Get with the times — UConn as blueblood as UCLA, UNC . . . even Kentucky
It’s supposed to be that the good Lord isn’t making any more "bluebloods." That’s the conceptual basis of the term. In the beginning, there were (give or take) Kentucky, Kansas, Indiana, North Carolina and UCLA, and they were the bluebloods and always would be.
But then came Duke, and then Indiana and UCLA slipped a little and all of a sudden you look up and Connecticut, of all schools, has won four NCAA titles in the past 15 years, which is twice as many as any of those other schools have in that span.
So, sure, maybe we should call UConn a blueblood.
"We been shoulda," Richard Hamilton said from the confetti-littered floor of AT&T Stadium after Monday night’s 60-54 victory over Kentucky. “Every time, every game, everybody is picking other teams. But we continue to win. We continue to build."
Hamilton arrived at UConn in 1996, when nobody thought of UConn that way. The program always had its share of success in conference play, but never had been to the Final Four. But by then you could see it building. Ray Allen had just left UConn to be the No. 5 pick in the NBA draft, having led the Huskies to three straight Big East championships. Hamilton turned out to be the only first-round draft pick on UConn’s 1999 team, which shocked a preseason No. 1 Duke team with four lottery picks on it.
That sort of thing became a pattern. With Monday’s win over preseason No. 1 Kentucky, UConn became just the second national champion since 1979 without a McDonald’s All-American on the roster (the other was Maryland in 2002). The Huskies won it all in 2011 after finishing ninth in Big East play. Of the four title teams, the only one that was supposed to be a serious contender was the 2004 squad, which was ranked No. 1 in the preseason and sent six players into the first round of the NBA draft.
Connecticut always has played this “dangerous underdog" role, but how many national titles does it take for the perception to shift? How many Academy Awards for supporting actor before you’re a leading man?
"Each one of us in our generation that we played here, we’ve had some type of impact, and set some type of bar," said Allen, a 10-time NBA All-Star. “As a young player coming in, you see that bar, so you have something to strive for."
Well, the bar’s as high as it’ll go, now.
The latest, greatest guard in UConn lore – always seems to be a great guard there — is Shabazz Napier, who leaves the program with two national championships, and who even LeBron James said ought to be the first guard taken in the NBA draft this summer.
"I knew we were going to win," said Napier, who was named Most Outstanding Player after scoring 22 points.
The sky is the limit, and there is no more sky above UConn’s head.
You should have seen former Huskies coach Jim Calhoun after this one. He still keeps an office at UConn. He’s the one who recruited coach Kevin Ollie to the Huskies as a player, and then again as an assistant coach. Calhoun during Final Four weekend gave off the vibe of a guy in a sweater and loafers, iced tea in hand, watching the machine he built reach self-sustenance. There is now an entire generation that knows UConn only as one of the four or five or 10 best college basketball programs in the country. Like all the great programs, UConn is now something like a great stock portfolio, feeding itself just by existing. The Huskies have built the nest egg; now they’re living off the interest.
"Life is about climbing the hill," Calhoun said. "And that’s difficult. But maintaining greatness like we have? That’s really a son of a gun."
UConn entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 7 seed, and a No. 7 seed never had even reached the championship game before. Theoretically, that would make this what college basketball fans like to call a Cinderella team, a darling, a plucky little group that captured everybody’s hearts and triumphed against all odds.
"Yeah, somebody told me we were Cinderellas," Ollie said. "And I was like, ‘No, we’re UConn.’"