Youth will be served at Final Four
Jim Calhoun started his coaching career at Old Lyme High School
in Connecticut in 1965.
Forty-six years later he’ll lead the University of Connecticut
into the Final Four for the fourth time, looking for national
championship No. 3.
John Calipari was 6 when Calhoun first blew a whistle at
practice. He’s been in coaching for 29 years and will lead
Kentucky, the third school he has taken to a Final Four, in
The other two coaches are coaching’s version of the ”Kiddie
Brad Stevens was born in 1976, five years into Calhoun’s first
Division I head coaching job at Northeastern. Stevens is making his
second consecutive Final Four appearance with Butler, the surprise
team in the national semifinals until Sunday, when Shaka Smart led
11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth over No. 1 Kansas 71-61 on
Sunday. The Rams become just the third No. 11 seed to reach the
Final Four, and their coach also will be the youngest in Houston
Born a year after Stevens, their combined ages don’t reach
Calhoun’s 68 years.
Both Stevens and Smart are in their first head coaching
position, and both will be hot topics of rumors about moving up to
a more influential – and richer – coaching spot.
”Talking about me as a young coach, I think we’re right around
the same age,” Smart said, referring to Stevens. ”He’s been a
head coach a couple of years longer than me, and he has had a lot
more success. They made the championship game last year and now
back-to-back Final Fours. Obviously, they’re doing a lot of things
right over there at Butler.”
Smart’s doing something right at VCU, which is headed to the
Final Four for the first time. The Rams have been on a run that
dispatched teams from five of the six BCS conferences. Now they get
Butler, a team from a conference – the Horizon League – which is a
lot closer to VCU’s Colonial Athletic Association.
”So with us and Butler matching up going to the semifinals it’s
a game for – I don’t want to say the little guys – but the
medium-sized guys, and we’re excited about it,” Smart said.
It might not be for the little guys, but it is between two
people who would be sent to the ”little coaches” table at holiday
Stevens shocked everybody last season with Butler’s run to a
Final Four being played just 6 miles from its campus. He certainly
didn’t let it go to his head.
”I’m incredibly proud of these guys. They carried their coach
today in a big way,” he said after Butler beat Florida in the
Southeast Regional final. ”I was saying I got out-coached big
time. But our assistants did a great job and our players did a
great job, and just a special group. We’re really lucky that
they’re Butler Bulldogs.”
Calipari led Massachusetts to the Final Four in 1996 and Memphis
to the championship game in 2008 and both finishes were vacated by
the NCAA for rules violations. He was asked after the Wildcats’
76-69 victory over North Carolina on Sunday about his place in
college basketball history.
”I’m young enough to not worry about my legacy,” he said.
”I’m just trying to win another game.”
So, too, is Calhoun.
Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 2005, he has
won 823 games, third among active coaches behind Mike Krzyzewski
and Jim Boeheim and sixth on the all-time list. He has won seven
Big East titles, including this season when the conference was
considered to be among the best of all time.
This wasn’t the smoothest of seasons for Calhoun.
He was suspended by the NCAA for three games next season for
recruiting violations committed under his watch, though the program
dodged a major sanction when it was spared a postseason ban. There
were a lot of games when the three freshmen played like freshmen.
The end of the season saw the Huskies tumble to ninth in the
But they went on a streak for the ages, winning five games in as
many days to win the Big East tournament and then won the four NCAA
tournament games to reach the Final Four.
”I’ve been fortunate over 39 years to have a lot of teams do a
lot of different things, but never could I imagine the team winning
nine games in tournament play in 19 days,” he said, referring to
the run that included six ranked teams. ”This unique group of
young guys have just given me a thrill beyond compare.”