HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun says he decided not to retire after last year’s national championship in large part because he wanted to see through the NCAA sanctions leveled on him and his program for recruiting violations.
The 69-year-old Hall of Fame coach returns to the sidelines Saturday after serving a three-game suspension as No. 8 UConn (12-2, 2-1 Big East) visits Rutgers (8-7, 0-2).
The NCAA required Calhoun to sit out wins over South Florida and St. John’s and a loss to Seton Hall for violations that included a finding that the coach had failed to maintain “an atmosphere of compliance” in the program.
In a conference call with reporters Friday, Calhoun said the idea of bringing closure to that issue was a “major, major factor” in his decision to come back this season.
“When I was contemplating, over the spring and summer, about what I was going to do… I always felt there was something hanging out there, and we needed some finality on that,” he said. “We were penalized and I wanted to make sure that I was the guy that sat out. I was the guy that finalized it.”
Calhoun said he watched all three UConn games on television while under suspension, but didn’t get anything positive out of his time away from the team. He said he doesn’t buy the argument that he’ll come back more refreshed because of the time off.
“I suppose you could argue that — sitting back for 120 minutes and watching it and not feeling attached,” he said. “A: I felt attached. B: I felt the same feelings in my stomach. C: When I yelled, the television did nothing, unfortunately. That was the only problem. It didn’t react. I didn’t get a (technical foul) from it. I got nothing.”
Calhoun said he’ll be making a few changes based on what he saw on television. He said the team needs to do a better job of getting the ball into the post on offense and defending the 3-point shot on defense.
Niels Giffey will get his first start of the season at small forward. Calhoun said he is still deciding whether to start Alex Oriakhi or Tyler Olander at the other forward position.
Calhoun comes into the game with a career record of 865-368, putting him sixth on the all-time wins list, just behind Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
Calhoun won’t get credit for the 2-1 record his team compiled while he was suspended.
The NCAA’s Committee on Infractions sent the school a letter Thursday informing it that that record will instead go to assistant George Blaney, who coached the team in Calhoun’s absence.
“The Committee on Infractions’ expectation and mandate is that no coach serving a suspension be given credit for any wins or losses accrued by his/her team during the term of suspension,” The NCAA wrote. “This is consistent with the complete removal of the coach from all aspects of game preparation (practices, film study, team meetings, etc.) from the time the last game the coach is allowed to be present for ends through the end of the final game of the suspension period.”
Calhoun is hoping that will be the last he hears from the NCAA on the issue.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s in the rear-view mirror,” he said. “I love my university. I love my life there. I love my players. And the reason that I’m saying that —I always feel that I need to be there when they need me and finish something, like it or not, that I was part of.”