Huskies proving they're trustworthy

UConn men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun, left, speaks with an official during the second half of his team's 72-61 victory Saturday over the University of Tennessee at the XL Center in Hartford. The eighth-ranked Huskies, even with a large influx of freshmen, are 16-2 this season, leading Calhoun to trust his players more and more.

Every player from Ray Allen to Richard Hamilton to Kemba Walker has had to earn coach Jim Calhoun's trust during their UConn basketball careers.

Now Calhoun is placing his trust in his young Huskies.

They're consistently working hard in practice, improving by the week and producing big wins on game day. They're 16-2 overall and well on their way to an NCAA bid after beating Tennessee 72-61 Saturday in Hartford.

"Obviously, when you're 16-2 and you beat the quality people that we have, you have more trust," Calhoun said. "And I think teams feel whether you have trust in them or not. They're the best bloodhounds in the world. They kind of sniff you out a little bit. … They can tell the difference between what you really mean and what you're saying."

Calhoun has shown his trust in different ways.

He's allowed players to play through some mistakes. He's relied on freshmen in key situations, especially Roscoe Smith, Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier. He's asked junior Kemba Walker for input.

The Huskies have rewarded their coach for his trust in them. Saturday, Lamb and Smith scored timely baskets, contributing 18 of their combined 28 points in the second half.

"A lot of the freshmen that he trusts are getting big-time minutes," Smith said. "He feels more comfortable with us shooting the ball and having the ball in pressure situations."

The level of trust has come quicker than expected considering the team's youth. Of course, the fact that the Huskies are winning helps.

But it's more than that.

In many ways, this is a perfect marriage between Calhoun and his team.

The fiercely competitive Calhoun was as determined as ever to return the program to national prominence coming off a disappointing season and taking heat for its NCAA violations. He brought in what he called his best recruiting class in 10 years.

There was an injection of much-needed leadership from Walker and senior Donnell Beverly. The Huskies came in eager and willing to work overtime. They have had a hunger to succeed. And they play with a Three Musketeers mentality — all for one and one for all.

Still, their level of success has caught even the Huskies a bit by surprise.

"At the beginning of the season, I thought we were going to be good, but deep down I had questions," sophomore Alex Oriakhi said. "We have a lot of freshmen. I didn't know how they're going to react to coach. I didn't know how they're going to play with the lights on. But they proved me wrong by a mile."

As the season has progressed, Calhoun has stated several times that he really likes coaching this group. They've conquered a variety of challenges, including bouncing back from a loss at Notre Dame on Jan. 4 by winning at Texas four days later.

"Coaching a team that listens to you and is getting better and you can see it getting better and tighter as a team, there's a lot of great pleasure in that," Calhoun said. "That's the thing that I'm probably happiest about.

"… This has been a fun team to coach so far. There's no reason to believe anything else because when you ask them to do things, they try to do it, sometimes not so successfully. But it's made it easier for me. I don't call timeouts because we're not hustling. I call timeouts to make adjustments. That's a lot better."

Don't think for a nanosecond that Calhoun is satisfied.

The Huskies have 12 regular season games left, starting with a road game at Marquette Tuesday.

A few more wins and Calhoun's trust level will soar. By now he has a good idea what to expect from his team, and that's a comforting feeling.

"It's a matter of trust," Calhoun said. "Billy Joel might have said that at one time. I don't want you think that all I do is yell and scream. I do a lot of yelling and screaming but I do other things."

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