Viewpoint Calhoun’s Saint Joseph team will be really good
WEST HARTFORD — Jim Calhoun said Wednesday he fully expects to coach the University of St. Joseph’s basketball team next season.
Know what that means?
You also can fully expect his team to be really good. What? You thought the most competitive coach in the history of mankind was going to recruit a fair to middlin’ group of Division III players?
Cam Sells from Springfield Commonwealth was ranked the 37th best player in Massachusetts in the 2018 class, prep and high school, by New England Recruiting Report.
Nadir Dixon-Thompson from The Master’s School was ranked the 43rd best player in Connecticut in the 2018 class, prep and high school.
Most of the guys ranked above them are D-I or D-II recruits.
Noreaga Davis, who played for CIAC Division 1 state champion Notre Dame-Fairfield, was selected first-team All-State.
The roster is a dozen deep with talent.
The only thing that can beat the Blue Jays in the GNAC next season is youth. Remember, Calhoun, 76, is bringing in an entirely new team. There are strong, athletic players two and three years older at places like Albertus Magnus and Johnson & Wales that will present challenges. But he’s stacked with kids. A GNAC Kentucky.
To Calhoun’s and director of basketball Glen Miller’s credit, and to the eye-popping reality of other GNAC basketball coaches, St. Joe’s has already sent a message that its sees implementing men’s sports is an important piece in injecting new life into the small Catholic college. USJ President Rhona Free announced enrollment figures exceeded goals for both men and women.
Not surprisingly, Calhoun is at the center of this.
“The big thing was name recognition in Connecticut,” Calhoun said. “I don’t think there is any ifs, buts or maybes. If we walk into a gym, the kid knows I was there.”
Dean Landry’s son, Brad, was the star point guard for a Choate Rosemary Hall team that won the NEPSAC Class A championship. Brad was a big UConn fan growing up. Loved Kemba Walker.
“Playing for a Hall of Fame coach, it’s tough to turn down,” said Landry, from Wallingford. “He actually came to nine of Brad’s games this year. Nine games for a Hall of Famer to be sitting in the stands with 20 other people. You see Jim Calhoun talking to him, recruiting him like he was Kemba Walker.
“To have coach Calhoun show interest in him was like a dream come true. He couldn’t believe it.”
Davis, who had some interest from D-I Sacred Heart, had a similar experience. His story is an inspiring one. A brilliant student, he also was raised in a difficult environment in Bridgeport and last winter was cousin was murdered. He prevailed for a state title. To meet Calhoun, he said, was in words “unbelievable.”
Davis said he had to take pause and think, “Wow. I just met Jim Calhoun. A legend.’ This is the start of a journey.”
Among 30 schools, Wesleyan wanted Landry. He’s a leader. He’s tough. He can knock down the three. He’s also an excellent student. The opportunity to be in the honors program at St. Joseph’s was important to Landry, who plans to major in economics.
Unless your parents are rich, being really smart or unfortunately poor helps a kid with D-III basketball, where there are no athletic scholarships. It’s true. Calhoun knows it. There is financial aid for the needy. There also is financial aid for the honors program and Calhoun has a handful of those, too. A school’s investment is crucial.
“Financial aid is a major, major factor,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun, still technically a consultant at St. Joe’s, recently agreed to an extension to remain as an advisor at UConn. The particulars of holding down two jobs must be ironed out with the state ethics commission.
“As a consultant or a full-time employee there is a difference,” Calhoun said. “I expect it to be resolved over the next month.
“I love UConn. I want UConn to be where it deserves to be, where it will be. I think there is a role I can still play there.”
With St. Joe’s working with 10-month contracts, Sept. 1 would be the start date as coach.
Calhoun said he sold the players on entering on the ground floor of something special. The next basket or assist will be program history. First kid to get the Calhoun hook in 38 seconds. It’ll all be history. But let’s face it. Calhoun is the reason players like Delshawn Jackson from Prince Tech, Brandon Hurst, transferring from Keene State, Jake Sullivan from Choate, Tahj Brown from Master’s, Alec Kinder from Notre Dame-West Haven, Chris Cherry from Knox School in New York, Malik Cameron from Manchester, Sean Witecy from Nebraska and a few more are coming to St. Joe’s.
“I don’t mind saying it,” Calhoun said. “If I’m rolling Ray Allen, Kemba Walker, Rudy Gay, Shabazz Napier off my lips, they’re going to listen when we talk about development and school. I went to a small school (AIC). I know the difference from a large school. There’s greatness in both.
“The biggest thing I learned was recruiting here or recruiting Kemba Walker or Rudy Gay to UConn is the same. You still have the passion. You still have to call them. I did learn a little more about texting, have a conversation without talking, which is hard for me to do.”
Calhoun said he “fell in love with the whole prep school thing.” The extra year helps academically and physically. Only a couple players are coming directly from high school. Still, they will play for the first time together and they will be young.
“The first year, we don’t know what they’ll do under the gun,” Calhoun said. “All of a sudden we’ve got Albertus Magnus and they’re pressing. But I have never been a guy to live in fear.”
Although he said there are two open scheduling spots remaining, Calhoun stayed away from NESCAC schools. With practices starting Oct. 15 and the first game against William Patterson on Nov. 9, Calhoun had little on-court preparation time.
“For us to take on a brutal early schedule doesn’t make any sense,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun said he has talked to Central Connecticut coach Donyell Marshall about an exhibition game. He said he has talked to the XL Center about a game. Not this year, but he talked to Mohegan Sun for a night with state teams. There been talk with ESPN or Netflix about a series on the process of returning to coach. There is an upcoming vote on a new facility on campus to seat 2,500-3,000 fans.
“We did tell the kids they’ll get more attention here than the average Division III school,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun, who got out to watch 63 games recruiting, loves the gym as much as he loves life. New program. New team. Talent rich. No experience. This is clay in the master’s hands.
“I just can’t wait for practice,” he said.