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April 3, 2011
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Connecticut. We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Coach already had a reputation by the time he recruited you. Could you talk about what you thought about him before you met him, then after your first meeting.
KEMBA WALKER: I thought he was mean, you know, just from watching him over the years, growing up.
But when I met him, you know, it was a whole different story. You know, he's the reason why I came to UConn. So he's just like me. He's a competitor. He has passion for the game. I couldn't see myself playing for nobody else.
ALEX ORIAKHI: You know, I first met him when I was getting recruited. I definitely thought he was a nice guy.
But when you play for him, your thoughts start to change (smiling). It's all for the better. Like Kemba said, I really couldn't imagine myself playing for another coach 'cause he's definitely a great motivator. He's coached the best, he's taken them to the next level. Happy I'm playing for Coach Calhoun.
SHABAZZ NAPIER: I mean, I seen certain games of him when I was younger. I knew he was a great coach because I could tell by the passion he had for the game. I mean, if he was young enough, he'd still be out there playing with us. Probably wouldn't do much because people would lock him up (smiling).
I always felt like he was a tough coach, which he is. But he just loves us to death. He wants us to do good. So, I mean, like Kemba and Alex just said, I wouldn't see myself playing alongside anyone besides coach.
Q. Kemba, Shelvin was in there saying after Butler beat Pitt, you exchanged some words about being happy about that. Can you talk about what you said to him? How often do you talk to Shelvin?
KEMBA WALKER: Uhm, I wasn't happy they -- well, I was happy, not a lot.
You know, Pitt is one of the best teams in the country. I just told him, Go win. It was a tough win, especially the way the game went.
But, you know, as far as the relationship that me and Shelvin has, we text each other regularly after games, tell each other, Good game, stuff like that. We pretty much have a good friendship, good relationship from USA.
Q. Kemba, a lot has been made of your play on the court. I was wondering if a couple players and coach could talk about your leadership skills on and off the court, what it's taken to help the freshmen along, because it is a young team.
KEMBA WALKER: You know, these guys listen. That's why we've been so successful this whole year. They always come to practice ready to go hard and, you know, always come with their ears wide open, taking in new things every day.
Coach, you know, he's given me the chance to be a leader. He's given me the chance to lead this team. He's given me a chance to really voice my opinion on things. That's why we've been able to be, you know, so successful.
COACH CALHOUN: Just as far as I'm concerned, I've said it enough about his leadership qualities. I think very few us of us are able to transmit how we feel to others. I think Kemba does it two ways. Obviously, his physical abilities on the court, but I think his incredible passion for us to be successful off the court.
I think to transmit that to the other group of guys is an unusual gift that Kemba has. It's funny. He walked out of the breakfast room yesterday morning. We just finished our meal. There was Kemba and about six guys following him. It just so happened it ended up that way. It was just the way they were leaving. But I thought to myself as I saw that, that's kind of who we are and what we are in many, many ways.
It doesn't mean that Shabazz doesn't step up and make two foul shots and knows to talk to somebody. It doesn't ever, ever mean that Alex doesn't go in the war and do his thing in the paint. And Jeremy has emerged as one of the best young players in America.
What it really all means to me, and 'Scoe has played great defense for us, rebounded like heck, made a big up-and-under play last night, all of them. They all have done special things. But there has to be some part of me that has to be extended. Many sometimes I have the kids for two, two and a half hours a day. I'll make sure it's only 20 hours a week by the way. I'm sorry, I lost myself. One of those things I've been used to for a while now.
Anyhow, to be honest and very frank, you need an extension, you need an extension, you really do, as a coach. Sometimes you have great ones and sometimes you have good ones, sometimes you don't have ones. When you have a great one, you need to recognize that. I certainly recognize.
I think Kemba's words are very point on what he says. It isn't that he's kind of telling them to deal, he's been in the Final Four before, successful. Played against a national team this summer. But the fact they listen and follow because they trust each other, that's the single most important part of this deal.
Q. Jim, Charles hasn't put up any numbers during the tournament, but you could see that he's really clogging up the middle. Talk about what he gives you.
COACH CALHOUN: He was really good last night. I think he's helped me, 'cause Alex has had to do so much inside, and 'Scoe has done, because at times we play a little bit undersized, we played Niels last night in the four spot, for example, that Charles stepping in and be able to Alex as fresh as we can as he goes to war every night getting his double-figure rebounds. Charles has been very big for us. He's got to be big for us tomorrow night also.
But, yeah, we have a lot of those kind of guys. I thought the eight minutes that Niels Giffey played defensively, we were down two and all of a sudden we were up eight. You know, there were no points, but the team is doing a lot of great things. That's why we're here.
Q. I want to ask you about the rollercoaster of your emotions from the beginning of the season with the NCAA attention to this moment.
COACH CALHOUN: Well, I've had three bouts with cancer. That's a lot more devastating. I used to be pen to paper, but that's not really happening any more. It's all electronic communications.
