unthinkable. He went to Connecticut and recruited a player who Jim Calhoun desperately wanted. His name was Marcus Camby and he grew up in Hartford, CT. Calhoun was reportedly furious that the best player to ever come out of the state wasn’t going to attend UConn, but instead go to play for Calipari. UMass was the team in New England during the early 1990’s and UConn had to play second fiddle.
Calhoun refused to play UMass until the day Calipari left. When that happened the rivalry was back on, if you could even call it that anymore. UMass was not the same program anymore, and Calhoun beat on them for years afterward, routinely running up the score. Finally, in 2004, UMass won for the first time since the rivalry was renewed. What was Calhoun’s response? He said he didn’t want to play UMass anymore because they weren’t enough of a “marquee” team. That must be why UConn started scheduling UMass-Lowell instead.
But a lot of people don’t understand why I would hate Calhoun and UConn just because they wouldn’t play UMass. Well obviously, there’s more. Other than being utterly scared to compete, Calhoun is an asshole running a dirty program.
Perhaps his most well known outburst came when someone had the gall to ask him a question about his salary in during a postgame press conference. At the time the question was asked, the state of Connecticut faced a 1 billion dollar deficit and Calhoun was the highest paid state employee. The reporter, a political activist, asked him if he thought about giving any of the salary back, and then Calhoun went on this tirade:
UConn fans are quick to defend Calhoun for his tirade because of the untimeliness of the question, but someone who wasn’t Jim Calhoun could have found a better way to dismiss it without coming off as a pompous asshole. And oh by the way, Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell called it an “embarrassing display.”
But don’t worry, there are more reasons to hate. UConn men’s program graduated just 31 percent of players who entered school in 2003-04 within six years. NCAA graduation rates aren’t entirely fair because players who leave school early to go to the NBA count against the school’s graduation rate. Of course this hasn’t stopped North Carolina from graduating 88% of its players. Honestly, a school’s graduation rate isn’t even something I care too much about, but UConn’s has sucked for a long time, and it doesn’t look like Calhoun cares much about changing that.
Want another reason? How about the players arrested under Calhoun? A.J. Price, Marcus Williams, Jerome Dyson, Doug Wiggins, Nate Miles. Again, by itself, this wouldn’t mean very much. I’m sure a bunch of schools have players arrested. But when you put it all together you’ve got a pompous asshole coach who refuses to play the best competition out of fear that it will influence local recruits, doesn’t graduate his players, and has had multiple players arrested. And oh yeah, one more thing: he cheats.
UConn coaches, including Calhoun, made over 2000 phone calls to a former student-manager-turned-agent who helped recruit Nate Miles to come to UConn. First Calhoun claimed that the allegations were ridiculous and how dare anyone badmouth him. Then UConn spent millions of dollars investigating the matter and found only minor violations. The NCAA did its own investigation and suspended Calhoun for three games next year. Of course in Calhoun’s twisted head he wasn’t cheating. As Calhoun put it, “We may have broken rules…but we did not cheat.”
So when UConn takes on Kentucky this weekend I’ll be rooting against them like I always do. But this time I’ll be rooting for John Calipari and Kentucky. And you’d be right to come right back at me and tell me what an asshole John Calipari is. I’m not denying it, hell he screwed over the UMass program I used to love. And I’m not denying that the way he has been able to recruit at Memphis and Kentucky is just as shady as anything Jim Calhoun has done. But at least Calipari had the stones to play Calhoun, and for that reason I’ll always root for John Calipari in this match-up.