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Sports Commentarty 3/11/13:

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REDEFINING “SPECIAL”

After his playing days at UConn John Gwynn never left basketball.  He played in some semi pro and amateur leagues while learning a new trade.  Today he’s a very competent and respected NCAA basketball  referee.  Recently John was given an opportunity to reminisce about his playing days in Storrs, with memories of some of the most special teams in UConn basketball history.  “I was on that team”, said Gwynn, when asked about the team that telegraphed the arrival of UConn basketball under Jim Calhoun, the 1998 NIT Championship team, “And I was on the ‘Dream Team’ two years later.”  That, of course, was the team that beat Clemson on Tate George’s historic “It’s late, it’s great” shot at the buzzer before losing to Duke in the East regional final on similar heroics by Christian Laettner.  Gwynn is one of the few players who has the distinction of being on both of those teams.  The picture of Gwynn and Jeff King, arms raised in celebration atop the backboard at Madison Square Garden after the NIT Championship victory, will forever mark the reversal of UConn basketball fortunes.  There are a number of special teams in UConn basketball history, the national championship teams not necessarily among them.  Apologies to Khalid el Amin, but it was the 2011 team, carried by Kemba Walker, that really shocked the world, needing an 11 game winning streak just to get to the big dance, then win it all.  Of the championship teams, that was the most special.  But the truly special teams are the overachievers, the less talented compilations that accomplish much more than expected.  The Joey Whelton, Jim Abromaitis, Randy Lavigne NCAA sweet 16 team.  That NIT Championship team, the 1990 ‘Dream Team’, a season best summed up by a tearful Nadav Henefeld after the loss to Duke, “We did not want it to end forever.”  Of all the special teams the most special may be the one that will be remembered for not playing a single post season game, the team that didn’t win a Big East championship or even go to the Big East tournament.  “If you ever dare to dream”, Kevin Ollie charged the crowd at Gampel Pavilion after Saturday afternoon’s overtime win over Providence, “Think of these kids.”  This team, the first coached by Ollie, the former UConn point guard, may be the most special team of all, and a plaque commemorating their achievements will forever hang in the UConn locker room.  With nothing to play for, ineligible for post season play, minus their top three players from a year ago, with Ollie replacing the most legendary coach in UConn history, they played every game as if everything was on the line, right down to the last one, with three of their top six players out injured, Ollie limited to primarily six players and Providence out for a pound of flesh.  In a season when 15 wins would have surpassed everyone’s expectations, Providence became victim number 20.  Led by a scrappy backcourt, a blossoming sophomore forward, a freshman with ice water in his veins and a group of overachievers who believed in themselves more than anyone but Ollie believed in them, they will always know, on paper, they were eligible for a first round Big East tournament bye and a berth in the big dance.  To a fan the crowd stayed at the end and stayed on it’s feet, chanting “Ke-vin Ol-lie, Ke-vin Ol-lie”.  The transition is complete.  When they talk about special teams in UConn history, this one will be in a category by itself.  With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.

 

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