Calhoun visits his old assistants ... and is honored, too

Hamden - Retirement, or semi-retirement in Jim Calhoun's case, has its benefits.

It allows Calhoun to do things that he never did during his hall of fame men's basketball coaching career at UConn.

For instance, he was at TD Bank Sports Center on Thursday watching two of his former assistants, Quinnipiac's Tom Moore and Central Connecticut State University's Howie Dickenman, coach their respective teams in a Northeast Conference game.

Calhoun, who is now a special assistant to athletic director Warde Manuel, gladly accepted an invitation to be honored during a pregame ceremony. He was "acknowledged for his tremendous success and leadership in bringing the entire state of Connecticut the highest level of recognition and success in Division I basketball."

While he greatly appreciated the honor and donation to benefit the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center in Farmington, he really looked forward to visiting with two important members of his UConn basketball family.

"The biggest thing is I get an opportunity to see two guys that I love," Calhoun said before the game. "I get a chance in different kind of circumstances to watch two guys that I really care about. I hope both teams win, that's impossible. I hope they both play well, that's the best I can hope for tonight."

Calhoun got his wish.

Quinnipiac and Central Connecticut put on an entertaining show. Moore's team wrestled away an 85-78 victory. It was Moore's 100th career coaching win at Quinnipiac.

Calhoun spoke to Moore's players after the game.

"You could just feel his energy," Moore said of Calhoun. "He loves the locker room."

Both Moore and Dickenman were key contributors to UConn's success story, serving as assistants there a combined 27 seasons including two together. They stood with Calhoun during the ceremony. When the game started, Calhoun sat on press row with Quinnipiac athletic director Jack McDonald, a fellow Braintree, Mass., native.

Now Moore and Dickenman are running their own successful programs. Both Quinnipiac (7-12) and CCSU (7-11) have endured some bumpy stretches this season due in part to injuries.

"Sometimes you get nervous about some of your assistants," Calhoun said. "I never worry about Tommy. Tommy is just fine. And there's only one Howie. In my lifetime, I've never met anyone quite like him. There's never been a birthday, wedding anniversary, something happening to us, that I don't get a phone call. It's amazing."

Calhoun may not be stomping the sidelines anymore, leaving the program in the trusty hands of his former player, Kevin Ollie, after retiring in September, but he's still very much involved in the game.

He attends some UConn practices and home games, spending hours with Ollie talking basketball. Earlier this week, he visited a UMass-Lowell practice.

"Those things give me incredible pleasure," Calhoun said.

It's hard to imagine Calhoun ever breaking off the basketball umbilical cord.

"The blood of basketball still flows," Calhoun said. "Someone asked me if I miss coaching. I miss basketball."

It's the second time this season that Calhoun saw Quinnipiac play, as he sat courtside for UConn's 89-83 double-overtime win Nov. 18 at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.

With his loyalties divided Thursday, he tried to stay neutral. He told a story about when he coached high school basketball against his younger brother's team and his mother used to take turns sitting on each side.

"My wife, Pat, said to me, 'who are you going to root for?' I said, 'basketball, because ... what happened to my life and everything changed around because of one incredible game.'"

While Calhoun's coaching days are over, Dickenman and Moore continue on with the same passion and work ethic. The two teams meet again on Feb. 9 at CCSU.

The two coaches - and good friends - passed each other at the postgame press conference.

Dickenman, fighting a hoarse voice, said: "One hundred (wins). Against me. A really good friend you are."

g.keefe@theday.com

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