UConn: A Basketball Team Looking For Respect

Jonathan WeberContributor IMarch 31, 2009

PHILADELPHIA - MARCH 21:  Hasheem Thabeet #34 of the Connecticut Huskies and head coach Jim Calhoun look on during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies during the second round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the Wachovia Center on March 21, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

On the verge of winning their third NCAA National Championship in 10 years, the University of Connecticut men's basketball program, in the words of the late great Rodney Dangerfield, is getting "No Respect."  UCONN has won the national championship 10 years ago, 5 years ago, and if we're following a pattern here they should be getting all the respect in the world.

They are not seen as an elite program, constantly battling the naysayers who don't seem to realize what the school has accomplished. Since 1999, the program has made nine tournament appearances, reached the second round eight times, Sweet Sixteen six times, five Elite Eights, and three Final Fours.

They have two National Championships with a very likely possibility of winning number three on Monday. The head coach is a Hall of Famer with over 800 wins and the program serves as a pipeline to the NBA.

According to Forbes, in a Feb. 24 article, Jim Calhoun was not listed as one of “America’s Best College Basketball Coaches.”  Instead, names like Rick Barnes, Mark Few, Ben Howland, John Calipari, and Bo Ryan, who have won a combined zero national championships, were listed.  Now talk about no respect!

Included on the list were Bill Self, Tom Izzo, and Roy Williams, who have one apiece, while Calhoun has 2 in the past 10 years. Billy Donovan was also included on the list and has won as many national championships as Calhoun, but has less than half the wins. I’m not asking Coach Calhoun to be compared to John Wooden, Dean Smith, or Bobby Knight, but don’t put coaches with far fewer credentials ahead of him.

Which program has the most active NBA players in the league? University of North Carolina? No. Duke? Nah. UCLA? Get out. University of Connecticut? Yes; 23 players have been coached, mentored, and tutored by Coach Calhoun. Franchise cornerstones, such as Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Caron Butler, Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, and Rudy Gay, have passed through the UConn pipeline, showing that Connecticut and Calhoun should get fer more respect. 

Okafor won the 2005 Rookie of the Year award, while Gordon won the Sixth Man of the Year, the only rookie in the NBA’s history to do so. Ray Allen and Rip Hamilton were crucial components of their respective teams when they won the NBA championship.

The current Huskies roster is littered with players on the verge of thriving in the NBA.  Senior guard A.J. Price is developing into a Chauncey Billups/Sam Cassell, a floor leader who makes few mistakes and has a penchant for making big shots. Senior Jeff Adrien is molding into Antonio McDyess. A couple inches shorter, yes, but he has the ability to drain the 15-footer, rebound effectively, and hustle on every play. 

Hasheem Thabeet is Dikembe Mutombo reborn, a menacing shot blocker that forces the opposing coach to alter their game plan. He may be limited offensively, but defense is what wins championships. McDonald’s High School All-American and freshman Kemba Walker is a young Tony Parker/Rajon Rondo, super quick and hard to stay in front of with the ability to drive and finish around the basket.

With the start of the NCAA Final Four in just a few days, how is Connecticut not the favorite? They have NBA-ready talent and a Hall of Fame head coach who knows how to motivate. Collectively, they are playing the best they played all season. I have yet to hear one “expert” pick UConn to upset UNC in the finals, but you heard it here first.