Saturday, May 29, 2010

Did UConn just get the death penalty?

On Friday afternoon, the UConn athletic department and coaching staff addressed the notice of allegations they received from the NCAA and the eight major infractions that were found.

They all revolve around UConn's recruitment of Nate Miles, which was exposed in an article by Dan Wetzel and Adrian Wojnarowski for Yahoo! Sports back in March of 2009. Essentially, Calhoun's staff was caught making impermissible phone calls to Miles and, through Josh Nochimson, a former UConn student manager-turned-agent, providing Miles with impermissible benefits.

Its already cost two UConn assistants, Beau Archibald and Patrick Sellers, the father of former UConn star Rod Sellers, their jobs, and potentially their careers. Jim Calhoun avoided the heavy artillery, getting grazed with a citation for "failure to monitor" the program. (The ironic part is that Calhoun actually succeeded in doing what the best in his profession do -- "monitoring" from a safe enough distance that sh*t hits the fan, none of it lands on his shoes. Ask John Calipari about that.)

Jim Calhoun waits for his turn to speak at a press conference addressing the NCAA's allegations against him.
(photo credit: AP/Jessica Hill)

The question now becomes how much of a punishment is UConn going to face. UConn will have until August 20th to self-impose sanctions on the basketball program, and then will face a COI hearing on October 15th and 16th.

"If it's a recruiting case, then you look for recruiting sanctions," Rick Evrard, UConn's legal counsel in NCAA-related matters, to Dave Borges of the New Haven Register. "If it's a competitive-advantage case, where a student-athlete has competed while ineligible, then you look for vacation of contests, wins, participation in NCAA tournaments. If it has to do with academic fraud, you’re going to look institutionally at the systems in place."

Since Miles never played a game for UConn (In fact, the kid that Calhoun risked his legacy on lasted only weeks on campus before being expelled for violating a restraining order. Think about that. In a matter of weeks, he was not only able to get a restraining order against him, he was able to violate it as well. Real winner, that kid.) they aren't at risk for having any wins vacated, but they will likely face some recruiting sanctions. Limits on the amount of time they can spend on the road, the number of phone calls they are allowed to make, and even the reduction of a scholarship or two are likely punishments.

In and of themselves, they are nothing that a healthy program cannot survive.

But the problem is that right now, UConn is not a healthy program.

They are a program that, despite being only 14 months removed from a Final Four, is on its last legs.

Jim Calhoun is UConn basketball. There's no other way to put it. When he left Northeastern for Storrs in 1986, UConn was coming off of a 9-19 season and had made just one NCAA Tournament appearance since joining the Big East in 1979. Within four years, he had led UConn to a Big East regular season title, a Big East Tournament title, and a trip to the Elite Eight. In the 20 years since, UConn has become one of the country's premiere basketball programs, winning two national title, making a third Final Four, competing year-in and year-out atop the Big East, and routinely sending players to the NBA.

Calhoun did that. He put UConn on the map.

Despite signing a five-year, $13 million extension earlier this spring, Calhoun's tenure at UConn is winding down. He's 68 years old. He's been battling health problems -- he's a three time cancer survivor -- and missed part of the 2009 NCAA Tournament as well as seven games this past season. He's in the twilight of his career.

On the surface, that isn't a death knell for UConn basketball. Legends can be replaced. It took a while, but UNC was able to survive Dean Smith's retirement, winning two titles in the last six seasons. Sean Miller eventually took over for Lute Olson and has the Arizona program poised for a return to glory. Its not easy (ask Indiana), but its possible.

But UConn is in a much different situation than any of those programs. The Huskies have lost a ton of talent the last two seasons -- AJ Price, Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson, Gavin Edwards -- and haven't done much to replace them. Their 2008 recruiting class consisted of Kemba Walker and not much else, unless you count Ater Majok, who didn't step foot on the court until midway through the '09-'10 season.

Their 2009 recruiting haul featured Alex Oriakhi, who started for UConn this season, but of the three perimeter players Calhoun brought in -- Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, Darius Smith, and Jamaal Trice -- Coombs-McDaniel was the only one that was able to earn any minutes. This year, UConn was in the mix for seemingly every big time prospect -- Brandon Knight, Josh Selby, Cory Joseph, Doron Lamb, CJ Leslie -- but the only top 50 recruit they were able to land was Roscoe Smith. Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier are four star recruits according to Rivals, but so were Darius Smith and Jamaal Trice.

The past two seasons, UConn's recruiting has essentially been Kemba Walker and Alex Oriakhi.
(photo credit: Rush the Court)

Simply put, UConn is getting beaten on the recruiting trail, and it isn't difficult to see why. There's uncertainty about the longevity of Calhoun's career, as well as his health. There's uncertainty about the sanctions UConn will be hit with. There's uncertainty over how good this program is going to be in the not-so-distant future.

And you better believe that every coach recruiting against UConn, and every member of a recruit's inner circle, is making sure that recruit is well aware of those question marks.

How many elite recruits are going to want to play for a school dealing with those issues?

Making it worse is the loss of Archibald and Sellers. Right now, most schools have already targeted who they are going after in the class of 2011, have assigned assistants to their recruitment, and ideally have established a strong relationship with those targets. UConn now has to fill two holes in their coaching staff, reassign recruiting responsibilities, and then send out these new coaches to try and convince some of the best players in the country that UConn is, in fact, still an elite basketball program.

They'll have their work cut out for them.

Safe to say, it doesn't look like things are going to be getting better for the Huskies anytime soon. Its difficult to see a scenario where UConn is back competing for national titles before Calhoun calls it a career. If that is the case, what happens to UConn post-Calhoun?

Are they going to be able to land a premiere head coach? Like I said, UConn isn't historically a basketball powerhouse pre-Calhoun. This isn't North Carolina or Kansas. Players don't go to UConn because of its history, they go there because Calhoun has a reputation for developing pros; for turning guys that were somewhat overlooked in high school -- Ray Allen, Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Rip Hamilton -- into NBA stars.

Are recruits still going to want to go to the woods of Storrs, CT, without Calhoun's coaching?

I hope UConn fans enjoyed that 2009 Final Four run. It may be a long time before you see another one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

SHabazz Napier was really a top 30 recruit in my opinion. He was extremely under rated but he is an absolutely tremendous talent , he is a great great shooter with terrific court vision, and a very tight handle. He can also score very effectively in the midrange area. Jim Calhoun went as far as to say that he is the best player of this years uconn recruiting class. Just watch, he has the potential to be one of the best guards in the big east, if not america for at least two years, he reminds me of STephen Curry