Jim Calhoun hawked tickets, T-shirts and other trinkets to bribe his way out of the hospital.
Not a nurse or a doctor or even an orderly bit on his offer.
Must have been Syracuse fans.
After getting treatment for dehydration and missing Connecticut’s first-round game, the Huskies coach was back at practice Friday. He’s set to guide the top-seeded Huskies (28-4) against Texas A&M on Saturday.
“Nobody really wants to spend even a night in the hospital, particularly during such an important time of year,” Calhoun said.
The 66-year-old Calhoun stepped onto the podium feeling refreshed and holding a cup of water. He ate breakfast with the Huskies and ran practice at the Palestra, the home of Philly basketball on Penn’s campus.
If Calhoun felt any lingering effects of his illness, he didn’t show it to his players at practice. A.J. Price described Calhoun as upbeat and his usual self. Jeff Adrien spoke for all the Huskies when he said there was no doubt Calhoun would return and go for his 803rd career win.
“He’s just fought through so many things in his life,” Adrien said. “A little sickness would not prevent him from coaching Saturday.”
When word spread that Calhoun was hospitalized, there were immediate concerns that this was more than a little sickness.
Last May, the Hall of Fame coach was treated for a second bout of skin cancer. He had surgery to remove a lump in the upper right side of his neck near the jaw line and underwent radiation.
In 2003, Calhoun missed five games when he underwent surgery for prostate cancer.
Calhoun’s medical issues were never that serious. Calhoun simply felt weak for a couple of days, was checked out Thursday morning by the team doctor, and then admitted to a local hospital.
“Next thing I know, they put a bracelet on, I was admitted,” Calhoun said. “I was the most shocked guy in the world.”
He underwent a full physical examination.
In his absence, associate head coach George Blaney coached the Huskies. Price and Hasheem Thabeet each scored 20 points in the third-largest victory ever in NCAA tournament history—103-47 against Chattanooga in the West Regional.
Calhoun credited Blaney for keeping the Huskies focused in his absence. After all, any coach like Calhoun that has missed 21 games in a Hall of Fame career because of various illnesses needs a trusted and competent staff.
“I have great faith in him,” Calhoun said. “I think the kids do, too, which was evident by the way they played yesterday.”
Calhoun displayed none of his prickly side that sometimes rubs the press and critics the wrong way, and cracked jokes.
This was the third NCAA tournament game Calhoun has missed. In the two previous instances, UConn went on to win the national title.
In 1999, Calhoun missed a first-round game against Texas-San Antonio. In 2004, he left a second-round game against DePaul after becoming ill. He returned just in time to see the end of UConn’s 72-55 victory.
“Maybe it’s an omen or something,” Calhoun said. “Hopefully it is. I wouldn’t necessarily like these types of omens. I’d rather have the kids play. If they play like they did yesterday, everything else will work its way out.”
If the Huskies play as they did against Chattanooga, then the ninth-seeded Aggies (24-9) could be in deep trouble. Texas A&M, though, won’t be intimidated after playing in a Big 12 conference that produced two No. 3 seeds and one No. 2.
“Different faces, but the same type of skill level,” Aggies guard Donald Sloan said. “Talent-wise, we’ve seen it before.”
A&M beat Brigham Young 79-66 on Thursday and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive year.
Standing in the Aggies’ way is yet another high seed playing close to home in the second round.
Last season, the Aggies paid with a two-point loss to top-seeded UCLA in Anaheim, Calif., and in 2007 they knocked off sixth-seeded Louisville in Lexington, Ky.
Coach Mark Turgeon might use Philadelphia’s iconic rallying figure as a way to make the Aggies believe they can topple the top seed and move on to Arizona.
“I don’t know if I’m going to throw that Rocky line on them tomorrow before we start or not,” Turgeon said.