A Legacy Built


The UConn Men's ProgramMight Not Have The History Of Many College Basketball "Blue Bloods," But What They've Become Is Every Bit As Impressive

This Saturday, UConn will play in the Final Four, with a chance to play for another national championship on the line ... but you already knew that.

If you didn't, well ... welcome to planet Earth - try the steak, it's really good.

Yes, UConn has returned to the Final Four. This is their fifth trip. They have a chance to win a fourth title. Kevin Ollie, one of only five head coaches to lead his team to the Final Four in his first or second year, can do something some of the best coaches ever never did - cut down the nets.

Why am I telling you this? Because none of it should be taken for granted.

See, this wasn't suppose to happen. I remember when UConn was a small New England school tucked away in a small state that no one really knew much about. They were the afterthoughts of the Big East ... the sure-win visit for the likes of Syracuse, St. John's, or Georgetown.

Jim Calhoun changed all that. The 1990 postseason changed all that. The Tate Geoge shot against Clemson changed all that.

UConn went from a nobody to a somebody - that somebody with a big cranky Irishman as a coach who could scream and yell with the best of them.

But even then, this wasn't suppose to happen. Calhoun went from darling young coach of the upstart Huskies to that really good coach who just couldn't get over the hump. Something always seemed to happen in the postseason.

There was the 1994 Sweet Sixteen loss to Florida (yep, Florida) after all-world Husky player Donyell Marshal missed two free throws that would have put the game away. Then, in 1996, after the Huskies beat Georgetown in the Big East final on the great "running man" shot by Ray Allen (you may know him as Ray Ray, or Jesus Shuttlesworth ... or just awesome), UConn entered the NCAA Tourney as a No. 1 seed and one of the favorites to win it all. Unfortunately, a no-name team at Mississippi State upended their dream (I'll be honest, that one still hurts).

UConn also ran headlong into the stupidity of the NCAA Tourney Committee when the powers-that-be decided to hand home games to UCLA in 1995 (they ended up winning the title) and UNC in 1998. Both times the Huskies went head-to-head with those powerhouse teams and I'll contend to my dying day that they could have, maybe even would have beaten both of them if the game would have been on true, actual neutral court sites. (And yes, I know Michigan State fans are probably equally pissed UConn got a game at MSG, but tough crapola ... that's payback for 2009 and their "neutral site" game in Detroit for the Final Four).

Whether it was bad play or bad matchups, the 1990s were pretty much a big tease for Husky fans. Greatness seemed to be right there for the taking, but the team and the coach just couldn't grab on with two hands.

Luckily, in 1999, it all changed again. The Huskies won their first national title, beating a Duke team many believed was virtually unbeatable.

Since then, the Huskies have been an absolute beast.

After 1999, the Huskies have been to six more Elite Eights and, now, four more Final Fours. That's as many as Kansas, on both counts. That's also better than Duke, who's made only three Final Fours since 1999 and four Elite Eight appearances. How about Kentucky? Well, UConn has the same number of Elite Eight appearances and one more Final Four than the Wildcats. And if you're looking for another "blue blood," it's almost the exact same resume as UNC, with the same number of Final Fours and one less Elite Eight.

Now consider this ... schools with GREAT basketball traditions like Xavier, Creighton, and even Gonzaga (a newer addition, but they still count) have NEVER made a Final Four. You know who else hasn't made the final weekend? Boston College. I'm sure you're not exactly shocked.

Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, and a whole host of others only have one a piece, and many of those came before Noah felt a little drop of rain on his nose.

That's how special this is. That's how fortunate we, as Husky fans, are. This kind of success has usually been reserved for the true "blue-bloods" of the sport ... the programs that can trace their winning back to peach cartons being hung on the side of barns and Jimmy Chitwood-esque players perfecting their shot on a make-shift half court on some farm in no-wheresville.

That's why it's sort of perfect that UConn is playing Florida this weekend. The Gators are a whole heck of a lot like the Huskies. Their basketball history was virtually non-existent prior to 1994. Before that (their first trip to the Final Four, thanks to Mr. Marshal), they had only been to the NCAA Tournament three times, with one trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Yet, since Billy Donovan took over after the 1995-1996 season, the Gators have been one of the best programs in the country. They, like UConn, are making their fifth trip to the final weekend and are looking to tie the Huskies with their third national title.

I'm not sure who wrote this the other day so I apologize for not being able to give proper credit, but they said that UConn and Florida are the "baby blue bloods," the young kids who crashed the Kentucky, UCLA, UNC, Duke party and don't look like they want to leave.

That's exactly what has happened.

A lot of people have ignored the dominance of UConn over the last two decades. The most recent, and most egregious example of this is the "Requiem for the Big East" ESPN 30 for 30 documentary that was billed as a look at the rise and fall of UConn's former conference. The fact that the Huskies, from 1990 on, was the most important, most dominant program in the conference was all but ignored. Calhoun's three national titles, seven BE Tourney titles, and Hall of Fame career were given lip service. Instead, whoever put the documentary together decided to spend two hours breaking down every Georgetown, Syracuse game played in the 1980s, and every color pattern of Lou Carneseca's Cosby sweaters.

When UConn was relegated to the American Athletic, it seemed a lot of people were more than happy to predict the decline of the program. No Calhoun, no Big East, no further reason to worry about the Huskies. We could all just pretend the last 20 years of success never happened and wait for them to go back to being that little New England school no one knows much about.

Maybe in a few years someone could do a "Where are they now?" feature film about how, at one time, the Huskies were pretending to be big time.

But the truth is ... we are BIG TIME. WE ARE UCONN. We are a baby blue blood with no intention of ever giving an inch to the so-called "power" programs who built much of their reputation on success attained in yesteryears.

The Huskies are going to their fifth Final Four. They have one of the best young coches in the college game today. They have a history of success you can't ignore.

This is the legacy of UConn basketball. This is what Jim Calhoun built. It's one that will continue to be built, and the building will continue this weekend.

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