“Two people have sent me training wheels,” Calhoun said Wednesday during a telephone conversation from his home.
Climbing back on a bicycle is something the 70-year-old Calhoun will have to do, and it’s the same when it comes to coaching basketball. Calhoun hasn’t walked away from the sideline after three bouts with cancer. He came back last season after a back problem and surgery forced him to take a leave of absence.
Even though Calhoun still won’t directly state his intention to return for his 27th season at UConn, there seems to be no doubt that will be his decision. Calhoun was actively involved in recruiting throughout the summer. He communicates with his coaching staff by telephone and his assistants say he has given every indication he will be back.
Calhoun has visited Gampel Pavilion three times in the past week, including a Sunday night appearance before the entire 2012-13 team. That meeting continued the tradition of Calhoun’s pep talk on the eve of classes beginning.
“I’m in my 27th year without even knowing it,” Calhoun said, referring to the start of the fiscal year on the state university’s calendar on July 1.
Calhoun has two years remaining on his contract but in recent years he has said he would use the offseason to evaluate his status and determine if he still had the desire to return. But there has been no indication he has lost any of his desire and recruits have said they expect him to be around the program whether he is head coach or not.
“Right now I’m looking at one thing at a time,” he said when asked about his return to full-time coaching duties. “I’ve had three and a half weeks, unfortunately, of not being able to do anywhere near what I’m used to doing. I can’t go out and play golf. Obviously, I haven’t jumped back on the bike.
“With all that said, I’ve got probably better insight now into these past 26 or 27 years. So I have a little different perception. With or without me, UConn is [still there]. My whole goal in life, when we came in 1986, and to where we are now, I’m very, very determined that that continues. That would be the best legacy of all, to have this continue to be UConn.”
And that means taking care of unfinished business – business that begins with the 2012-13 season.
Calhoun clearly has had time to think about how his playing rotation will work in the upcoming season. He talked Wednesday about his desire for guard Shabazz Napier to become more of a shooter this season. He talked about playing Ryan Boatright on the ball more. He talked about freshman Omar Calhoun’s outstanding three-point shooting ability. On the front line, he talked about the improvement of Tyler Olander and Leon Tolksdorf’s ability to step away from the basket and hit shots.
UConn begins the school year with 11 players on the roster and 10 scholarship players, although Calhoun said consideration is being given to awarding a scholarship to walk-on Brendan Allen. It is a team that must find motivation from a source other than postseason play, with the Huskies serving a one-year ban under NCAA academic sanctions.
“Within every game, that could be our own little championship,” Calhoun said. “Getting better every day can be our own victory. We’re sitting on 25 straight [winning seasons]. You don’t want to be the team that doesn’t make it 26.”
The initial stage of Calhoun’s recovery is 4-6 weeks. He has progressed from first using a walker to now using crutches. Eventually, he may need a cane. Calhoun visited his doctors Tuesday and their basic message was to take it easy.
“I’ve done some weight bearing,” Calhoun said. “It’s only three and a half weeks out and I can get around very well on crutches and stand by myself. I’m making good progress and we’ll keep on going.”
For now, Calhoun plans on short trips to office maybe two or three days a week for the remainder of his recovery. On Sept. 6 he will be in Springfield, Mass., to receive the Mannie Jackson Human Spirit Award from the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. From there, he will follow doctors’ orders.
“When you’ve got a big pin in your hip and a wrap around it and then three screws to hold that in, I guess it’s not exactly like having a sprained ankle,” he said. “But I’m making good progress. Everything is healing right.
“I’ve just probably got to be a little more conservative than I would like to be. They can tell that by the muscle in my left leg. I’m probably putting more weight on it just to push my way around and get around a little more than they would like. They want to make sure the hardware, as they call it, doesn’t get a screw that is a little loose. It is what it is and it happened.”
The hardware, by the way, stays with Calhoun forever. Just the thought of that makes the coach realize how road trips and recruiting trips are forever going to be changed.
“That makes me a target at probably every airport in America,” Calhoun said, showing he hasn’t lost his sense of humor either.