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October 22, 2018

Q&A: Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun eyes new challenges ahead at USJ

PHOTO | Contributed Jim Calhoun signing a contract to become the University of St. Joseph's first-ever men's basketball coach.

With over 870 career wins and three NCAA Division I championships, former UConn head coach Jim Calhoun has nothing to prove as the newly appointed coach of University of St. Joseph’s first-ever men’s basketball program.

The 76-year-old’s ascent from USJ’s part-time consultant to men’s head basketball coach is more about reclaiming his love for basketball and building a men’s athletics program than it is about raising banners like he did at UConn.

Calhoun’s new Division III squad, nearly all freshmen, has only four weeks to prepare for its first game at Hartford’s Trinity College vs. William Paterson University on Nov. 9. The larger gym is needed to house a larger capacity crowd.

And for those not in the gym, others can tune in for Calhoun’s historic return to the bench.

WTIC-AM will broadcast all USJ home men’s basketball games, with the former radio voice of UConn basketball, Joe D’Ambrosio, leading the play-by-play.

What compelled you to return to coaching? And why at Division III USJ?

Quite simply, I missed the game. I missed the game, I missed the kids, I missed the locker room, I missed the long bus rides back after a big win. I did the ESPN commentating for a little while after I retired from UConn and that was great. I truly enjoyed it. I liked going to the games and being involved. I watched practice…and envied it. But when all was said and done, it wasn’t mine. I thought that it would fill a void but it really just created a thirst to come back.

St. Joe’s is a wonderful place, in a wonderful location and it was the only place that I would come back to coach at. It’s special in its own unique way and and it’s going through a truly special time and I thought I could help. What we are doing here is literally building a program from scratch in its truest form. When I first stepped onto campus we didn’t even have men’s basketballs in the gym and that intrigued me.

Do you see any similarities between St. Joe's vs. UConn when you arrived in Storrs?

In the sense of basketball, the game is the game and the kids are the kids so I don’t think it matters where in the country you are coaching as those two remain pretty constant. Similar to UConn, we are under great leadership here at USJ under our President, Rhona Free, and she has done a terrific job opening up to the idea of using athletics as a front porch to draw kids into the university to see all of the wonderful things that we have here.

At this level we are hindered a bit with less resources and as you know cannot give athletic scholarships, so that makes you have to get creative in the recruiting process when we are going to look and identify kids that could fit in the program, which in a way was similar to when I first started at UConn in the sense of needing to be creative in recruiting.

Do you see yourself as a brand ambassador for USJ as a way to grow its male population?

I’m just a coach and trying to be the best one that I can be for these kids everyday, but at the same time I know that this is a special transition period for the university and I am here to help with that in any way possible that I can. There are a lot of great things on this campus and a lot of great people who work hard everyday and if basketball is a catalyst to draw more males and students here then that’s great and I’m sure they will see how wonderful St. Joe’s is too.

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University of St. Joseph builds men's athletics program to diversify, boost enrollment

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