Thursday, March 25, 1999

Calhoun drives Huskies

'He makes you strong'

The Associated Press

        TAMPA — The University of Connecticut fulfilled a major objective by earning the first trip to the NCAA Final Four in school history.

        Now the Huskies will shoot for an even more elusive goal: satisfying their coach.

        Jim Calhoun, 302-120 in 13 years at Connecticut, is equally adept at working over a stick of chewing gum, an officiating crew and his 15-man roster — not necessarily in that order.

        While Calhoun reacted with heartfelt emotion to Connecticut's 67-62 victory over Gonzaga in the West Regional final, his players know he'll be chastising them or worse the next time they step on the court for practice. He can't help himself.

        “He pushes all the time,” said junior forward Richard Hamilton. “Regardless of whether we win, he's still going to be up in our faces. I think we're blessed for having him, because he never settles for less. The one thing he does is make you strong.”

        The Huskies went 9-19 in Calhoun's first year on campus. Although they've made it to the National Invitation Tournament or NCAA every year since, Calhoun hasn't been able to shed the stigma that comes with a failure to make the Final Four.

        In three previous trips to the Elite Eight during Calhoun's tenure, Connecticut lost to Duke, UCLA and North Carolina.

        Calhoun, 56, said the win-one-for-coach storyline put undue pressure on his players to advance to the Final Four.

        “So much has been written about me, I didn't want to get in the way of them achieving something very special,” Calhoun said. “I wanted to get to the Final Four, just like every other coach wants to get there, or every writer wants to win a Pulitzer Prize. But I never felt the pressure.”