What others say, A, it depends who it is, B, what they're saying, how much validity it has, C, how they're chasing the dead horse as we've had recently. Point being, any and all that stuff, do I hear it? Yeah, I do, because that's who I am. I'm one of those people that can't stop myself from being inquisitive about almost everything.
Conversely, I'm happy as heck to be here with this basketball team. I've always been happy to coach. Last year wasn't the most enjoyable coaching, yet I really liked my kids. I just talked to Gavin Edwards, Hasheem was by this morning, Hasheem Thabeet. I love basketball, I love UConn, I love my life, I love my family, I love my God. I have my two nuns here to make sure I stay holy. The only thing I ask them to do is, Please don't look at me on the sidelines (smiling). I'm really not saying that. It's somebody else who made me say that.
Bottom line is we can all survive what we need to survive if we know who we are. One thing I'll guarantee you, I know who I am. I know what I've done in 39 years of coaching. You don't have to tell me, you don't have to write it, but I know who I am. Quite frankly, I'm pretty comfortable with who I am.
Have I made mistakes? Yes. Do I have warts? Yeah, I do, like all of you. But I know who I am and I'm comfortable with what I've done.
In the tougher moments when you're not winning, two things, A, be comfortable with who I am and what I'm doing, but really enjoy this even more because I don't see those other distractions. I see Kemba, I see these guys. That's all I need to see.
Q. In the day or two leading up before the Big East tournament, how much did you know what it would take after going to the Big East season to get through the tournament and get to this point?
KEMBA WALKER: Just from the regular season, we knew how tough it was. We finished ninth. We were still ranked in the top 25 in the country. We knew it was going to take a whole lot to get through that Big East tournament.
But, you know, we really stayed together. We came together as a team. We fought through it. As we won games, we got a lot more confident.
We kind of felt unstoppable. Things just clicked at the right time.
ALEX ORIAKHI: Yeah, like Kemba said, I think coaches did a great job with having us stick together and believing in us 'cause we didn't know what to expect going to the Big East tournament. After we won those five games in five days, I think something just clicked. I think we knew how special we could be, how good we could be.
It's definitely helped in the NCAA tournament. When you have to play five great teams in the Big East, it's a war every single game. I think playing in the Big East tournament definitely prepared us for the NCAA tournament.
SHABAZZ NAPIER: I feel the same way. I feel like, uhm, the five games in five days were good for us and kind of put us over the top. We just felt like if we can compete with five great Big East teams, why can't we compete with six great conference games.
I felt like we were one of the best teams in the country with one of the best players in Kemba, up-and-coming players in Jeremy Lamb. If we just kept on competing and playing with the compassion we have and coach has, sometimes it works well for us.
Q. When did you start believing this was possible, that you could play for a national championship?
ALEX ORIAKHI: I think after we was able to beat Louisville in the Big East championship. I did question our team. I said, Could we really win a national championship? But, you know, I said, We're hot right now, playing great basketball. I definitely said, Why not? If we keep playing the way we've been playing, I don't see why we couldn't do it. I guess I was right.
SHABAZZ NAPIER: For myself, I didn't really want to envision too far ahead. I wanted to take it day to day. I really realized after we won our last game that we could win a national championship.
We had to get by a great team in Kentucky. We didn't really shoot the ball well. So hopefully if we shoot the ball well on Monday, we'll be holding the trophy up.
Q. Kemba, last night was the first time that you looked a little bit tired physically except for maybe the last few minutes of the Louisville game in the Big East. How tired are you at this point? How does the mental strain of what you've done compare to the physical part?
KEMBA WALKER: I'm fine. The reason I was tired was because that long stretch, we didn't get that timeout. It was a fast-paced game. That was the only reason I was a little out of breath.
But, you know, as long as I stay mentally tough and my team stay mentally tough, just like we've been doing throughout this whole post-season, we'll be fine.
I trust these guys, you know, to carry the load. So that's all that matters.
Q. Kemba, your ankle, did you need any treatment on it? Any minor ill effects?
KEMBA WALKER: No, I'm fine. Ankle's good.
Q. Jim, you've been here a number of times. This is the first time you've gotten here this way, with a team that has had to go 10 tournament games. When you change how you just handle them between last night and tomorrow night in terms of rest, any practice, walk-throughs, does it change at all?
COACH CALHOUN: Yeah, it does a little bit. Back in '99, we had a terrific basketball team, No. 2 in the country. I remember that Duke passed on, and we've done this too before, it's day-of-game shoot-around. We went an hour hard. We just were a deeper team. We hadn't been through anything nearly what these guys have been through. So we handled the situation different.
We've handled this situation just because we got used to playing so many games, we felt it was Groundhog Day. Get up, breakfast, go to the gym, play, come back. I call everything a gym, by the way. Hard to call this place a gym, but regardless, it's beautiful. It's actually the best of this type of stadium I've ever been in. It's really magnificent.
