Why I’ll Never Forget UConn’s 2011 Title Run
“Where were you when…?” is a question you’ll hear asked about any major life event.
Well, I’ll never forget where I was on April 4, 2011 – and I’d like to thank Jim Calhoun for that.
You see, unlike most students at this school, my memories of Calhoun and this basketball program don’t stretch back to my childhood. I don’t have the 2004 title, the Tate George shot, or even the 2009 Final Four in my memory as a fan. Want to see a man cry? Show my roommate a highlight of the 1999 National Championship against Duke. Gets him every time. He was six.
As a kid raised in New Jersey, I didn’t grow up with the UConn program like most students at this school do. In fact, I grew up with a grudge against the Huskies, jealous of their success and how they constantly beat up Seton Hall, my childhood team and my parents alma mater.
But now, in the two seasons I’ve been at UConn, I have more than enough memories to last me a lifetime – of winning, losing, and Jim Calhoun.
I remember where I was when we won the Maui Invitational – watching alone at home on Thanksgiving Break at midnight, trying not to scream while everyone else slept. I remember where I was when we beat Texas after Kemba’s circus shot clock-beating three- crowded around the TV with my family, late to a dinner reservation because the game went to overtime. I remember where I was when we beat Villanova on Kemba’s floater – screaming, already hoarse, from the third row of Gampel Pavilion, celebrating the best game I had ever seen in person.
That season was a roller coaster ride unlike any other. Mixed in between the moments of brilliance, there were failures and missteps that led to a ninth place Big East finish.
They didn’t even earn a first round bye in the tournament. Boy did that turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
When that team was backed into a corner, when it was do or die time and winning was the only option, they always found a way.
Every time UConn faced an elimination game – in Maui, Manhattan, or on the road to Houston – it refused to back down. Not once did it succumb to the pressure, or back down from a fight. In the final three rounds of the Big East Tournament, the Huskies faced three teams that they had lost to earlier on in the year. All three games were close. And all three times they scrapped their way to the top.
That’s Jim Calhoun in a nutshell. The never-say-die New Englander who was rough around the edges, but one hell of a basketball coach. And that team, more than any other I’ve ever watched in my life as a sports fan, was an embodiment of its head coach.
They were tough as nails, and ready to take on anybody that stood in their way of victory.
“Stepback, Walker, CARDIAC KEMBA DOES IT AGAIN! UCONN WINS AT THE BUZZER!”
I can still here Dave Pasch make the call in my mind as I watch Kemba shake Gary McGhee, who fell to the floor trying to guard his shifty crossover. Watching that ball find the bottom of the net is when I – like so many other UConn fans – knew that shot was more than just one game, it was the start of a ridiculous ride.
And it certainly was a ridiculous ride. Not just for the basketball team but for me, too. On the night of the tournament final against Louisville, I found myself flying down the roads in my town, radio on. Up by a few points with about two minutes remaining, I rolled through a stop sign or two and put the speed limit out of mind, trying frantically to get back to my house before the final buzzer.
Then the flashing lights turned on behind me.
As I sat on the side of the road, the radio turned to static and I used my iPhone to check the score while the officer took my license and insurance. When asked why I was driving so fast, I stupidly replied, “I’m a UConn student, and there’s one minute left in the Big East Championship game. I’m trying to get home to see it.”
Somehow, my confession of fanhood that teetered on 20 miles per hour over the speed limit worked, and I was let off with a warning.
I got home with 17 seconds left, just in time to see the confetti…and then had explain to my parents what happened on the drive home. I’ll never forget that night.
And I’ll never forget where I was the night of April 4, 2011. That night, I was busy rushing the court of Gampel Pavilion with 30 seconds left against Butler in the national championship game, knowing in that moment that I was with 10,000 screaming students, all of whom were on top of the world.
That was one of the best nights of my life, and I owe it all to Jim Calhoun.