|Connecticut coach spends summer fighting cancer|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 13 August 2008 09:38|
Thirty-three times over seven weeks, Connecticut's Hall of Fame basketball coach left his eastern Connecticut home by 5:30 a.m. to make a 45-minute trip to the University of Connecticut Health Center for a dose of radiation.
The skin cancer treatment left him thinner, weaker, temporarily unable to taste food - and ready to get back to work.
``It's not a way I would recommend losing weight,'' Calhoun joked last Saturday. ``I lost about 20 pounds, but beyond that I'm feeling fine.''
Just a day after his final treatment, Calhoun was back in his element - on the sidelines and surrounded by his former players, who turned out in force for Calhoun's biannual charity basketball game at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Celtics guard Ray Allen was there. So were NBA stars Emeka Okafor, Caron Butler, Rudy Gay, Donyell Marshall, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Kevin Ollie, Hilton Armstrong, Marcus Williams and Josh Boone. Twenty others joined them.
Virginia coach Dave Leitao, Stony Brook's Steve Pikiell, George Washington's Karl Hobbs, Penn's Glen Miller and Central Connecticut's Howie Dickenman, all Calhoun disciples, also came.
UConn alumni return every two years for the game, which benefits a cardiology unit at UConn's Health Center that is named for Calhoun and his wife. But it was more important to be here this year, several said.
``I was just worried about him, and just wanted him to know that we still love him,'' Butler said. ``We got together in (the locker room) and gave him a big hug, and just told him how we felt about him.''
The 66-year-old coach was diagnosed in the spring with squamous cell cancer, a type of skin cancer. He had surgery in May to remove a mass in the upper right side of his neck near the jaw line, then began the radiation treatments to minimize the chance of the cancer coming back.
With two national titles under his belt (in 1999 and 2004), 774 wins and a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame, some wondered whether this latest medical problem might prompt Calhoun to consider taking some time off, or maybe even retire. This was his third bout with cancer and his second with skin cancer.
But for those who know him best, there was never any question.
``He's too passionate just to give it up like that,'' said Villanueva, the Milwaukee Bucks forward. ``He loves the game, he loves the game so much. He's going to ride this thing until the wheels fall off, I'll tell you that.''
George Blaney, Calhoun's associate head coach and one of his best friends, said basketball was the light at the end of the tunnel for Calhoun. The cancer was just another challenge to overcome so he could get back to it.
``He's a relentless personality, a relentless coach and he just never allows himself to give in to anything,'' Blaney said. ``He attacked this the way he attacks the game and the way he attacks life, and didn't let anyone feel sorry for him.''
Calhoun's players say it's that personality that makes him so successful.
Gay, a Memphis swingman, laughed as he recalled his first UConn practice, when the kind, even sweet coach with the open-door policy turned into the raving perfectionist who would push him harder than he ever imagined.
``On the court, he's crazy, but off the court, he'll do anything for you,'' Gay said. ``He's the most loyal guy I know.''
Calhoun joked that his players keep coming back to UConn to commiserate, having all been through the same ordeal, pushed past the same limits and ``called the same names.''
Allen said it has more to do with saying, ``thank you.''
``All the guys who played at UConn have Calhoun's voice in there mind somewhere, in the back of their head somewhere as they are moving throughout life, whether doing something right or wrong,'' Allen said. ``You know that there is something that he instilled in you that allowed you to be who you are today.''
Calhoun said his prognosis is good, and he expects to be at full strength by the time his 23rd season begins in November.
As for when it might be time to call it a career, Blaney said he and Calhoun sometimes talk about that, but neither of them seem to know.
One thing is sure. It's not time to retire yet, and certainly not because of this.
``He's the Energizer bunny,'' Okafor said. ``He just keeps on going.''