Former players show support for Calhoun, UConn

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.”