Jim Calhoun Takes Indefinite Leave of Absence, Leadership Void GrowsPosted by mlemaire on February 3rd, 2012
Today, the University of Connecticut announced that coach Jim Calhoun will take an indefinite leave of absence to deal with his spinal stenosis, a lower back condition that he has been suffering from for months and has hampered his general movement. There is no doubt that spinal stenosis is a painful condition and Calhoun’s primary concern should be nursing himself back to good health, but the announcement could not come at a worse time for the Huskies, who are free-falling through the Big East standings and look uninspired and listless on the court.
Just two days ago, UConn put on one of the worst offensive performances in a long time in a disappointing loss to Georgetown, and after the game, some commentators blamed the Huskies’ struggles on a glaring lack of leadership and effort. Now the onus will be on the players to fill that leadership void because with all due respect to interim head coach George Blaney, he is not Calhoun.
Let’s not exaggerate the impact Calhoun’s leave of absence will have. At this point, these players are accustomed to seeing Blaney patrolling the sidelines. Calhoun has taken a leave of absence before, even as recently as 2010, and he missed four games previously this season while serving a suspension. The players know and respect Blaney, but even with his experience, it is difficult to see the players responding to Blaney the same way they would with Calhoun. Even at his advanced age, Calhoun was still a coach with enough intensity to extract the most from his players when the time called for it, and now was exactly one of those times.
If the NCAA Tournament field was being decided today, UConn’s resume is certainly strong enough to merit serious consideration for it. So as gloomy as the team’s outlook appears in the wake of four straight disappointing losses, all is not lost. It only intensifies the pressure on this team’s veteran leadership to make up for Calhoun’s absence. This means that junior center Alex Oriakhi needs to put aside his residual bitterness about his playing time and start leading by example. It means that no matter how mild-mannered Jeremy Lamb would like to be, he needs to get more vocal. And it means that players like Shabazz Napier and Andre Drummond need to cast aside their tenative play offensively and start asserting themselves.
There are some obstacles left on the schedule (namely an away game at Syracuse in eight days) but there are enough winnable games to push UConn safely into the arms of the Tournament. To put it simply and cliche-ly, it is put up or shut up time for these young Huskies. Their coach and the revered figurehead of one of the best college basketball programs in the country has been sidelined and no one has any idea when he will be healthy enough to return. They can either keep feeling sorry for themselves and let this season slip away, or they can face the adversity head-on and salvage what looked like a promising season.
The decision is up to them.