Jim Calhoun says he's no cheater
NEW YORK -- Jim Calhoun still can't shake the night he heard a chant bellowed at him that went against all he's stood for as Connecticut's basketball coach.
"Cheater! Cheater! Cheater!"
The taunt came from Michigan State fans before the Spartans played Calhoun's Huskies during the 2009 national semifinals at Ford Field in Detroit. It wasn't long after a report broke that said UConn coaches exceeded limits on the number of phone calls to a recruit, and Calhoun was stung by the idea that fans would viciously attack his integrity.
"I may be a lot of things, profane, but that word I'm not," Calhoun said. "I'm a lot of things. You can like or dislike me, but that I'm not."
The word bothered him then and still does today, because Calhoun remains firm that no matter what comes of an NCAA investigation into his program, he did not cheat. UConn, though, did rack up serious infractions that forced him and school officials to meet met with NCAA investigators last week to convince them they had done enough to punish themselves for recruiting violations.
Calhoun, speaking Wednesday at Big East media day, said he's as excited as ever to start a season even as the NCAA penalties linger. He laughed when he said he wasn't dreading the idea of having to answer questions about the violations.
"No, I faced 14 hours of it last Friday," Calhoun said, "and I couldn't talk back."
The Hall of Fame coach did refuse to detail his talk with the NCAA committee on infractions, saying, "I'm talking basketball today."
He should have stuck with the NCAA. His Huskies were picked 10th in the Big East coaches' preseason poll. They went 18-16 last year and played in the NIT, a startling slide for a program that Calhoun molded into one of the nation's best.
If Calhoun's recent health issues and the NCAA investigation affected him, point guard Kemba Walker hasn't noticed.
"I think it motivated him to just do better," he said. "Coach doesn't really talk about it among us. I can't see it taking a toll on him. I think he's very excited about the season."
The school has acknowledged violations stemming from the recruitment of former player Nate Miles, but denied an allegation that Calhoun failed to foster an atmosphere of compliance.
"Mistakes were made and we'll own up to those," Calhoun said.
Under the self-imposed sanctions, scholarships for men's basketball have been reduced from 13 to 12 for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years. The school also has agreed to reduce the number of coaches who make calls to recruits and the number of "recruiting person days." The school also put itself on probation for two years.
The NCAA and the school have been investigating the program since shortly after a report by Yahoo! Sports in March 2009 that former team manager Josh Nochimson helped guide recruit Nate Miles to Connecticut, giving him lodging, transportation, meals and representation.
As a former team manager, Nochimson is considered a representative of UConn's athletic interests by the NCAA and prohibited from giving Miles anything of value.
The school said it found that the basketball staff exchanged more than 1,400 calls and 1,100 text messages with Nochimson between June 2005 and December 2008.
Miles was expelled from UConn in October 2008 without ever playing for the Huskies.
Nochimson was attempting to become an NBA agent.
"Agents and runners, etceteras, are a major epidemic in the United States and continue to be," Calhoun said. "We happen to be, in my opinion, a victim of that."
The 68-year-old Calhoun, treated for cancer three times during his UConn career, was steadfast that the investigation was not taking an additional toll on his health.
"Worst thing to do, at least this is what my friends tell me, is to come after me. I'm usually better coming out of a corner than I am up on a pedestal," he said.
This was the first time the program has received a letter from the NCAA accusing the school of major violations. Calhoun turned sleepy UConn into an elite program, winning two national championships and 575 games in 24 years.
He said he won't let an investigation stain all he's done to build a winner.
"I like our culture at UConn. We've made some adjustments in our culture certainly," he said. "There's been changes that have been necessitated, but nevertheless, our culture over 30, 25 years at UConn has been a very good one. Mistakes have been made. We're human beings."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press