When the UConn Huskies men's basketball team found itself in the bullseye of the NCAA for academic violations, the toll on the program was severe.
Legendary coach Jim Calhoun ended his 25-plus year tenure at the helm of the team in September, star players Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb jumped to the pros and several high-profile recruits spurned the Huskies.
One of the few recruits to remain committed to UConn despite its postseason ban this year, and uncertainty about the program's future, was freshman guard Omar Calhoun.
The Brooklyn, N.Y. native and Christ the King product is exactly the type of player the Huskies will look to build around in the coming seasons under new coach Kevin Ollie.
He possesses a unique skill set—one that fits the traditional UConn style of basketball—and has the drive and commitment to put a team on his back.
During recruiting, he was a highly sought-after commodity. Ranked by Rivals.com as the 10th-best guard in the nation and 39th-best player overall, he received offers from local Big East schools St. John's, Seton Hall and Rutgers.
But instead of staying close to home, Calhoun sought out a chance to compete with a bigger program and compete for a national title under the guidance of a legendary coach. He showed his total commitment to the program by remaining after Jim Calhoun (no relation) retired this year.
Traditional UConn basketball has revolved around dominant big guys on the inside. This long, illustrious list includes players such as Emeka Okafor, Rudy Gay, Hasheem Thabeet and Drummond.
And it seems that if recruiting is any indicator, the Huskies are seeking to go back in that direction for the future with the signing of highly sought-after 6'11" big man Amida Brimah from Archbishop Carroll High School in Miami.
What makes Calhoun special, and the right fit for this system, is his tremendous court vision. He's extremely patient with the basketball and will often look for an option down low before seeking his own shots.
When those options are not available, he's a dangerous shooter from the perimeter. Leave him open and he will knock down a three, but he's unselfish and gets others in the game first.
And that is a huge part of what UConn basketball was and what its fans and supporters surely hope it will become again.
For that to happen, Calhoun must be a big part of the design going forward and continue to build on his success this year.
In his freshman campaign thus far, he's been highly successful at integrating himself into Kevin Ollie's system. Through 17 games, he is the Huskies' third leading scorer, averaging over 10 points per game, and was named Big East Rookie of the Week on Dec. 24.
He has twice dropped 20 or more points and played his most impressive game of the season in a losing effort against the top-ranked Louisville Cardinals earlier this month in Hartford.
The future is tremendously bright for both Omar Calhoun and the UConn Huskies. The program is simply too big, and too prominent, to be kept down for long. They've already shown signs this year of budding talent and ability.
Going forward, they'll need to continue to grow and learn how to win. And Omar Calhoun will be one of the crucial pieces who helps take them there.
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