But bottom line is, yeah, we've made some adjustments. I talked to Kemba, some of the guys, to see how they're feeling. And this group I think in particular has allowed me, by "allow me," my trust in them, I'll still make the final decision on it because sometimes all of us say things that we're not quite sure of, but I want to know what they're thinking.
I think when you talk about psychic burnout, I worry about that a little bit, too. We don't want to give them so much.
Our code has been very simple, The hell with it, let's just go play basketball. Well, we wouldn't be doing all the things we did last night defensively to Kentucky if we just kind of rolled the thing out there. We worked very hard on it. But we worked on it if a different way.
For example, yesterday morning we were in a ballroom. We didn't take our shoot-around time. I thought defensively we were magnificent. They made the four straight threes, but beyond that we were really good defensively. They scored one out of their last 10 trips and we played great defense by holding them to 28% in the first half. You can get it done in a lot of different ways if you have the right kind of kids - I'm sorry, guys, because they're not kids - listening, and they're listening.
Yes, we did it the day before. Yes, we did it at Rice when we practiced there. We walked through it in the ballroom, walked through all the defensive sets -- offensive sets, excuse me, of Kentucky.
Q. I wanted to get your general take on how you feel about how Butler's done all this with their small school. In that context, given their story and your story this year, is college hoop as wide open as you've seen it?
COACH CALHOUN: First thing, national championship game last year, Mack was a star, Howard was a great player. When you have on your roster two seniors and starting a junior from a national runner-up, you're probably starting in a pretty good place.
Brad, I talked to him a couple different times. If he's the prototypical of what's ahead in coaching, we're in great shape. We're in great shape. We're in really good shape coaching-wise.
But I think just to overview it a little bit. 18 scholarships, 15 scholarships, 13 scholarships, we've had 16 kids leave in the last 10 years. You start going to Derrick Rose and some of those guys who still would be playing college basketball under the 'older system,' life would probably be a little bit different.
But as close to parity can be, it certainly can occur in a tournament a lot more than it could on playing a Saturday night and then big Monday. Just the nature of things.
I saw all four teams to some degree be fatigued in the first two or three minutes of the game last night. I hate the first game. I passionately hate when they throw the ball up for the first game in the NCAA tournament. I've been here a few times. I can't wait to get going. Let's get the game in flow. The one-and-done thing, walking the tightrope is a hard thing, a very difficult thing.
The tournament atmosphere, lose and go home, and then the second aspect of us taking college basketball. Think if we still had 18. Five kids, four, whatever it may be, from all those Big East teams. You're talking about a million. We have a lot of teams in our league. That's supposed to be a joke and you laugh. But regardless, maybe you'll catch on, maybe it's the Boston accent.
Think about that, even three of those kids, now you got 39 players, they're not playing on teams we're competing against. Make it that simple.
I wouldn't have Mack put a uniform on if he wants. Howard can put a uniform on. A couple other guys can put a uniform on, too. I think that's my point, very simply, there is parity by what's been done legislatively and the NBA.
Q. Jim, you've talked a lot about the legacies of past players. This season that Kemba just put up, is it the greatest single season in the history of Connecticut basketball?
COACH CALHOUN: It's heading that way. When Kemba leaves our university, he's already told me the other night he's staying, which is really good to hear, I'm really happy to say that. I'm holding him to it by the way (smiling). But he's going to be just Kemba now. That's important. If it's just Ray, Caron, if Caron's around, Caron, Rip I don't know, Mek, Ben, it's just Kemba now. That's a great status to have.
I remember when Jack Welch was on Wall Street, they said, Just Jack made this decision for GE. But I think he's Kemba now. He's on his way to having the greatest season of any incredible players that we've had at UConn, any single season. Yeah, he's on his way to that certainly.
Q. Jim, could you explain the coaching that you thought needed to be done to Kemba the last year or two to make him the player that he is now?
COACH CALHOUN: Well, to do coaching on any player, the first thing you need is talent, which he has. But equal to talent, because he and I both would agree kids he has played with, against, that he has great respect for, coming out of the city, out of the city, coming out of the Gouchos, all the places he's been.
The second thing comes how receptive. Mike Krzyzewski told me one great thing about one of our players. He's a great listener. That's good God gave us two ears and one mouth. I don't subscribe to that theory, but for everybody else it's a good thing to have.
Kemba does have two ears and he seeks out and wants to learn so much.
What he did probably starting last April to get this group of guys together, understand what he needed to do, he stayed on campus, he's a kid from New York City, metropolitan Storrs, Connecticut, all summer, except going to LeBron's camp, going to play in Select Team USA, the hours and hours he put in, he talked to him about tighten up, elbows in, the midrange game which he has wonderfully adopted, but it's Kemba.
We gave him a roadmap, and he drove it tremendously. He'll tell you the number of hours. I look at Alex. Alex didn't look like he does now last year. He's strong, physical. He's going to give us an awful lot more work. That's what you need. That's what Kemba gave us. A lot of kids say they're going to. But maybe that third day, maybe I'll go someplace else, that was not Kemba. He stayed with it. We are, he is, all of us are reaping the benefits of all our hard work.
