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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    UConn notes: Calcaterra reunites with former college coach at Final Four

    In this March 10 file photo, UConn's Joey Calcaterra (3) looks to pass against Marquette's Stevie Mitchell (4) in the second half of a Big East Conference tournament game in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

    Houston – Joey Calcaterra and and his former college basketball coach Sam Scholl never expected to have a reunion at the Final Four, never mind being on opposing teams in the national championship game.

    But here they are.

    Calcaterra, a graduate guard from Novato, Calif., will try to lead UConn to a national title against San Diego State where Scholl is in his first season as a basketball performance advisor on coach Brian Dutcher’s staff.

    Scholl recruited Calcaterra to attend the University of San Diego. Calcaterra played four seasons there before transferring to UConn last June.

    “It’s crazy,” Calcaterra said inside UConn’s locker room on Sunday. “We never could have imagined it. Our futures were untold a year ago at this point. We had no idea where both of us were going to end up. Thanks be to God, he works in mysterious and powerful ways and has helped us be a part of two outstanding programs who have put together two great seasons.”

    Calcaterra and Scholl continue to share a tight bond.

    When they saw each other before their team’s respective practices on Friday at NRG Stadium, they hugged and posed for a photo together.

    “We’ve built an incredible connection,” Calcaterra said. “He was the one that recruited him out of high school to San Diego, so he came up to the Bay Area to my house multiple times. Ever since the jump, I could see who he is as a person, a trustworthy guy, a selfless guy who just cares about the people around him. He’s a guy that uplifts people.”

    The feeling is mutual.

    “Joey means a lot to me and my family, having recruited him and coaching him for five years,” Scholl said. “A special young man.”

    Since both Calcaterra and Scholl left San Diego at the end of last season, they’ve rooted for each other’s success.

    They’ll put aside their friendship on Monday.

    Scholl has given San Diego State a scouting report on Calcaterra, a key reserve for the Huskies who’s averaged 5.8 points in five NCAA tourney games. The Aztecs will be making their first national championship game appearance.

    “I feel like I know Joey pretty well,” Scholl said. “It’s going to be fun competing against him. I’ve been cheering for him all year. Any time UConn was on, we were watching. He’s had such an incredible year. He’s improved in so many ways, especially defensively. Coach (Dan) Hurley has done an amazing job getting him to defend at a high level, to a level that I couldn’t manage to get him to do. He’s done an amazing job with that.

    “... One of Joey’s greatest skills is his confidence. He’s always been a very confident young man. I think a lot of that goes to being the youngest brother of three. Those guys beat up on him. He had to constantly stand up for himself at home and that just built the confidence.”

    Calcaterra’s knowledge of San Diego State and the Mountain West Conference should be helpful to the Huskies. He played against the Aztecs twice while at San Diego.

    “They’ve got a really special program,” Calcaterra said. “For them to reach this point and be playing in April still, it’s an incredible accomplishment.”

    The NCAA tourney has been sort of a reunion tour for Calcaterra who’s played against and beaten familiar West Coast teams in Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.

    Monday night, Calcaterra will play his final college game with his former college coach watching from the sidelines.

    “It’s a great experience to be here,” Calcaterra said. “For me to end my college career playing in the national championship game is truly something special.

    Winning game plans

    UConn has put together and executed some masterful game plans during this dominating NCAA tourney run. The Huskies have outscored five opponents by an average of 20.6 points.

    Hurley credits assistant coach Luke Murray and associate head coach Kimani Young.

    “Luke and Kimani just do unbelievable jobs with the prep,” Hurley said. “I don’t know why those guys aren’t head coaches, or if they’re just waiting for our season to end to get all their offers. They did a great job with the prep and the scout. Those two guys are amazing.”

    With only 48 hours between the national semifinal and national championship game, the coaching staff has to do a lot of prep work in a short period of time.

    “We watch a ton of film and try to figure out what they’re trying to do offensively and defensively,” Young said. “We spend a lot of time watching their personnel trying to pick up on some tendencies for their best players, and just try to find some answers that put us in the best position to win and share that with our players.”

    And when the scouting report contributes to UConn advancing in the NCAA tournament, Young and Murray know their hard work and attention to detail really paid off.

    “It’s been extremely satisfying and gratifying,” Young said. “If you would have told us at the beginning of the season that we’d be in a position like this, we probably would have laughed at you. But we got out to a really good start, hit some bumps towards the middle of the season in the Big East and found our way here late in the season and the postseason. Exciting to be a part of and don’t want it to end.”

    Non-conference warriors

    UConn has rolled through its non-conference competition this season.

    The Huskies have won all 18 games, including five in NCAA tournament play, by double digits.

    What’s behind that success?

    They’re difficult to prepare for.

    “When people see us for the first time, it’s tough on them with the two centers and the shooting,” Hurley said. “We really don’t have an Achilles heel because we guard and rebound. We play high level offense. And we generally play harder than our opponent.”

    Karaban asks about Karaban

    Redshirt freshman Alex Karaban walked into senior Tristen Newton’s breakout media session on Sunday. He had a question for his teammate.

    He wanted to know about Alex Karaban.

    Newton answered: “He’s gotten a lot better since he grew a beard.”

    Karaban started growing a beard toward the end of the season. The Huskies have been on a roll, winning 11 of their last 12. He’s superstitious, so he’s keeping it until after the national championship game.

    g.keefe@theday.com

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