At the very end of his column last week, Stratton Stave suggested that the UConn football team should build a statue of Jim Mora to keep him in Storrs. I would have waited a few seasons before even bringing up the idea of creating one, but I agree with this suggestion because of the turnaround the program has experienced following its 1-11 2021 campaign.
In reading through that final paragraph however, I realized that the only sports statues on campus are of the school’s mascot, Jonathan the Husky, and a monument recognizing every UConn athlete that has played in the Olympic Games, both of which are on Hillside Road. One pivotal question remains from my analysis: Who should get a statue on campus? There will be some obvious choices, but there are others that I have a very good case for.
One of the first people that comes to mind when talking about UConn basketball is James A. Calhoun. During his 26 seasons in Connecticut, Calhoun won three national titles, seven Big East tournament titles, 10 regular season championships and 625 games in total. People have also commented on how Calhoun led the largest turnaround in college basketball, taking a Huskies team that went 9-19 in his first season to a 20-14 record and an NIT Championship the following year. He has become a household name in the state of Connecticut, but his legacy is not limited to Storrs. From 2018 until 2021, Calhoun turned the Saint Joseph Blue Jays men’s basketball team, a Division-III program in West Hartford, from a brand-new program into a national powerhouse. Like Barry Bonds and baseball, one cannot describe men’s college basketball without referencing Calhoun.
38 seasons, 11 national titles, 33 consecutive March Madness appearances, six perfect seasons, two gold medals, 13 players, nine AP Players of the Year and 14 straight Final Fours. Enough said.
He is in his 10th season as the head coach, his program has lost just one game in regulation this season and is currently has their highest ranking ever at No. 7. Ever since his arrival in Storrs from Boston College, Cavanaugh has turned the IceBus into a competitor in Hockey East, the country’s toughest conference, and a national powerhouse. There were uncertainties when Jerry York retired at BC, but Cavanaugh’s decision to stay shows his dedication to lead the Huskies to a title, especially after a Hockey East Championship appearance this past March. Overall, I would not be surprised if Cavanaugh gets some recognition at the Toscano Family Ice Forum, UConn’s new on-campus hockey arena opening in January, within the next few years.
Diane Wright and Nancy Stevens
Auriemma is to women’s basketball as Wright and Stevens are to field hockey. In their 45 combined seasons at the helm, Wright and Stevens led the Huskies to all five of their national championships. Wright was the head coach for the first ever college women’s team national champions in 1981, went to five straight national semifinals and coached three National Players of the Year. Stevens, who took over in 1990, is the winningest head coach in the sport’s history who amassed 523 victories in Storrs, posted an undefeated record in 2017 and coached 50 First-Team All-Americans. The two were recently honored in October, with Wright getting a street and the George J. Sherman Family Sports Complex dedicating the field in her name, but a statue would go a long way toward recognizing their impact on the game.
Blaylock is currently in his 17th season as the Director of UConn Football Alumni and Community Affairs, a position that focuses on staying connected with alumni and assisting departing seniors. While people would commonly associate Blaylock with the bowl-eligible football team, his legacy lies with the Hook C organization.
Blaylock became a full-time employee of UConn in 1964 when he became an assistant baseball coach under Larry Panciera. After 15 seasons in this position — in which he helped the Huskies make three trips to the College World Series — Blaylock became the manager in 1980 and served the position until 2003. During his 24 years as the Hook C’s head coach, Blaylock went 556-492-8, posting the second-most wins in program history behind his successor Jim Penders, while taking home two Big East titles in 1990 and 1994 and making three NCAA tournaments. If his ongoing career does not scream “Once a Husky, Always a Husky,” then I do not know what does.
Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi
There are dynamic duos like Batman and Robin, and then there is Bird and Taurasi. They may have been teammates for just two seasons in college and won five Olympic Gold medals, but their impact goes well beyond the college court. During her 21 seasons with the Seattle Storm, Bird won four WNBA championships and made 13 All-Star Games while Taurasi won three WNBA titles and made 10 All-Star Games in her 19 seasons (and counting) with the Phoenix Mercury.
Both players are among the best to ever play in the WNBA as both were named to the W25 recognizing the Top 25 Players in WNBA history in 2021. In terms of career categories, if you name a statistical category, both women are most likely in the Top 10 on it. Taurasi is the league’s all-time leading scorer and currently fifth in assists, while Bird is seventh in scoring and the all-time assists leader. The accolades go on for miles, but the impact that both players had on the college and professional game should not be forgotten.
As is the case with most of my Coleumns, this is just a hypothetical situation. I am unsure how much money the athletic department would have to spend on developing a statue, but Like Swin Cash’s jersey retirement this past Monday, it would be a great way to recognize some of UConn’s greatest athletes and coaches.