This Sunday afternoon, UConn men’s basketball seniors Nnamdi Amilo, Phil Nolan and Omar Calhoun will be honored at their final game at Gampel Pavilion. Graduate students Shonn Miller and Sterling Gibbs will also be honored for finishing up their post-graduate year in Storrs.
For me, seeing Calhoun step out on the Gampel floor one last time will be special to watch. Granted, he’s certainly never been the best player on the team over the course of his four years here in Storrs, but he still is without a doubt one of my favorite players in UConn history.
I’m not sure if there has been a UConn player with a stranger career path than Calhoun’s. When he came to UConn for his freshman season, the men’s basketball team didn’t have much going for it. The team was forced to miss the NCAA tournament due to a postseason ban in Kevin Ollie’s first season as head coach, and had no reason to play hard other than play spoiler and play for the guy next to them.
While that team was mostly led by Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, Calhoun was a brightspot; a glimmer of hope for the future, averaging 11.1 points per game, shooting 32 percent from three and 40 percent from the field. While he was still rough around the edges, any fan could see that the Brooklyn native had the skill to be an impact layer for UConn, and there isn’t a better example of it than the Georgetown game that season, where he hit a deep three as time expired in regulation to send the game into overtime.
The Huskies lost that game, but that was when Calhoun became one of my favorite players to watch. How many freshmen have the confidence to take and make a shot in a situation like that? He played like that his whole freshman year, and does so today too. Calhoun wasn’t (and still isn’t) afraid to let shots fly and try to score. I loved it. He was making the most out of minutes and I had high expectations for him heading into his sophomore season.
Boy, was his sophomore season different.
Calhoun had offseason hip surgery and never really returned to form, playing much of the season as a shell of his old self. He was nonexistent as Napier led the Huskies to their fourth National Championship.
Rumors swirled following the title game win about Calhoun transferring, but he shot them down. After only averaging 3.8 points a game and shooting 24 percent from three, it was probably the best decision to stay where he was and keep rehabbing. Why he didn’t redshirt this season is beyond me, but hindsight is 20/20. Not to mention, I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted a season like that after such a successful start to his four years in Storrs.
Calhoun’s junior year was much of the same. After missing the first seven games with a minor knee injury, Calhoun showed some improvement and flashes of his old self, averaging 5.5 points per game and shooting 34 percent from deep and becoming more of a factor in the rotation.
Then came senior year.
While he isn’t exactly the dynamic scorer he was his freshman year, Calhoun has saved his best for his last season at UConn. Serving as an occasional starter or the first or second guy off the bench, Calhoun has flourished in a “glue-guy” role with the Huskies.
Even though he’s only averaging 4.3 points per game, Calhoun is shooting a career-best 37.7 percent from three, 82 percent from the free throw line and 39.8 percent from the field. He has also become one of Ollie’s most trusted bench options due to his ability to spread the floor and play lockdown defense.
He’s led the team in scoring twice this season, scoring a season-high 14 points and shooting a perfect 5-5 from the field (4-4 from the three-point line) in the win over Ohio State, and matching that total in the Huskies’ home win over Tulsa. While his game has changed a lot over four years, the guy can still drill threes.
In his four years, Calhoun has been a freshman phenom, an outcast sophomore, a rotation player junior and now a bench piece who will play a major role if the Huskies want to make some noise in March. Not to mention, when he and Nolan came here for their freshman season, they did so during one of the darkest times in program history, still honoring their commitment to the Huskies because they believed in this program and in Ollie.
While the two of them aren’t stars by any means, they played important role in keeping this program amongst the blue bloods in college basketball. That fact can’t be overlooked.
So on Sunday, be sure to give all these seniors the respect and applause they deserve. And don’t forget to keep your eyes on Omar either. I have a feeling he’ll end his career at Gampel with a bang with a few “long-distance calls” from the three-point line and earn some well-deserved recognition for his time wearing No. 21.