Lieberman: Calhoun’s health leave latest struggle for UConn

By Randy Lieberman

Boy, it’s a tough year to be a Connecticut fan.

Aside from the usual dominance of the… Boy, it’s a tough year to be a Connecticut fan.

Aside from the usual dominance of the Huskies’ women’s basketball squad, fans dealt with the tragic death of football player Jasper “Jazz” Howard, and now the possibility of losing their basketball coach for the rest of the year.

Huskies coach Jim Calhoun announced he’s taking an indefinite leave of absence from the basketball program to cope with an unspecified medical condition.

Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway told reporters the condition is not life-threatening.

Hey, I believe him. Heck, it might not even be season-ending. After all, Calhoun is the definition of a trooper.

Calhoun battled prostate cancer in 2003, taking a leave of absence on Feb. 3. Three days later, he was under the knife having his prostate removed. By the team’s Feb. 22 matchup with St. John’s, just 16 days after surgery, Calhoun was back on the sidelines coaching his team.

Then in 2007, Calhoun discovered a peculiar bump on his neck. He missed a few games that season, announced his absence was due to “illness” and prepared for the next season as usual.

But he still didn’t feel right. He told he knew something was wrong because he felt fatigued a lot more than usual.

On May 30, 2008, he announced he was cancer free. After doctors removed the lump on his neck, Calhoun underwent six weeks of radiation treatment to ensure a relapse wouldn’t occur.

To top it off, Calhoun fell off a bike a year later on June 13 at a charity event and broke five ribs. He rode 16 miles to finish the race and then went to the hospital.

The Huskies will fight on in his absence. They won their first game without him against St. John’s Wednesday night. But only Calhoun knows how long he’ll be out this time.

It’s the question Calhoun will have to ask himself while away from the sport: Should he risk doing serious damage to his health, just to prance on the sidelines for a game? Or should he give up coaching, his passion, in favor of spending more time with his family?

Either way, Calhoun will be missed by the Huskies as well as the rest of the Big East.

Quick Hits:

DePaul basketball finally had enough. After five seasons, DePaul fired coach Jerry Wainwright amid a 22-game regular-season losing streak in the Big East. Wainwright emphasized that he made sure his players kept their grades up and behaved off the court. Somehow, winning games must have slipped his mind.

Blue Demons win! Blue Demons win! After running the streak to 24 games, DePaul finally won a Big East regular-season game, 51-50, over Marquette Wednesday night. Junior Mike Stovall hit a jumper with seven-tenths of a second left to push DePaul to the victory. Afterward, fans rushed the court, proving once again, it doesn’t take much at all for college students to rush the court these days.


Big East Player of the Week:

South Florida’s Dominique Jones, the third-leading scorer in the Big East, knows how to put the ball in the basket. He proved it with consecutive 20-point games this past week. Jones scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a 73-64 win over Rutgers last Saturday, and scored 21 points and had six rebounds in a 78-70 loss to Cincinnati Wednesday.

Big East Team of the Week:

Since its loss to Pitt, Syracuse is back on track. The Orange ride a five-game winning streak, including a beatdown of Memphis, a one-point victory at West Virginia and a seven-point win at Notre Dame. It surely helps to have the underrated — not to mention my dark horse pick for national player of the year — junior Wesley Johnson averaging 17.1 points per game.

Big East Matchups to Watch:

No. 1 Texas vs. No. 21 Connecticut: Frankly, in my opinion, the Huskies shouldn’t be in the Top 25 after their recent stretch of games. But here’s a chance for the team to prove its worth against the nation’s best coming off its first defeat, a 71-62 loss Monday night to No. 9 Kansas State.

No. 14 Georgetown vs. No. 5 Syracuse: The renewal of this rivalry is sure to entertain. Syracuse rides Johnson and senior Andy Rautins’ hot hand (56 points in last three games) into this matchup.

No. 25 Ohio State vs. No. 12 West Virginia: The Mountaineers are on upset alert this week. Junior Evan Turner leads the Buckeyes into Morgantown on a three-game winning streak. This will be a low-scoring game, with both defenses giving up less than 63 points per game. That gives the advantage to the Buckeyes, who look to Turner to make clutch baskets.

Who’s Hot:

Greg Monroe, Georgetown — Simply en fuego. Monroe has double-doubles in two straight games. His latest, a 13-point 11-rebound effort sparked Georgetown to a victory at Pitt. This was less impressive than his effort against Villanova, 29 points and 13 rebounds, but in a losing effort. In a league loaded with talent at forward, Monroe could be the best big man in the Big East.

Who’s Cold:

Marquette — Congrats, you’re the answer to a trivia question. Which team, with a chance to go up two with a made free throw, missed the shot and then allowed a game-winning jumper in the final minute to a DePaul team on a 24-game losing streak? Correct, none other than the Golden Eagles.