Q. Can you talk about Alex's dance moves last night.
KEMBA WALKER: His dance moves last night (smiling)? It was hot. Do it all the time before the game. Pretty used to it.
ALEX ORIAKHI: I've been doing it since the Big East tournament, so I'm not going to stop because it's a good luck dance.
SHABAZZ NAPIER: Smooth. It needs some work, but it's smooth.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. You can head to the break-out rooms. We'll continue with questions for Coach Calhoun.
Q. Can you assess Shelvin Mack and talk about the challenges in defending him.
COACH CALHOUN: I think he's going to be a pro certainly. There's no reason to believe he wouldn't be. He's got quickness, strength. As a matter of fact, he's got phenomenal strength with the ball. Strength is a funny thing. You look at a guy like Alex, 248 pounds, incredibly strong, young guy. But Kemba with the ball is probably stronger finishing a play.
Mack is the same kind of guy. He's going to give you the bump at the end and finish that play. He's learned how with his strength to come off a screen, be ready to shoot. He's a terrific, terrific basketball player at 6'3", 215, he can really flat out play.
I'll be very honest with you. I saw Butler last year, saw them three or four times this year, I happen to be a basketball junky, so I see a lot of games. He's kind of gone under at least the radar nationally when we talked about all the players of the year, the great players. He can match up with anybody. He's a terrific, terrific basketball player.
Q. Can you talk about when you bring Shabazz in at the point and Kemba goes off the ball, what benefit that is?
COACH CALHOUN: The benefit is it's going to age me by at least -- for every minute he plays, I age two years.
No, Shabazz does things, the behind-the-back layup. The layup was great, behind the back -- otherwise it was a great move.
Shabazz is fearless. It seems like I've been talking to people for the past 24 hours. But when he turned the ball over last night by trying to attack the two guys. We get to the bench, before I could say a word, he said, Coach, I'll get it next play. The next play for him happened to be the two foul shots. That's Shabazz Napier.
I think what it does, and we've been wrestling trying to get Kemba a little more rest, get him on the bench for a second or two. We're going to try to get him some rest. 40 minutes is 40 minutes. Last night was a hard 40 minutes.
The score wasn't that high. The intensity on both teams, both teams grounded it out defensively. If the score had been 86-90, it's a hard and grinding game to play for both teams. We can't have Kemba do everything. There's a picture in the Houston Chronicle of Kemba coming up to block that shot. The energy he gives, you got to take him off the ball sometimes. Obviously Shabazz as a freshman has been invaluable to us.
Q. Could you take us back to 1972 or so and what you were like as a young coach at Northeastern. Would you share any similarities with what Brad Stevens is like now?
COACH CALHOUN: I didn't wear glasses. None. I said it the other night when I talked about My Three Sons, the younger coaches in the field, Brad was the perfect middle child. I want him occasionally to at least cuss or just do something out of line. So I don't think he'd necessarily be a Jim Calhoun, an Irish guy from south Boston. I don't think he'd be that. But he's a terrific coach.
But I could see this in him. I see the competitiveness that I have, it just shows up in different ways. How do I know he's passionate? Because I watch his teams play. I can see that passion right there. It comes out of my team the same way. But the instrument directed may be a little different, but the passion is there. Dedication to the things they do.
He said, We weren't doing all the details. I'm a detail guy. If we do something, we're going to do it 20 more times. So I see that.
What I really love about him is respect for the game. We talked about that. Not here, but someplace elsewhere I got to know him a little bit. I see the same thing that I had, though. The thing that gets you here, we both believed that we could do something special in the game of basketball with our kids and take our kids on a journey. That's the single most important thing.
In all of Brad's comments, hopefully if anybody has ever been around UConn, one of the nicest things somebody ever said about me, my office is filled with pictures of my players. A lot are filled with awards. I bet you Brad, I know his mind is, when he talks, it's always about his players. I do know what kind of coach he is.
I do see some similarities to some degree. I think the road is different now, coming from Butler or Northeastern. I see a lot of similarities, yet we're completely different people. At least we're perceived, because we're not necessarily who we are, a lot of times perceived by what other people say about us.
Like I said before, if he's what college basketball is going to come, we're in good hands.
Q. What kind of lessons can other smaller schools, whether they're mid-majors or whatever level you want to put on them, can learn from that Butler has been able to do? Is it almost inevitable that a mid-major is going to win the national title one of these days?
COACH CALHOUN: Right now I can't tell, but just a trend to some degree. You know, some of it's going to have to do with Collective Bargaining in the NBA. It sounds funny, but it's true. I think I took yesterday, 23 kids who are presently in the NBA would be in the field. That could change things big-time. And Derrick Rose is not a bad player. And you can keep on going.
Here is my fear. For every VCU, there's going to be a hundred -- that's too many, 10s and 20, 30, 40, 50 coaches fired at mid-majors because they didn't do what Butler did. That's a fear, that they'll think everybody can do what Butler did.
