Men's Basketball: Huskies say farewell to seniors

UConn men's basketball guard Omar Calhoun drives toward the basket during the Huskies' game against Tulsa at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

Neither will see their jersey number on the walls of Gampel Pavilion. Neither will likely see their journey continue into the NBA.

Yet, there is no debating the impact that seniors Phil Nolan and Omar Calhoun had in their time at UConn.

“First of all, I just want to thank our seniors. They’ve been with me here from day one, through all the ups and downs. Through a ban, through a change of conference, through a change of coach. They stayed loyal to us and to the program,” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said after Senior Day in March.

Nolan and Calhoun were the only remaining players from UConn’s national championship in 2014. There are the last remaining players that remember when the Huskies were in the Big East. They are the last ties to an era fans yearn for.

Neither ever led the team in scoring for a season. But the value Nolan and Calhoun had was clear to anyone who watched the team play. Nolan may be the all-time leader in most charges drawn in his career and was routinely tasked with defending the opponent’s best interior scorer.

“It's also great to have them in the locker room too when we were going through our struggles. Because they were there in that locker room when we lost by 33 to Louisville, and we won the National Championship after that. I know they were telling the guys after SMU, we're going to be all right. They came through in a big way. I put Phil in the starting lineup, and he relished that opportunity,” Ollie said following UConn’s victory over Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship.

As for Calhoun, well, his is a story of what-if.

If Calhoun had not gotten hurt following his freshman year, he likely would’ve gone down as one of the more talented players of his era. He averaged over 11 points per game during his freshman season, starting 29 games. He was named to CollegeInsider.com Freshman All-America Team and the Big East All-Rookie Team and was twice named Big East Rookie of the Week. His three-pointer against Georgetown was instantly a magic moment.

As his career unfolded, injuries in both his knees slowed his on-court development. But it did turn him into a more dedicated teammate, one who knew how to lead through adversity.

“Omar has been -- I mean, I always say like an unpaid coach, just right there. Even when he's not playing, he's right there cheering his teammates on. I can feel his energy in the huddle. I guess you can say I'm -- the thought of him going like this all the time. So I guess I got to call his number a little bit more. So I guess he's telling me that when he makes a three. I'm glad he's out there with us. I'm glad he's battling. He's been through a lot these four years. Just to see him step up in that moment,” Ollie said. “And he's been huge in some big games for us this year, Ohio State and games like that, that we needed, he's been terrific. So, he's going to be always a fan favorite here, and he's going to have a special, special place in my heart and I'm very sad for him to leave.”

Graduate transfers Shonn Miller and Sterling Gibbs also say goodbye to UConn this week.

The UConn men's basketball team celebrates with head coach Kevin Ollie after winning the American Athletic Conference Championship at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, March 13, 2016. Their 72-58 win over Memphis clinched UConn's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. (Ashley Maher/The Daily Campus)

Miller came to UConn after three sparkling seasons at Cornell. He was voted First Team All-Ivy League as both a sophomore and a senior, the latter time unanimously. He won the Ivy League Rookie of the Year as a freshman and was twice named Ivy League Player of the Week. At Cornell, played 85 college games, starting 78, and has scored 1,065 points, grabbed 608 rebounds and recorded 126 steals. He tied a Cornell record with 18 career double-doubles.

In his one year in Storrs, he made an immediate impact. Most expected him to be a nice role player, but he quickly proved to be the Huskies most consistent player throughout the course of the year. He scored in double-figures 28 times and led the team in scoring 10 times. He finished second in total blocks and was a key figure in the team’s run to the American Athletic Conference tournament championship.

Sterling Gibbs arrived at UConn after two years at Seton Hall and one at Texas. He started every game for the Huskies and led the team in three-pointers made. He led the team in scoring 10 different times and was named to the conference’s weekly Honor Roll three times during the year.

Gibbs and Miller were only Huskies for a short time but their memories will live on. I’ll never forget seeing Miller sky high for tip jams and his footwork in the post was truly a sight to be seen. Gibbs had his moments, specifically against Memphis when his three-point shooting reached a new level.

The Huskies will say goodbye to Nnamdi Amilo, the personification of a student-athlete. Amilo worked himself from a walk-on to a scholarship player during his tenure here, while earning an appearance on the Dean’s List for his work in the classroom. He’ll graduate with a degree in Molecular Biology and intends to pursue a career in medicine.

The outgoing seniors saw UConn through one of its most tumultuous eras. Some saw a conference change, a coaching change, a postseason ban and a national championship. They all leave behind a program that has emerged stronger and more resilient. 


Elan-Paolo DeCarlo is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering men's basketball. He can be reached via email at elan-paolo.decarlo@uconn.edu. He tweets @ElanDeCarlo.