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Still Has the Fire: At 76, Coaching Legend Calhoun Hasn’t Let Up a Bit

  • As Colby-Sawyer's lineup is introduced, Saint Joseph coach Jim Calhoun speaks with his team before the start of their game in New London, N.H., on Jan. 8, 2019. While at the University of Connecticut, Calhoun became the oldest coach to win a national title in 2011. He is in his first year coaching the Division III Blue Jays. Colby-Sawyer won the game, 91-88. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Colby-Sawyer's Patrick Coffey passes the ball under the hoop against the defense of Saint Joseph's Alec Kinder, left, and Noreaga Davis in the first half of their game in New London, N.H., on Jan. 8, 2019. Colby-Sawyer won, 91-88, with Coffey leading the scoring with 29 points. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Colby-Sawyer coach William Foti, right, gets a passing greeting from Saint Joseph coach Jim Calhoun as he is followed by several cameras at the start of their game in New London, N.H., on Jan. 8, 2019. Calhoun, who won three national championships with the University of Connecticut, is in his first year coaching the Division III Blue Jays. Colby-Sawyer won the game, 91-88. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Saint Joseph coach Jim Calhoun argues a call late in the first half of their game with Colby-Sawyer in New London, N.H., on Jan. 8, 2019. As the longtime coach at the University of Connecticut, Calhoun won three national championships, one of only five coaches to win at least three titles. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 08, 2019

New London — Legendary men’s college basketball coach Jim Calhoun paced out of the locker room at Colby-Sawyer College’s Coffin Field House, took one look at the box score and sighed.

Speed bumps are somewhat expected for a program just getting off the ground. Calhoun’s University of Saint Joseph men’s basketball team, the NCAA Division III squad out of Hartford, Conn., certainly qualifies.

The school of about 900 students went co-ed for the first time in 2018; its men’s hoops team is part of the first batch of males to be enrolled there. But Tuesday’s loss to Colby-Sawyer College, 91-88, came out of nowhere — the kind of loss that forces coaches, even Hall of Famers, to re-evaluate.

It left Calhoun — who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 2005 after leading the University of Connecticut’s men’s team to three national titles in his 26-year tenure — with a bad taste in his mouth.

“We played awful. I can’t believe how disappointed I am in my kids,” Calhoun said, sitting outside the visiting locker room. “Give a lot of credit Colby-Sawyer. They hung in there. … I think we had athletic talent that we didn’t utilize, and I thought we played very poorly. They, in turn, took advantage of that.”

Saint Joseph officially signed Calhoun, 76, in September, bringing him out of retirement after six years. But helping the Blue Jays build their program from scratch was a project Calhoun had been working on for a full year before he was officially named the team’s head coach.

In that time, he recruited an athletic, fast-moving roster that’s taken some teams in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference by surprise. His return to the coaching ranks has been well-documented; an ESPN film crew was on hand during Tuesday’s game, following Calhoun on the bench with a microphone and a camera.

The problem on Tuesday was Colby-Sawyer wasn’t fooled. The Chargers entered the game on a four-game skid, but went punch-for-punch with Saint Joseph in an even second half to get their first win since Dec. 11. Patrick Coffey and Dana Bean led Colby-Sawyer with a combined 49 points and 19 rebounds in the victory.

“Not that kind of speed bump,” Calhoun said when asked if these kind of performances could be attributed to growing pains from a new program. “I expect it when Western Connecticut beat us in overtime. I expect it when LaGrange (Ga.) beat us by four. I don’t expect a team we’re just as good as, equal, to play so poorly. We had no effort or energy.”

Colby-Sawer (7-6) led, 41-38, at halftime, taking advantage of a poor shooting night for the Blue Jays (38.9 percent from the floor, 62.5 percent from the line). The Chargers travel to Johnson & Wales on Thursday.

“For someone that grew up in New England, to coach against Jim Calhoun … I mean, when he was at UConn and they were in the Final Four, that’s who I was rooting for,” Colby-Sawyer head coach William Foti said. “He’s a New England guy. It’s really nice. It’s been great for the league (Great Northeast Athletic Conference), great for Saint Joe’s.”

For Foti, a 1986 graduate of the University of New Hampshire in his 27th season as head coach at Colby-Sawyer, coaching against Calhoun — and seeing his style up- close — was a dream come true.

“Once the game starts, you don’t really pay attention to (who you are coaching against),” he added. “I remember being a student at UNH watching his Northeastern teams play UNH, watching him coach and being impressed by how hard they played. … Whether it’s Northeastern, UConn, now, it’s the same style. You can tell. He insists on toughness and competitiveness. It’s a winning formula, clearly. He’s in the Hall of Fame.”

Five different Saint Joseph players scored in double digits as the Jays fell to 9-6. Freshman Noreaga Davis led the way with his first career double-double, 19 points and 10 rebounds.

Davis, from Bridgeport, Conn., said he knew what he was signing up for when he heard Calhoun would be his coach. He’s had fiery coaches before, he said. It was what he was looking for.

“I’m here to play basketball. He can yell, I will listen to you. I want to win. That’s it,” Davis said. “That’s what I need as a basketball player and a man. I need someone who can push me so I can be a better person on and off the court.

“He believes in us. We’re on the same page. We want to win.”

The messenger just happens to be one of the best-known names in college hoops. Calhoun’s 882 career wins rank third behind Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (1,038) and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim (933).

Sometimes, it takes a tough loss to remind both players and coaches to not rest on their laurels.

“We have to take more pride on defense,” Davis said. “All of us, not just one person. We’re a team. … We just have to get back in the gym and get the win on Thursday. This isn’t the last game of the season, but we have to play with a chip on our shoulder now. We’ve got something to prove.”

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.