Butler is a unique situation in that it does have great history. Hinkle Fieldhouse is a great place and they have wonderful tradition. They have a wonderful young coach. The school is committed to academics and their basketball program. Some of the people who think that their coach should do the same need to look to itself, Are you committed as Butler is?
It gives a great deal of hope. When I was at Northeastern, we had 28, 27, we made five NCAA tournaments, the chance of us getting to a Final Four, even with great players, were almost nonexistent. They had 18 scholarships in some of the bigger programs. We were fortunate, we got a couple pros, one great one, God rest his soul, Reggie Lewis, who played for the Boston Celtics. We had four or five guys going on to the NBA. That doesn't exist anywhere near as much as it did at one particular time.
I think it's good for college basketball. I think if it starts around 2012, 2013, it would be a wonderful thing. I do think there's a chance for it happening. I would have told you 10 years ago no way. But I would tell you, yeah, there's a chance for it happening.
Q. You mentioned the magnificent defense you played last night. Looked like you started Kemba on Brandon Knight. And then when Doron Lamb got hot, you moved Kemba over to him. What is Kemba's role defensively? What did you think of the job Liggins did on Kemba?
COACH CALHOUN: Right. First part of it was simply we change up almost automatically. Unless someone is being locked, by that I mean really locked, we change defenses a lot to give a guy a different look. So sometimes it has nothing to do, unless the guy is really just shutting someone down, okay, put him in a closet, that's a different keel. Unless that happens, we change on you just so you'll get a different look so you won't feel comfortable. Maybe put more quick on you, more size and strength on you. We do that changing.
I've always done that over the past 20 years. I just think a different look sometimes can goof a guy up.
We were very happy with the job we did on Brandon because he's 6 for 23, he's a terrific young player, was an expensive point total, because it's 20-something percent. We tried to hold him to someplace in the 30s was our goal.
Q. And Liggins, the job he did?
COACH CALHOUN: Yeah, I know that John said they thought they did a great job on Kemba. He only had 18-7-6, got loose balls, blocked shots. If that's controlling, he's far and away the best player in the country. He dominated the game when it had to be dominated. Down the stretch he made big shots. That's frankly the telling time of a great player.
Frankly, we missed a lot of open shots last night. I know coaches never say that. I never think that's why you lose, by the way, and we didn't lose. We had open opportunities. I thought Kemba could have had 10, 11, 12 assists last night, I really believe that.
Did they do a good job on him? Yes, they did one of the better jobs of keeping him out of the middle of any team. If Liggins was responsible for that, he did a nice job with that.
Containing Kemba for a game is a tough deal.
Q. Having been around for a while, you've seen the NCAA and the Final Four grow financially. Are you at a point that you think some of the student-athletes should be paid beyond what their scholarship allows?
COACH CALHOUN: Well, for a lot of years it's been 39, a couple days, 39 years as a Division I head coach. I was a hundred percent against that, a hundred percent against that. Kids get room, board, tuition, books and feed. They can also get $6,000 in Pell Grant money and another $1500 in special needs. So that's $7500 of spending money over a nine-month period.
But given the amount, for example, some of our kids' parents aren't here. That's wrong. That's a hundred percent wrong. All these kids, I get paid to do this, they don't get paid to do this. How many interviews do you think Kemba has done since last Tuesday when we had an on-campus site, and the rest of our kids? I think there should be more stipends to get families here. I don't believe in paying athletes because we have the NBA already. What I do believe very honestly is we got to do more for the kids.
I don't have the formula, but I do have the philosophy. I've changed my mind about that. But I don't like kids saying all the time, I can't buy a jersey. What are you doing with the $7,000 of spending money that the Federal Government gives from you a Pell Grant on, what are you doing with that kind of money?
But we have to do more for the kids, there's no question. If I really had the system, obviously I would articulate on it. I don't have the system. We could start out in any NCAA tournament, I truly believe we've got to get parents there. We have kids who don't have parents here, at the grandest ballroom that you could go to. This is a special place, special thing to watch their son go through it. I would love to see all of our parents here.
Q. You know what people are going to say if you should win a NCAA championship and have to turn around and serve a suspension from the NCAA. How do you respond to that criticism?
COACH CALHOUN: I haven't even thought about it, nor do I expect to think about it. It's a legitimate question, but I don't have a thought about it because right now I'm thinking about Butler. After that I'll think about recruiting. After that, my golf trip starts on May 9th. We're going to be gone for nine days. No telephone. We play golf, 16 of us. It will be fun.
I'm not thinking about that right now. I think it's the last thing I should think of. I have a whole bunch of things I need to think of before that could take place.
Q. On this Sunday in '99, you talked about recruiting kids to UConn by saying, How would you like to play at Syracuse and Georgetown, just not for Georgetown and Syracuse? Do you ever think back about being more the outsider without expectations?
