There is a new book on UConn Mens Basketball and it is a doozy: Shock The World: UConn Basketball in the Calhoun Era. By Peter F. Burns, Jr..
God. So many places from which to begin. I’ll start with my dentist.
Peter has been my main dental dude for a bridge, 6 root canals and several crowns since Jim Calhoun came to UConn. Not to mention caring dentally for my wife, 3 kids, and another 6 members of our extended family.
Pete the Dentist is a caring and affable guy. He spends 2 weeks annually giving free care in Haiti. He is a human fireplug, with receding hair, and is always up-to-date on current affairs. The framed Bobby Orr jersey in his hallway testifies to his love of contact sport.
His criticism of Jim Calhoun was been like assault and battery.
“He’s corrupt. He’s a bad man. He ruined the program. He built it up and then he ruined it by bringing in bad kids, kids who committed crimes, kids who didn’t go to class. Kids who stole and cheated. He allowed bribes to be taken and agents to get involved. He did it for the money. Too arrogant. Too much power. It’s like Jerry Sandusky at Penn State where they closed their eyes to protect Paterno. Calhoun is a bad guy. Everyone thinks he’s a good guy but he is not.”
As he he launched this attack I was in his chair, cotton in mouth, Novocain injected into the facial nerves. Pete spoke while he was tearing down a tooth. I was miserable.
I mean I’ve had worse days. Like the day my gall bladder was removed after 3 painful nights without sleep. Like when my grandmother died. Like when Grady didn’t take Pedro out even as a Nation screamed.
I was unable to argue back. I later emailed Peter that his attack on Calhoun upset me and I didn’t want him to talk about it with me anymore. And Pete later obliged.
But what Peter really needs to do is to read this book. Shock The World documents that Calhoun was much more than a program builder. He was a character builder. He created a family on and off the court. That family includes players, trainers, coaches, students and others.
He spoke with Rod Sellers “about accountability, making good decisions about women, time management and homework…..”. The first time he heard these things from a grown man they came out of Calhoun’s mouth, writes Burns.
Others testify, too.
“He taught me everything.” (Donyell Marshall).
“I’ve always looked at the program and Coach as family.” (Chris Smith).
“He taught us how to be men….he was like a second father to me.” (Gerry Corcoran).
He was the “father figure I didn’t have growing up.” (Donyell again).
“I think of him more than he knows.” (Joe Sharpe).
“He is the closest thing to a father I have ever had.” (Caron Butler, who always calls on Fathers Day).
“The wins and the championships at Northeastern and UConn were great, but the life lessons that Calhoun teaches his coaches and players were most special and important.” (Dave Leitao).
I say that there is great depth to the man. Great heart. Knowing what to say just when you needed it.
At an impromptu rally at Gampel in 1990 after losing to Duke on the infamous buzzer beater, Calhoun told the crowd, “Five hours ago, Christian Laettner broke our hearts. You people have to put them back together.”
There is so much more to this guy than Peter the Dentist thinks there is.
The UConn program will have its ups and downs. But the downs will never remove the positive impact that Calhoun had on the UConn family. This is the great message beneath the program building story of this book. It goes way beyond wins and losses and effects generations.
If you are 35-ish or older and thus have complete memories of Calhoun’s run in Storrs you may indeed mark your own time as you read this book. I think of my beloved, deceased Father-In-Law, Roy, who was present to see Scott Burrell’s pass and Tate George’s shot but wasn’t with us the following year for the signings of the Fair-Ollie-Donny-Donyell-Scheffer team that soon dominated the Big East. No one would have enjoyed it more and been more fun to share it with than my father-in-law.
Or, like me, You may realize that Ray Allen’s daughter, Tierra, born on September 25, 1992 (the day Howie Dickenman made a second recruiting visit to Dalzell, South Carolina) is 20 years old today, just like your daughter.
Or you may recall where you were exactly 4 hours after Tater Tot shot the game winner over Clemson’s Sean Tyson in 1990. My brother-in-law and I were, at that hour, pushing my 1987 Toyota Corolla off I-91 North after the clutch ceased to work during our ride home from the Meadowlands.
Or, as the names run across the page…..Robinson, Henefeld, T. Walker, Gwynn, DePriest, King, Hamilton, El Amin, Freeman, Kemba, and on and on, you think about how cold the wind was , or how warm was the sun, when you were 25, 35, 45…55.
That’s the great thing about this book, if you are True Blue.
It’s about a program, a shared experience that still touches millions of Connecticut folks today.
It’s so visceral for Husky fans that they can measure their time on Earth through it.
It’s a great read. So don’t miss it.
Go Huskies. And Go Sox.