Wednesday, November 02, 2005
(Bad) business as usual for UConn's Calhoun
Connecticut stole a recruit from St. John's this week, and the sad part is, nobody's surprised.
UConn coach Jim Calhoun is a Hall of Famer and a champion, but when it comes to coaching, he is not a moral beacon of light. This is not a news flash.
This is the man, CBS SportsLine.com was told, who lured ACC rookie of the year Ed Nelson from Georgia Tech by communicating, through a UConn assistant, with one of Nelson's club coaches throughout Nelson's sophomore year with the Yellow Jackets. Two days before the 2003 spring signing period, way too late for Georgia Tech to find a replacement, Nelson announced he was leaving. Nelson has never been more than a role player for the Huskies, but that's not the point. Calhoun wanted him. Calhoun got him. Everyone else is collateral damage.
And so it is with St. John's. Still trying to Wet-Vac the slop left behind by Mike Jarvis, second-year Red Storm coach Norm Roberts thought he had secured his point guard of the future in 6-foot Doug Wiggins of East Hartford, Conn. The UConn staff had been floating around the periphery of Wiggins since he committed to St. John's in March, staying in contact with his high school coach and even his barber, but only in the past few days -- with Wiggins less than two weeks from signing with St. John's -- did UConn move in for the kill.
Wiggins backed off St. John's and committed to the Huskies over the weekend. He might never start for UConn, but Calhoun thought he needed him anyway. Last week the Huskies cut loose another guard from the class of 2006, Ramar Smith, after Smith left South Kent (Conn.) Prep to return to Detroit, where his odds of becoming NCAA-eligible are not great. With the erratic Smith out of the picture, Calhoun wanted another guard. And there, down the street in East Hartford, was Wiggins.
Maybe Wiggins had grown up rooting for the Huskies. Maybe he was heartbroken not to have been recruited by UConn. Maybe it doesn't matter. St. John's offered Wiggins, Wiggins accepted, and it was up to Calhoun to honor the process.
But Calhoun honors nothing but his own program. That is why Calhoun, er, the school, suspended reserve point guard A.J. Price for the entire 2005-06 season but suspended All-American point guard Marcus Williams for just the first semester -- despite their involvement in the same criminal case. Price was expendable. Williams was not. This is justice, Jim Calhoun style.
Calhoun is feared, but he is not respected. Not by coaching colleagues who have grown tired of his cutthroat negative recruiting tactics and by his exploitation of NCAA loopholes like the one that landed him Brown and Gay.
Listen to this story, and it's a true one: In 1996, when UConn went 30-2 and Calhoun was a candidate for every national coaching honor there was, his Big East colleagues voted Boston College's Jim O'Brien league coach of the year. Or at least, they tried to vote O'Brien coach of the year. The Big East office, not wanting to be embarrassed when national awards came out, circumvented the process by anointing Calhoun and O'Brien as co-coaches of the year. A Big East coach from that season says league coaches had essentially blackballed Calhoun on their ballot.
Calhoun has never conducted his business in the most morally upright way, but in recent weeks, he has abandoned all pretenses. There's the Williams-and-Price situation. There's Doug Wiggins. And there's Will Harris, a small forward who committed to the Huskies in July and described UConn as his "dream school." A few weeks ago, his dream school filed for an annulment. The story out of UConn is that Harris "decided" to reopen his recruitment, which is true in the sense that Matt Doherty "decided" to resign from North Carolina in 2003.
"I guess it's just part of the business," Harris told SportsLine.com. "They didn't feel I was the best man for the job. I wanted to play there, but I'll be fine."
Harris will be fine, Wiggins will be fine, A.J. Price will be fine. Georgia Tech and St. John's will be fine, too.
Or maybe not.
Like Calhoun cares. He got his. Everyone else? They can go to hell.