The show ... minus Calhoun ... must go on

Jim Calhoun has never been a big fan of First Night but understands the purpose behind the annual event celebrating the return of college basketball.

He'd still rather be in Storrs than in Indianapolis today.

Instead of welcoming in his 25th season as UConn head coach in front of an enthusiastic crowd at Gampel Pavilion, he is scheduled to appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions to defend his program and his reputation.

It marks the first time that Calhoun has missed First Night, which features both the men's and women's programs and starts at 6 p.m. with an autograph session.

The UConn women, meanwhile, welcome five new freshmen as they begin the first step in what they hope ends with a third straight national championship.

"We're not going to have our full team there," senior Donnell Beverly said of First Night. "But the other coaches are very capable of keeping us in order and making sure we do the right things and have a good time.

"I'm sure that coach (Calhoun) will be there at practice Saturday. That's all I'm worried about."

The Huskies seem insulated from the storm clouds that hover around the program. They're focusing on basketball, yet they will be asked questions in the upcoming months about NCAA violations that had nothing to do with them but will impact the program.

UConn has recommended self-imposed penalties of probation and a loss of a scholarship for two years, and recruiting restrictions for committing major NCAA violations. Calhoun, athletic director Jeff Hathaway and other UConn officials will present their case today to the NCAA Committee on Infraction, which will rule on the matter in approximately six to eight weeks.

The players realize that speaking for the program comes with the territory.

"It's not unfair just because we're part of the program," junior Kemba Walker said. "There's nothing much we can say. We don't know too much. (We have to) just block it out and play basketball … I'm not worried about it. We don't talk about it at all."

While the Huskies are able to stick to their usual routine during perhaps the most chaotic period in the program's history, the coaching staff has had to deal with the numerous NCAA-related issues.

Associate head coach George Blaney, who filled in as team spokesman during the Husky Run Wednesday with Calhoun already in Indianapolis, said that it's been a disruptive time for the coaching staff.

"Any time it takes away from thinking about basketball and your ability to coach basketball, it's a draining kind of thing," Blaney said.

Blaney added that Calhoun always has had the ability to concentrate on his coaching duties and push aside everything else.

"I haven't noticed any lessening in the basketball," Blaney said. "In fact, I've seen an increase in his interest in this particular team because I think they're talented. And he really likes talented players. This group is very talented.

"… He's able to put things in compartments and deal with what he has to deal with. It's taken up a lot of his time, for sure. It's taken up a lot of his time thinking about it. But he's handling it great. He's as upbeat as ever about this team. I think he really likes this team."

The Huskies need Calhoun's full attention this season with a roster stacked with underclassmen, including six freshmen and two sophomores. Another newcomer, 7-foot-1 center Enosch Wolf, will join the team Dec. 18.

Wolf is attending Wilbraham & Monson Prep (Mass.) this fall.

Expectations have been lowered everywhere but inside the program.

"When does a Connecticut team not have expectations?" Blaney said. "I know most of the polls we haven't been picked in the top 25 and some place somebody told me we weren't picked in the top 40. And so I think Kemba is kind of rolling his eyes at all that stuff and saying, 'okay, we'll show (them).'"

g.keefe@theday.com

THE PROCESS

UConn officials, led by president Philip Austin, athletic director Jeff Hathaway and coach Jim Calhoun, will appear before the NCAA Division I Committee of Infractions in Indianapolis today to address allegations of violations in the men's basketball program.

Following is the format:

• Committee chairman Dennis Thomas (Mid-Eastern Conference commissioner) presents background information.

• Opening statements by UConn, NCAA enforcement staff and other involved parties.

• NCAA enforcement staff details each allegation, followed by comments from UConn and others. Discussion and questions from COI follow.

• Closing statements by all parties.

Note: COI will then privately discuss case to determine findings of violations and assess penalties. An infractions report will be released in 6-8 weeks, at which point UConn will have right to appeal the NCAA's decision.

COI members: Thomas, Brian Halloran (attorney), John Black (attorney), Roscoe Howard (U.S. attorney), Gregory Sankey (SEC associate commissioner), Britton Banowsky (Conference USA commissioner), Melissa Conboy (Notre Dame deputy athletic director), James O'Fallon (Oregon law professor), Rodney Uphoff (Missouri professor), Eleanor Myers (Temple associated professor).

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