COACH CALHOUN: I never mind the underdog role. I guess it's the story of my life to some degree. Given large family, father dying at 15, some of the things that happened to me. In many ways, my journey was my own journey. I'm comfortable with that.
But, you know, my goal at UConn is to leave the program as a national power. I didn't come in saying that, by the way. I thought we had the stage. When the Big East was formed by David Gavitt, his son Dan is sitting here, probably my greatest hero in basketball is David Gavitt, one of the smartest people I ever met. When he formed the Big East, he gave us a stage, UConn, no longer a Yankee Conference team playing New England schools. It gave us a stage to perform on. I said, If we can take ourselves and play some of the great teams in the Big East, we could maybe get to be one of those really good programs. Then I thought, Can we get to be a special program?
As a basketball person, I understand the history of Indiana, and they'll be back with Tom Crean. I understand with Kentucky, the great, great passion they have for their basketball program. I understand Carolina. Recently, more recently, in the past 20 years, with Mike there at Duke, I have great admiration for that.
All I aspire to you, when you talk about the great programs, I aspire that you always include Connecticut. That is almost my everyday goal to get us to be one of those elite programs. Have we been over the past 20 years? We have the fifth or sixth best record over the past 20 years. That's what I aspire to be, fully entrenched as one of the elite programs. Is that too much to take on? It's what I wanted to take on. I wanted to be good first, then I wanted to win, then I wanted to make the tournament, I wanted to win the Big East. I wanted our university to do that. I love UConn. That's why I've said that.
Q. You made a joke about how it would be great if a mid-major won in 2012 or 2013. Jim Boeheim has never gotten over the fact they were the first two to lose to a 15. How would you process, handle, if Connecticut became the first BCS school to lose to a 'mid-major'?
COACH CALHOUN: Well, I saw Butler play. Butler is no mid-major to me, number one. I'm incredibly excited for our program, for the Big East, for all of us to be in the final game when everybody else is sitting home, in theory sitting home.
We're going to try to win the game whether we're a 2 seed, 4 seed, 17 seed. I know there's no 17, but I thought I would throw that in there.
Point being is, you know me, we're going to try to win the game because we're going to try to win the national championship. No ifs, ands, or buts. If they were able to win the game, I'd have great respect for them that they were able to beat us. They're certainly good enough to beat us. Our job is to beat them. It's two programs, mid-, upper-, lower-conference, none of that means really much to me.
The thing I want, to win the game, our kids want to win the championship. It's the greatest present I could give back to them for being such a great team for me and for our university, and I think for the Big East, to give back to them hopefully a national championship. That's what I'd like to be able to give back for what this team has done.
Q. As far as defending Kemba, Billy Donovan called Butler the most physical defense in the country. Nobody can keep up with him. What do you see that they do that could make it tough for him and clog the middle for him tomorrow?
COACH CALHOUN: They'll do that. They do that against almost everybody. They play great team defense. They stunt, help, recover. They do all the things they need to do. They're physical enough to do it.
We've had so many things done against us with 41 games, tomorrow, we've seen an awful lot.
They're capable of slowing Kemba down, without question. So what do we do about it? We keep running our stuff, run it better, try to get him more free. As he said, some of the other guys pick up the load.
Q. Are you remorseful about the NCAA violations involving Nate Miles?
COACH CALHOUN: I've said before that I took full responsibility as the head coach, for anything that happened within our program. So, therefore, I accept that responsibility. I said my own personal and private thoughts would be kept personal and private.
Q. If you were to win tomorrow, is there a chance you would say, That's enough, call it quits?
COACH CALHOUN: You sound like one of our alumni midway through the season when we lost four out of five.
You know, I would think it may be a legitimate question. I don't know if it is. I don't know if I look battled today. Maybe I do. I didn't sleep very much.
But every season, I think I might have said this before, when the season came to a conclusion, especially over the past four, five, six, seven years, whatever it may be, I told my wife I would retire when I was 50, I lied.
But I was on a plane roughly 10 years ago with Dean Smith. Dean Smith said, Don't ever make a decision on your basketball future right after a season, no matter how great it was, and don't ever make it after a disappointing season. Give yourself some time, space, and distance and then make a decision.
I've do it every spring. I've done it every spring for probably the past five, six, seven years.
Q. In the day or two before the Big East tournament started, given everything that you've had to go through in the regular season, the five games that you were facing, then the five games you've had since, what page have you flipped to in the coaching handbook? Have you rewritten the rules for how to do this?
COACH CALHOUN: I can tell you this much: I just happened to see our printout, I've coached 1200-something games. It's not my first rodeo, I guess. Point being, I've never been through anything like this. I've never had a team play nine games in 19 games with so many young guys. Some of the things I probably should write down, I don't know who else is going to go through this.
But, yeah, we've tried to stay as normal, try to make it a game day like we're at Cincinnati, 12:00 on a Saturday. Conversely, we've had to make special arrangements because the physical and psychic toll that you pay is pretty high. It's pretty high.
