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“A Day Of Sorrow, Celebration And Admiration”

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Jim Calhoun (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

Jim Calhoun (Winslow Townson/Getty Images)

By PAT EATON-ROBB, Associated Press

STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Jim Calhoun retired as Connecticut’s
basketball coach Thursday, closing a 26-year career at the school
with thanks to everyone who helped him turn UConn from an athletic
backwater into a national power that won three national titles.

The retirement of the 70-year-old Hall of Famer was announced on
the court in Storrs, where Calhoun racked up many of his 873 total
wins.

In thanking administrators, players, fans and his family,
Calhoun said he feels blessed and is grateful that “you trusted
us.”

Calhoun will take a transition appointment through next spring
as a special assistant to athletic director Warde Manuel. When he
is fully retired, Calhoun will become head coach emeritus.

Calhoun has been slowed by health problems in recent years,
including a fractured hip last month.

“The hip injury really didn’t enter into the decision, except
that it gave me more time to think about it and the more I thought
about it, the more I became convinced that this was the right time
to move on to the next phase of my life,” he said in an official
statement.

Assistant coach Kevin Ollie, who played point guard for Calhoun
from 1991-95, will be the Huskies’ new coach. His contract runs
through next April 4 and he will be paid $625,000.

He takes over a team that returns only five players who saw
significant playing time a year ago and failed to qualify
academically for the 2013 NCAA tournament. UConn’s ban from the
postseason culminated a series of problems the program has had with
the NCAA in recent years.

“I am very honored and humbled to become the UConn men’s
basketball coach,” said Ollie. “I cannot put into words how
grateful I am to coach Jim Calhoun, who retires today as one of the
most legendary coaches in the history of college basketball. Coach

Calhoun brought me here to Connecticut as a person right out of
high school and has mentored me into the person I have become
today.”

Despite the school’s problems and uncertain future, Calhoun _
who coached UConn’s latest title winners just last year _ got a
fine send off.

“This is a day of sorrow, celebration and admiration,”
Connecticut President Susan Herbst said.

Players echoed the sentiment.

“Coach Calhoun is a great coach, one of the greatest ever in
college basketball, and it was an honor to play for him,” said
sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels. “I think everybody’s still in
shock right now and just don’t really believe it.”

Ollie is one of more than two dozen players whom Calhoun sent to
the NBA, a list includes everyone from Reggie Lewis at
Northeastern, to Cliff Robinson, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Rudy Gay
and Kemba Walker.

Associate head coach George Blaney plans to stay on and help
Ollie.

“No one ever thought that UConn could become a national power,
one of the top-five programs in the nation,” Blaney said. “Now
you look at what this school has become, the type of students that
they have, the buildings, even the image of the state, so much of
that is attributable to the success of his basketball program.”

Calhoun was hired by UConn in May 1986, after spending 14 years
at Northeastern where he transformed the team from Division II
program to a mid-major power with five appearances in the NCAA
tournament.

He won an NIT title in his second season. His teams won 10 Big
East regular-season championships and seven Big East Tournament
titles.

“The thing that stands out to me is it’s one thing to take over
a Duke or a Kentucky and build it and win games and win
championships,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who went into the
Hall of Fame with Calhoun in 2005. “But 26 years ago Connecticut
wasn’t even thought of in the college basketball world. He’s turned
them into one of the top programs in the country. I think it’s
really, to me, the greatest building job that anybody’s ever
done.”

In 1999, Calhoun coached the Huskies to a 34-2 record and their
first NCAA championship, a 77-74 upset over Duke.

In 2004, the Huskies started and ended the season at No. 1,
beating Georgia Tech in the NCAA championship game 82-73. A year
later, Calhoun was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball
Hall of Fame.

In 2011, UConn finished the regular season in ninth place in the
Big East before reeling off a remarkable 11-game run in the
postseason, including a 53-41 victory over Butler in the national
championship game.

Calhoun’s only loss in the Final Four came in 2009 to Michigan
State in the national semifinals. The coach missed the Huskies’
first NCAA tournament game that season after being hospitalized for
dehydration.

It was one of a number of health problems that plagued the coach
in recent years.

Before fracturing his hip in Auguest, Calhoun fought off cancer
three times and missed eight games last season because of a painful
spinal condition. He returned just four days after having back
surgery to coach the Huskies in their regular-season finale and the
postseason.

UConn finished the year 20-14, losing to Iowa State in the
first-round of the NCAA tournament.

He missed 29 games at UConn, and left another 11 because of
illness. He successfully battled prostate cancer in 2003 and skin
cancer twice, most recently in 2008.

Calhoun also was hospitalized in 2009 after breaking several
ribs during a charity bike ride and he missed seven games in the
2009-10 season for an undisclosed stress-related medical reason.

In addition to his medical leaves, Calhoun served a three-game
suspension at the start of the Big East season last winter for
failing to maintain an atmosphere of compliance in his program with
NCAA rules.

The sanctions came after a 15-month investigation into the
recruiting of former player Nate Miles, who was expelled from UConn
in October 2008 without ever playing for the Huskies.

Besides accusations that his staff improperly contacted
recruits, gave them improper benefits and distributed free tickets
to high school coaches and others, Calhoun was cited for failing to
maintain an atmosphere of compliance.

The accusations led to the resignations of two assistants, and a
promise from Calhoun to make things right. He told reporters that
the idea of bringing closure to that issue was a “major, major
factor” in his decision to come back after the 2011 championship
season.

Calhoun also faced criticism for his team’s performance in the
classroom. His team failed to qualify academically for the 2013
NCAA tournament under rules passed in the fall of 2011.

UConn sought a waiver citing improved scores in 2011-12, but
that was rejected and five underclassmen left the Huskies after
last season, two heading for the NBA and three transferring.
Ollie has never been a head coach at any level. He played at

UConn and spent 13 seasons in the NBA, playing for 12 teams before
being hired by Calhoun as an assistant in 2010.

Calhoun, the state’s highest paid employee, signed a five-year,
$13 million contract in 2010.

Under that deal, once he retires he is due either a $1 million
cash payment or another 5-year job in the athletic department with
a $300,000 a year salary.
___
AP College Basketball Writer Jim O’Connell and AP Sport Writer
John Kekis contributed to this report.

     (Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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