Calhoun being treated for skin cancer, wants to continue coaching

Updated: May 30, 2008, 9:12 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

STORRS, Conn. -- Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun is being treated for a second bout of skin cancer but expects to be on the bench this fall for his 22nd season with the Huskies.

"I want to coach basketball at UConn," the 66-year-old Hall of Famer said Friday. "At this moment I love what I do and feel very, very comfortable in doing that."

His physician, Dr. Jeffrey Spiro, attended the news conference with Calhoun and said he believes the coach is now cancer-free.

Calhoun is to undergo six weeks of radiation treatments next month at the UConn Health Center to minimize any chance of the cancer returning. His doctors told him there will be short-term side effects from the radiation, but they expect Calhoun to return to his normal lifestyle, including coaching.

"I have one more step to go," Calhoun said. "I feel much, much better, thank God."

ESPN.com's Andy Katz reported that according to a number of people close to Calhoun, the UConn head coach wanted to be up-front about his condition.

He said he scheduled the treatments to begin after his June 8 "Challenge Ride Against Cancer," a fundraising bicycle ride he started last year after overcoming prostate cancer in 2003. He plans to ride at least 25 miles. He will be receiving treatment beginning on June 24, and will not be able to go on the road to recruit during that time.

UConn's staff anticipated there would be negative fallout from the reports about Calhoun having cancer, and wanted to get out the word that he was deemed cancer-free by doctors.

Calhoun, who missed all or part of several games last season due to illness, said he knew something was wrong because he was more fatigued late in the season than usual. He felt a lump in the the upper right side of his neck near the jawline that doctors initially thought was a swollen lymph node or cyst. A needle biopsy revealed it was squamous cell cancer. He had surgery May 6 to remove the lump, several surrounding lymph nodes and part of his salivary gland. Subsequent tests revealed all of the cancer had been removed.

Two of his star pupils, Ray Allen of Boston and Richard Hamilton of Detroit, got the news while waiting to face against each other in Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals.

"I'd imagine this is one more instance to allow him to reflect back on his life and the things he's done and if going through another season is going to make it better or worse or if he wants to start enjoying his grandkids and playing golf," Allen said. "I would imagine he would have to start thinking about it."

Calhoun was first treated for squamous cell cancer last year when doctors found it on his cheek. Doctors told him the recurrence this spring is related to his prior skin cancer but not related to the prostate cancer he was treated for in 2003.

"Squamous cell cancer of the skin is not generally a very aggressive disease," Spiro said.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, squamous cell carcinoma is the second-most common form of skin cancer, with more than 250,000 new cases a year in the United States.

The diagnosis came just weeks after Calhoun was honored as the Coaches vs. Cancer "champion" of the year for his dedication to the American Cancer Society.

At UConn, Calhoun has turned a regional program into a perennial national power that includes two NCAA titles (1999, 2004). Twenty-one former Huskies under Calhoun were drafted by the NBA, with 14 of those first-rounders. In 2006, UConn became the first school to have five players taken in the first two rounds of the draft.

Calhoun was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005 and has 750 wins during his 35-year coaching career. He was 248-137 during 14 years at Northeastern and is 502-191 at UConn.

Despite his latest health setback, Calhoun, a grandfather of six, said he never considered retiring.

"All I thought was how do we defeat this," Calhoun said. "I love my family, I love my life, I love my kids. I love what I do."

Information from ESPN.com reporter Andy Katz and The Associated Press was used in this report.