I mean, you go and beat San Diego State in San Diego, virtually, Anaheim, then Arizona shows up with its fans, two road games, both were very tough basketball games. Yeah, if you don't adapt, we wouldn't have made it this far. We've had to adapt, but keep it like a regular game. That's been a tough blend.
We talk it through hours and hours as a staff. We talk it through with some of the older players.
Q. Can you talk about how remarkable it is with this Butler basketball team going back-to-back to the championship game, how difficult it is to do that.
COACH CALHOUN: If you had told me two years ago that that could happen, or even a year ago, that Butler would be back in the Final Four this year, I would say, No, I don't think so, because I'm a great believer in somewhere along the regular season does have great meaning to it. And the fact of who you play every single day, not the out-of-league games, but who you play every day prepares you.
But they have an unusual brand of kids. The biggest thing we've found coming off of national championships in 2000, after '99, 2005 after 2004, was our kids weren't quite as hungry because they had been there. Maybe the fact they didn't win it and came close to winning it made them hungry, although I think they struggled early from that. Brad and I talked about that.
It's remarkable. It's remarkable, and probably, in my opinion, unprecedented. We've had the Masons, the Cedric Maxwell teams, UNC-Charlotte back in the '70s. I think it's unprecedented. I don't remember a team, A, as good as Butler, but also a team coming from whence they came in back-to-back championship games. No, I don't.
Q. You mentioned Kemba said to you he planned to come back for next season. Was that facetious? Do you have any sense for that? After Monday night, the focus of the sport will shift to who is staying, who is going. With the whole situation with the NBA labor uncertainty, I'm curious how much you versed yourself in that and what dynamic that plays in situations.
COACH CALHOUN: Well, we were just talking about, some of you guys, you don't want this to be your last game. It was said at a team meeting. Charles and Donnell. Kemba said, Coach, I'm staying. Then I said, Kemba. He said, No, I'm staying, with a big smile on his face. I think he was just trying to lighten me up a little bit possibly.
I do think that Kemba and I will get together, as I do with all my players, especially since we've had 16 in the past 10 years leave early, and discuss it before the season starts, because they're not going to discuss it during the season. Our goal is on what is on the front of the jersey, not what is on the back of the jersey. UConn is the most important thing I want them to be honed into.
That being the case, Kemba and I have had the discussion and have not had the discussion since then. But it's my job to keep at least my thumb very well aware of the labor negotiations, where he would be in the draft, what it would mean for him if there was a lockout, all those type of things. I have that responsibility.
But right now, as you can well imagine, I'm doing that part of the job as you have to multi-task a lot of things, but right now we're getting ready for Butler.
But, yes, I'm well aware of some of the things. The moment the season ends, Kemba and I, I'm sure, will have some discussions.
Q. (Question regarding the labor situation.)
COACH CALHOUN: Once again, I have to know more in-depth what is going. I have Caron here, Kevin Ollie was on the board for the NBA Players' Association, our assistant coach. We have enough people we can talk to, yes.
Q. You were talking about how people transmit things to one another. I was wondering if in any way during the NCAA troubles what these players gave to you in terms of getting you through it and reminding you your real legacy is your players.
COACH CALHOUN: Without my wife, without my God, without my feeling of looking into who I am, I actually had to do more self-perspective because I do love this game and I do think in 39 years I've tried to do it the right way.
The greatest moments, beyond my family, is when I get back to a gym and get where I'm really comfortable with my kids. When I get a call on a given day from Caron, I'll probably see 17 or 18 former players, maybe 20, 30, however many are going to be here, they reaffirm to me that what I've done in basketball, that I'm very happy with it. They reaffirm to me why I'm in basketball. It's because of them.
I took a pay cut to go from Denny Hamlin High School to Northeastern University with five scholarships as they were just going to Division I long before we met up for the Niagara games.
My point being simply, I started as a teacher and a coach. I've always considered myself to be a teacher coach. If I can impart things to the kids, I'm very demanding of the kids, as my dad was on me, other people, because they wanted the best for me.
The kids have been clearly, after my family, the thing I've rallied around the most. When I get into that gym, we're talking about the pick-and-roll, playing better, whatever the case may be, that's home, that's my sanity, that's the place I go and I'm so comfortable.
Q. Yesterday in the press conference you said that one of the reasons the team was fatigued is because of the long day. I was wondering if you had any comment if the late start time is burdensome to the players. I've heard you say that you recently realized that players don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. How did you come to embrace that creed?
COACH CALHOUN: I've always believed that yelling at a player is useless unless he feels and truly understands the reason why. I've been very fortunate at Connecticut, and before that Northeastern, over my 39-year career, I started out, I was 28, almost 29, had all the answers. Now I'm 68 and have a lot of questions. But I had all the answers then. I found out more and more that they were the essence of who and what I was going to be in coaching.
The most important single thing I owed them is to have their back, is to truly be there when things aren't so good, or we have some losing, in the case of UConn, particularly now, kids who are heading out to have careers beyond this.
