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UConn rights the boat with Boatright, and other jazzy puns


Breathe easy, everyone. It looks like things might be okay after all.

With the NCAA's response to alleged major recruiting violations still lingering over the program, it's possible, the doomsday conspiracist in me says, that this season could've been the beginning of the end of Jim Calhoun' reign, the end of UConn basketball as we know it. 

The pledge of a top-50 prospect can't make this season's team -- which has been pegged to finish in the bottom half of the conference in the preseason coaches' poll -- any better, or make Calhoun any healthier. 

But the commitment of four-star PG Ryan Boatright, the Huskies' first signee for the 2011 class, is a much-needed step in the right direction, a positive sign after being doused in negativity (and awful, awful basketball) for the past year or so. 

That might seem a bit much for the oral commitment from a high school kid not even ranked in the top 10 at his position by But it's finally a bit of good news after months and months of watching and listening to this program get dragged through the mud.

And not just by opposing fans and the like. 

You probably know by now that recruiting is a dirty, ugly game; UConn's own (alleged) violations have proven as much. Through Boatright's recruitment, we get a clear reminder.

From Boatright's mother, Tanesha, via ZagsBlog:

"Everyone that talks about UConn, it's negative," Tanesha said.

"[Coach Calhoun] is sick," Tanesha said she and Ryan heard from other schools. "He’s gonna leave. They're going to be banned from postseason games.

Lady Boatright's statements are nothing you wouldn't expect, or probably haven't already assumed, at this point. But seeing it in print ... er, cyberspace, still leaves an impact. One that gradually becomes more prevalent as the pall over the program spreads.

Like a fresh-out-of-driving-school kid getting into his or her first fender bender is a reminder of one's morality, the past year or so has truly driven home the point that, as trite as it may sound, success can be fleeting. 

Less than two years ago, this team (and its fans) was at an all-time high, cruising through the NCAA tournament with legitimate national championship aspirations, dispatching any deerskin-based program in its sight. Now, UConn's in danger of falling into obscurity for good.

Just like that, things change. 

It's something I was reminded further while reading David Halberstam's "Breaks of the Game." 

There's a section toward the middle of "Breaks," which chronicles the Portland Trail Blazers' 1979-80 season, where Blazers GM Stu Inman, along with fellow scouts Pete Newell and Wayne Embry, note the change taking place in the college basketball, mostly because of the rise in television money. All three essentially agree that the college game -- and the college student -- was becoming corrupt, and then-Indiana coach Bobby Knight was one of the lone coaches who believed in developing not just talent, but people. (Although Isiah Thomas' recent decent into disillusionment may prove otherwise.)

Ultimately, it leads to this passage from Halberstam:

If you could recruit well and get star high school players, the network -- in this case NBC -- would schedule you. Where, given the number of players required, it took years to develop a major athletic program in football, basketball with so small a number of players was particularly seductive to a college looking for an instant reputation. 

The issue has since snowballed. With one-and-doners now running the college game -- some, like O.J. Mayo, valuing a school's market and a shot at not only the spotlight, but Hollywood's bright lights -- programs can shoot up the rankings faster than Jon Calipari leave them.

Meaning now, more than ever, UConn's status as one of college basketball's blueboods is tenuous.

Because when the Huskies ultimately lose Calhoun, he takes with him all the success, all the history the program has. And after that's gone, what separates the Huskies from the upstarts?

Once Calhoun is no longer relevant -- whether through retirement or by losing touch with today's player -- will UConn seize to be as well?

This is the crisis the Huskies are in, whether it surfaces months or years from now.

Monday's developments, however, may have delayed the process.

So rejoice, Husky faithful! Despite the sanctions and restrictions it faces, and the countless black eyes it has received throughout this process (especially during its response to the NCAA), UConn has proven it can still draw talent, the lifeblood of any program. 

However, celebrating such a minor feat may be more telling than the feat itself.