Classic goes on without injured Calhoun

Kemba Walker, center, waits to enter Saturday's Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic as Miami Heat guard Ray Allen and former UConn player Ed Nelson watch from the bench at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Kemba Walker, center, waits to enter Saturday's Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic as Miami Heat guard Ray Allen and former UConn player Ed Nelson watch from the bench at Mohegan Sun Arena. Pat Eaton-Robb/ AP Photo

Mohegan - The news quickly spread through the UConn basketball family reunion only an hour or so before tip-off Saturday night.

For the second time in three years, coach Jim Calhoun suffered a significant injury in a bike accident. His latest mishap came on Saturday afternoon when he fractured his hip after crashing near his summer home in Madison.

Calhoun, who broke several ribs in a 2009 accident during his charity bike ride in Simsbury, was taken to John Dempsey Hospital at the UConn Health Center in Farmington where he underwent surgery. He is expected to make a full recovery.

For the first time since the Jim Calhoun Charity All-Star Basketball Game began in 2002, Calhoun missed the event.

Most players heard about the accident after arriving at Mohegan Sun Arena.

"It's sad to hear what happened to him," said Jeremy Lamb, who played for Calhoun the last two years before being drafted 12th by the Houston Rockets in June. "My prayers go out to him."

Associate head coach George Blaney made an announcement to the crowd of 7,241 prior to the game.

"He's such a competitor," Blaney said. "He just wants to push all the time. And he pushed riding that bike. … He hit some sand apparently. Because he had some clip-ons, it forces you to the ground.

"I feel bad. He can't see his players and that's going to really bother him more than anything."

This is always a special weekend for Calhoun, who turned 70 in May.

The event gives him a chance to do two things very important to him: hang out with his former players and raise money for charity. Through the years, the Celebrity Classic has raised more than $6 million for cardiology research and care at the UConn Health Center's Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center.

His former players don't expect Calhoun to be out of action for too long. They've watched Calhoun return to coaching after three bouts of cancer and after missing eight games due to a lower back problem last season.

"He's a warrior," said Rudy Gay, a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. "I don't expect him to let that wear him down. … We're going to miss him today. We're still going to have fun for him."

UConn athletic director Warde Manuel got a call about the accident on the way to the game.

"He's had some bad breaks the last year or so," Manuel said. "We've just got to hope that he has a speedy recovery. … You can't have this (event) without thinking about Jim and his impact on these guys and on UConn. I'm sad for him that he's not here."

The game drew a wide range of former Huskies, from multiple NBA all-star Ray Allen, to Kemba Walker who led UConn to the 2011 national championship, to Jake Voskuhl, Ricky Moore and Richard Hamilton, three starters on the 1999 national title team.

Allen served as one of the coaches. Hamilton, who's with the Chicago Bulls and returned to the area for the first time in 10 years, also played a spectator's role.

"It's a good feeling to be back," Hamilton said. "I had to get back here and show support for coach."

Players joked, laughed and reminisced about UConn and their demanding head coach. They all share an appreciation for what Calhoun has done for them over the years.

"He's done a lot to help my career," Walker said. "He pushed me a lot during my days at UConn. For me to come here and play basketball in appreciation for him is not a problem at all. It's an honor for me, and I'm pretty sure it's an honor for the rest of the guys to be here for him."

And no one can imagine this latest injury forcing Calhoun to retire.

"They've been saying that for years," Hamilton said of the retirement talk. "Coach is Connecticut. … He means so much to the program, the state and all the players you see here today. I can't see it happening."

g.keefe@theday.com

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