I think the moment they find out, and I've been fortunate because the legacy is passed on, the family has stayed together, be it Ray Allen, Rip, Caron, all the things that have happened, they have to know you care about them. Then they don't care what you really say to them, they just know the idea is to make them better, that you're trying to get them to a point where they can be Kemba Walker, be whoever it might be. I think that's incredibly important.
I've always said the best bloodhounds I've ever met in the world are my players. They can sniff a phoney out in about half a second. A lot of our kids have been on the street, been in situations, because of their basketball ability. They can tell someone real from someone not so real. I think, quite frankly, that you need to trust your players, but your players, to make it all work, they really need to trust you.
If you say we're gonna run this with eight seconds to go, they got to believe that that's the best thing. Conversely, when you're telling them things, I don't think you have a basketball career, I'm going to try to help you do something else. Players breaking away, kids that I don't think have any chance of playing anyplace, it's difficult to tell them that. The trust factor becomes the single most important thing.
If I was going to give a young coach advice, really get on your kids, don't be me, be you. Doesn't make any difference how you do it, but do it because you're you. The kids that left here, they're the expression of who Jim Calhoun is. So when you see our team play on the floor and you see UConn win, lose, whatever it does, it's them. Their faith in me, their trust in me, my trust in them, it's a mutual deal. But you better have their back at all times.
Q. You had a number of different jobs in high school, I believe. Would you share with us some of those jobs and how perhaps they might have informed the way you coached basketball in your career.
COACH CALHOUN: After my dad died, when I was playing football, I still can remember this day, pumping gas at 6 a.m. in the morning and then catching the bus at 10:00 to go to the football games. I made, it was called Peachy Candy, I made ribbon candy. I was able to get down there, make some ribbon candy. I had to quit college when I first went to school because my dad died at the time. My mother had a heart condition. We had six children. I came back and worked for the year as a stonecutter. I worked in a granite quarry place and helped make markers, hundred-pound markers, put names on them, then carried them around.
I'm trying to think of some of the others.
One of my favorite things, where Four River Shipyard would be, Bethlehem Steel. They were making ships there. I grew up right near the ocean. I was assigned to go to the dump for the shipyard to get valuable metals, copper. At the end of the day, we take all the copper tubing, burn it, et cetera.
I've had some really interesting experiences in my life. I've had a few more than those, but those are a couple off the top of my head because my responsibility has been always to family. The day my dad died, you don't want to hear my story, I came home from a baseball game, they told me my dad was dead. I came home, I told my mother, I was 15, I'll take care of you.
I don't know what 'I'll take care of you' means, but I've been on that journey to take care of all my families, including my basketball family.
Q. When you were at Denny Hamlin High, Northeastern, building, the program at UConn, you've had a certain edge, chip on your shoulder. Some might argue it's only grown bigger as you've gotten more successful. How have you maintained that edge and stayed true to who you are and had that chip given the amount of success you've had?
COACH CALHOUN: I don't know what chip you're talking about only because when I read about myself, I don't know who they're talking about. I'm not saying you personally. Generically, my wife and I kid about that a lot. You know I'm on the board of the Eugene O'Neill Theater? You didn't know that, fine. You know there's the Calhoun Cardiology Center that we raised $7 million for me. You know I'm an avid bike rider, that I've run 12 marathons? You know all those things? I'm not going after you, but you're right.
I made a decision a long time ago when I went to New York City for the Big East tournament, I had a choice. Some of you may or may not know this. Runyon's is a hang-around place for the media in New York. I had a chance to go there for the night and catch a shooting star or go with my family. There was no choice, I went with my family.
Who is my mentor. My high school coach Fred Herget who died unfortunately at 56 from cancer. So I'm not from the 'blue blood of coaching' lineage. I'm a guy from Dorchester, Braintree, Massachusetts, who started as a high school coach and I am who I am.
But I am comfortable with who I am. I don't think I have a chip on my shoulder, per se. I think my wife says I have a look that you know where you stand with me. I realize it's very difficult.
But the edge I've maintained. I think the last thing I would say is the best thing, I would hope you never lose your edge. The moment I lose my edge, I can guarantee you now I'll say, that's it. The edge is what keeps me going. If you went to Roy Williams or Mike Krzyzewski, if they admit it or not, I don't care, if they don't fear failure more than they seek success, I'll be very surprised.
Q. Shabazz just told us the win at Texas was not only the biggest of the season at that point, but also something he saw as a turning point. What do you remember about that game and did you feel the same way?
COACH CALHOUN: Yeah, I did. We just lost to Notre Dame. Texas had the biggest crowd of the year, sold out, the whole thing. We just had a 11-game winning streak, lost to Notre Dame, came back to beat Texas at Texas. I think it showed, I told the kids since then, leading up to this run on many occasions, that if we can beat Texas at Texas, we can beat everybody. It was a very critical point for us.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, coach.
COACH CALHOUN: Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports