Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Jim Calhoun still at home on the court, whether at UConn or University of Saint Joseph
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — The face was familiar, so was the gait as he entered the court. The shouting at players, staring at officials, all that was familiar too.
But what was Jim Calhoun doing in a gymnasium smaller than any high school gym in Berkshire County?
"I missed the kids. I missed the game," Calhoun said. "I missed competing, and I had the opportunity to compete here."
Calhoun's "here" is the University of Saint Joseph, a Division III school that is a member of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference. It is also a college that just started accepting male students this fall.
Calhoun consulted with the college about building the men's basketball program, and then took over as the head coach.
The Blue Jays are 5-2 after rolling to a 108-63 win over MCLA Saturday afternoon.
Calhoun kind of put his band back together. Glen Miller, who worked for Calhoun at UConn, is the associate head coach. Calhoun's son Jeff is on staff, as is former Huskies player Rashamel Jones.
"I met the president [Dr. Rhona Free] and she got her PhD at Notre Dame, so she knew athletics could help us," he said. "It's a terrific university. I came aboard and now I've been 18 months here."
The Blue Jays are built around 17 freshmen, two of whom came from Division I schools, a sophomore who transferred from a D-I school and a junior who moved from Division II.
That means most of them were playing youth basketball when Calhoun stepped away from coaching at UConn after the 2011-12 season. He was 877-382 during his 26 years at UConn and his previous tenure as the head coach at Division I Northeastern.
So do his players realize that Calhoun is a Hall of Famer with a great resume that includes NCAA D-I championships in 1999, 2004 and 2011?
"In the office they do, because they see of Emeka [Okafor] and they see pictures of Kemba Walker," he said, when we spoke for a few minutes after Saturday's game. "But this is my team.
"I talked to Kemba last week about something, but these are the guys I'm coaching, and I tell them that."
Calhoun laughed when I asked him about the differences in coaching at Division I and Division III.
"You still have to score baskets, stop other folks and play defense, get on their case a little bit," Calhoun said. "I don't find any difference, except twice a month, I see a big difference."
Brand new program. Hall of Fame coach. The question is how easy was it for Calhoun, Miller and the staff to put this group together?
"It's hard to get them to understand some things, but it wasn't hard for them to understand that I've been around some pretty good basketball players," he said.
And the level of play at Division III?
"We have good players that don't have quite the size," he said. "We're one of the few teams that have guys that can play above the rim a little bit. We're young.
"More important, there are good players everywhere."
Calhoun has figured out one thing in New England Division III basketball — as a conference, NESCAC is the bar the Blue Jays are aiming at.
"We're going to try to schedule in a few more of those guys as we get better," he said. "It would have been foolish for us to go out and play some of the top NESCAC teams, Williams and those people, it wouldn't have made any sense."
Berkshire County basketball folks understand that Calhoun is deeply connected to the Berkshire County basketball scene. Paul Procopio, a member of the Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Association and the New England Basketball Halls of Fame, goes back with Calhoun to their days at American International College. They were teammates and fraternity brothers.
"Paul was my roommate, my fraternity brother, and one of the best people I've ever met," said Calhoun. "I still stay in touch with him. He's on Facebook and I'm not. We play golf in the summer together. He's such a great person.
"Every time I see Paul, I feel good about things."
So, how long will Calhoun keep coaching?
"I'm coaching next Saturday," he said, "and we'll go from there."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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