Former players support Jim Calhoun
UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was in his element Saturday, watching dunks and no-look passes while hearing the roar of approval from the crowd.
After an offseason filled with allegations of NCAA violations and reports of low academic performance rankings, the Hall of Fame coach got a chance to showcase some of his program's greatest successes at his biennial charity basketball game.
"It's my 25th year at UConn and I couldn't be prouder of the family that we've created," Calhoun said. "We've made mistakes, but it remains a program that shows that it's got family, it's got heart and it's got a lot of accomplishment, too."
About 30 former UConn players, including NBA stars such as Ray Allen, Caron Butler, Rudy Gay and Emeka Okafor, showed up Saturday to support Calhoun and raise money for the Jim and Pat Calhoun Cardiology Center at UConn's medical center.
The alumni game, played before about 6,000 fans who paid more than $20 a seat to watch, comes about two weeks before UConn is due to respond to allegations that Calhoun's program committed major NCAA violations.
"Everything can go through down times," Allen said. "But the people who believe in the organization, the people who believe in Coach and believe in the players that he brings in there, will stick by his side and the university's side no matter what happens."
The NCAA and the school have been investigating Calhoun's program since shortly after a report by Yahoo! Sports in March 2009 that former team manager Josh Nochimson helped guide player Nate Miles to Connecticut, giving him lodging, transportation, meals and representation.
In May, the NCAA outlined eight major violations, from making numerous improper calls and texts, to giving improper benefits and improperly distributing free tickets to high school coaches and others. Calhoun is cited for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.
UConn is preparing a response and is expected to release its own report by Aug. 20. If the school confirms the allegations, it is obligated to impose its own sanctions.
"I can tell you of all nights, that's probably the far last thing away on my mind," Calhoun said.
But it was on the mind of some players, who said part of the reason they showed up was to let people know of the positive impact Calhoun has had on them and other UConn players.
"I'll just sum it up like this," Butler said. "He's the closest thing to a father that I've ever had."
Khalid El-Amin, who has spent much of his pro career in Europe since leading the Huskies to their first NCAA title in 1999, said Calhoun has always been there for him, and he's just returning the favor.
"I'm going to be the first one to say that UConn is the best program," El-Amin said. "Everyone is going to run into a few bumps in the road, but I'm sure they will recover in the matter of a year or two."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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