Blaney: A man of dignity
It has been suggested that there's a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life.
That's George Blaney.
Dignity in every act of life.
And now the dignified man who personifies college basketball purity and New England loyalty leaves the game he made better. Just by being George Blaney. The dignified man on the Connecticut bench, 11 years next to Jim Calhoun, the dignified man who once won the Bob Cousy Humanitarian Award, retired Thursday.
All you need to know about Blaney's legacy came from media member Ken Davis, who began the question-and-answer portion of a conference call with the two words everyone else was thinking: Thank you.
Indeed. Thank you, George, for the grace, dignity, earnestness, puckish sense of humor. The good counsel to Jim Calhoun, the insightful quote.
Happily, Blaney gets to leave on his terms.
"I just think it's the right time," Blaney said.
Fans of New England basketball know Blaney as one of its historians and diplomats. Stonehill. Dartmouth. Twenty-two years at Holy Cross. And then the seat next to Calhoun, providing a balance to the tenor of the program. Calhoun's passion. Blaney's polish.
"There is probably no greater gentlemen, discounting basketball, that I've met," Calhoun said of Blaney one day in Phoenix, the day the Huskies made the Final Four in 2004. It was historic. It was the first time Blaney would ever coach a game at the Final Four.
Blaney is a bridge between the old days, when we'd listen to a big UConn game from Hart Center or Keaney Gym, to now, with ESPN's glitter and sequins from some downtown arena.
Even to the day of his retirement, the game still intrigues him. It never swallowed him.
Blaney never lost an inch off his fastball. As late as least week, Taliek Brown sat in his office and heaped hosannas on him for helping him earn the college degree he'll receive later this month.
"I owe him a lot," Brown said.
Blaney politely excused himself, golf club in hand, while Brown and a reporter talked in private. Later, Blaney deflected any praise and instead said the real luminary in this is Calhoun, who has been known to remind his old players that there is a degree to be earned.
How many others in this profession of gypsies, tramps and thieves might have omitted that detail, to perhaps fish for some acknowledgement?
Not in Blaney's program.
How we'll all miss him.
The best Blaney story comes from Dee Rowe, the once and future conscience of UConn sports, its former basketball coach. Rowe talked about the significance of beating the Blaney-coached Crusaders once, actually running on to the court after the Huskies won at the Hart Center.
Joey Whelton made several free throws late in the game for the Huskies.
While Rowe and the Huskies celebrated, he could hear Blaney:
"We're Holy Cross, we're supposed to be smart, so why did we keep fouling Whelton?" Blaney wondered aloud after the game.
And that's George Blaney. There is always science and geometry to basketball that supersedes the emotion.
Dee Rowe continues: "George is a purist, a brilliant coach."
George was the protagonist during my favorite day at Gampel Pavilion. He was pinch-hitting for Calhoun one January day in 2010. UConn was playing No. 1 Texas.
It was maybe the loudest, best atmosphere in the history of the building. Gentleman George calmly extended his hand to Texas coach Rick Barnes as the final horn touched off UConn 88, Texas 74.
Blaney continued unnoticed to the locker room, all while the mayhem of students rushing the floor surrounded him.
When it was over, Gentleman George heaped equal credit on Calhoun and the players, allowing none for himself. Nobody expected him to say anything different. But something just seemed to fit about Blaney's presence leading the Huskies on this day.
Because in the building, amid the television cameras and 18 NBA scouts, Big East founder Dave Gavitt was given a standing ovation by the crowd during a timeout. Dee Rowe was in the house, too, making for a unique, inspiring trifecta: Blaney, Gavitt, Rowe.
Three heartbeats of eastern basketball, none ready for the rocking chair just yet, none who should be forgotten.
Not now, not ever.
Happy retirement, sir.
You are a good man.
This the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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