Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun retired Thursday, leaving behind a Hall of Fame legacy. In the 19 seasons before Calhoun was hired in 1986, Connecticut reached the NCAA Tournament twice under three coaches.
His resume included 873 wins, three national championships and 18 first-round draft picks. Here’s a look back at the highlights of his career.
CALHOUN’S BEST TEAMS
2003-04: National champions (33-6, 12-4 Big East)
Led by National Player of the Year Emeka Okafor, Connecticut won its second national title under Calhoun in 2004 by defeating Georgia Tech 82-73 in the final. The most impressive Tourney win that year may have been in the Final Four over a Duke team that featured J.J. Redick, Shelden Williams, Chris Duhon and Luol Deng. UConn countered with the NBA’s No. 2 draft pick (Okafor) and No. 3 pick (Ben Gordon) plus Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong as role players.
1998-99: National champions (34-2, 16-2 Big East)
UConn winning a national title was unthinkable when Calhoun took over in 1986, but after several near misses to reach the Final Four, Calhoun put his name with the greats with a title in his first trip to the national semifinals. The Huskies won the Big East regular season and tournament titles that season before Richard Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin led UConn to a victory over Duke in the final.
1997-98: Elite Eight (32-5, 15-3 Big East)
With almost the same cast of characters that would win the national championship a year later, UConn reached the regional final before being vanquished by a North Carolina team led by Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison.
2005-06: Elite Eight (30-4, 14-2 Big East)
The Huskies had four NBA draft picks who would be drafted after the season in Rudy Gay, Hilton Armstrong, Marcus Williams and Josh Boone. UConn spent the entire season ranked in the top three of the polls, but their feats would be overshadowed, though, by an 86-84 overtime loss to George Mason in the regional final.
1995-96: Sweet 16 (30-2, 17-1 Big East)
Led by Ray Allen’s 23.4 points per game, UConn had its best Big East season, record-wise. The Huskies were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before being upset by fifth-seeded Mississippi State in the Sweet 16. UConn’s only regular season losses that year were to Iowa in overtime at at Georgetown, a loss avenged with a 75-74 win in the Big East tournament final.
CALHOUN’S BEST PLAYERS
Ray Allen (1993-96)
A one-time teammate of new coach Kevin Ollie, Allen is fourth all-time in scoring in UConn at 1,922 points, averaging 19 points per game. Allen was the Huskies’ first two-time All-American
Richard Hamilton (1996-99)
Hamilton scored 27 points in the title-game win over Duke to win Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors. He finished his career averaging 19.8 points per game
Emeka Okafor (2001-04)
One of the best defensive players in school history, Okafor was a co-national player of the year with St. Joseph’s guard Jameer Nelson. Okafor finished his season with a national title, the second of Calhoun’s career.
Ben Gordon (2002-04)
As Okafor’s running mate, Gordon averaged 19.5 points per game as a sophomore and 18.4 points as a junior. Although Okafor took home more postseason hardware, Gordon set a Big East tournament record with 81 points in the ’04 tourney.
Kemba Walker (2008-11)
Walker almost single-handedly led Connecticut to its third national title in 2011, averaging 23.5 points per game that season. The Huskies were a No. 9 seed in the Tourney that season. Walker led UConn to a 14-0 record in tournaments in 2010-11 with titles in the Maui Invitational and Big East and NCAA tournaments.
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CALHOUN’S MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT
Tate George’s shot.
Connecticut was still a lovable underdog in 1990 when Tate George hit a 15-foot buzzer beater to defeat Clemson 71-70 in the Sweet 16. UConn lost a 19-point lead in that game, but George redeemed himself from an earlier miss with 4 seconds remaining to win the game.
CALHOUN’S NOT SO MEMORABLE MOMENTS
UConn won’t be eligible to play in the NCAA Tournament due to a poor performance in the Academic Progress Report. And in his final season, Calhoun was suspended for three games due to recruiting violations involving Nate Miles, though the program did not suffer sever sanctions. Earlier, UConn vacated the NCAA Tournament appearance from 1996 when it was found two players accepted plane tickets from an agent.
Reporters always knew where they stood with Calhoun. He could be quick-tempered and ornery, especially if the questions were, um, subpar. We’re including a response to a question about the state’s budget shortfall, but if you want to see Calhoun at his finest, look up his response to why he didn’t sign Ryan Gomes, who went on to a standout career at Providence. Just make sure sensitive ears are not around.