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UConn past comes together for Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published August 09. 2014 4:00AM
Dana Jensen/ The Day
Former UConn men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun and Huskies alum Ray Allen of the Miami Heat visit while they wait for a group photograph to be taken Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. Former UConn players gathered for the Jim Calhoun Charity All-Star basketball game.

Mohegan - The night before playing in the Jim Calhoun Charity All-Star basketball game, DeAndre Daniels watched the 2014 national championship game for the first time.

It gave him a warm and fuzzy feeling.

"It was just unreal," Daniels said. "Just seeing all my brothers and everybody cheer for each other on the sidelines, it made me happy."

Daniels joined some of his former teammates at the all-star game Friday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The UConn basketball family reunion is a fundraiser for the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at the UConn Health Center.

It also could be considered a meeting of the champions club, as players and coaches from the program's four national championship teams made an appearance.

The four title trophies were on display, with a player from each team - Khalid El-Amin (1999), Ben Gordon (2004), Kemba Walker (2011), Daniels (2014) - walking out holding one during introductions.

"It's been a special time and it's a special time for fans to see us," Calhoun said. "All of us, myself included, you've got to realize it's not automatic with this stuff happening. It doesn't happen that easy."

Champions club members in attendance included the supremely confident Khalid El-Amin, who famously barked that the Huskies shocked the world after beating Duke for the program's first title in 1999, tough-as-steel point guard Taliek Brown, who helped propel a dominant 2004 run, and dynamic playmaker Kemba Walker, who was the driving force in 2011.

No college basketball team has won more titles than UConn since 1999.

"We're just a dominant program," said Brown, who's now an assistant coach at LaGuardia Community College in New York. "They're building a dynasty here. We're just not a one-year or two-year thing. Every year we're trying to be good."

The 2004 team was well-represented, as Brown, Gordon, Rashad Anderson and Charlie Villanueva all played on Friday.

Gordon recently signed a contract with the Orlando Magic. He has fond memories of his UConn glory days.

During one of his visits back to Storrs, Gordon showed his son around campus.

"It's just something that you're always going to be proud of," Gordon said. "It will far outlast my lifetime and it's going to be something that I'm always going to be remembered for.

" Every time the program wins, it just makes our championship a little bit more special. It just shows the school is really a powerhouse. Coach Calhoun just laid that groundwork and now you see Kevin Ollie following in his footsteps. It just makes you proud every time you see your school win and do something that nobody else has done."

Walker, who plays for the Charlotte Hornets, sees a common thread between the championship teams.

"Guys come here and put in a lot of work and it shows over the course of the season, especially with the last two championships," Walker said. "That was kind of unexpected. My team, I don't think anybody thought that we could do what we did. We came out and won a championship.

"A few years later, Shabazz turned into one of the best leaders that this school has ever seen and won another won."

Shabazz Napier, the 2014 Final Four most outstanding player, didn't make the game. Neither did Rip Hamilton, the star of the 1999 team, but he was expected to play in Calhoun's golf tournament this weekend.

Hamilton is the only Husky to win both a national title and NBA championship, accomplishing the latter feat with the Detroit Pistons.

Three of the four Huskies who won NBA titles - Travis Knight (Los Angeles Lakers), Scott Burrell (Chicago Bulls) and Ray Allen (Miami, Boston), a two-time winner - were at the game on Friday.

Allen, 39, is trying to decide whether to retire or return for his 19th NBA season. He's enjoying watching the program thrive.

"I'm not surprised," Allen said. "The university, right now, is all about recruiting. We're recruiting smartly because we're going after players that have potential to grow and be better than they were when they left high school."

"In those four championships, I've seen growth in every player that's put on a uniform."

News and notes

El-min hit the game-winning jumper to lift the White team to a 114-112 win. Walker was named the game's MVP. Calhoun on the turnout: "It's amazing to me still that the kids are that loyal to each other and the program." Daniels, a second-round draft choice of the Toronto Raptors, is heading to play in Australia for the Perth Wildcats. "There are too many guys at my position. I'm going to go over there for four months and then I'm coming back," Daniels said. Former Husky Steve Pikiell, now the Stony Brook head coach, missed the game. His father, Joe, recently passed away. Walker on his special bond with Calhoun. "After the first time he yelled at me, we were good for the rest of my career." Several current Huskies, including Ryan Boatright, watched the game. Boatright strongly considered leaving for the NBA before deciding to return. "I think I made the right decision. I feel like I worked way too hard all my life and I'm a better player than a second-round pick." Friday's attendance: 7,152.

g.keefe@theday.com

Twitter: @GavinKeefe

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