Sports

The Gun Show || A Message of Hope: UConn’s Jim Calhoun Overcomes Cancer and Spinal Stenosis

default article imageIf you’re looking for an inspirational story, you don’t need to flip on an HBO documentary or an ESPN 30 for 30 show, just look at the University of Connecticut. Instead of hearing the promising tale of a player who has made it from nothing to take the NCAA by storm, I’ll give you reason to believe that Jim Calhoun is an admirable man and an icon for the game of basketball.

His 871 wins and ranking of sixth all-time amongst NCAA coaches are not the reason behind this week’s spotlight. The head coach, riddled with health problems, has defied all odds to return back to the sidelines. He returned last week after missing nearly a month coping with the effects of spinal stenosis, a condition where the spine is narrowed and disk fragments push on spinal nerves.

The defending NCAA champions have not been much without their fearless leader, going 3-5 in his absence this past month and 5-6 in total without him on the season. To bring fire back to his squad, the head coach defied medical orders to coach them against Pittsburgh.

Instead of easing back to work and recouping at home, the 69-year-old head coach paced the sidelines and barked orders at his team which is holding onto their last hope for making the NCAA tournament. When he loosened his tie and seemed flustered throughout the game, it wasn’t a medical complication, but instead an example of his dedication for the job.

Players responded to his perseverance and noted to Yahoo Sports! that there is no substitute for Calhoun’s presence on the sideline. “He just brings that energy and it makes me want to fight harder, even when I’m tired, on my last straw,” said UCONN guard Shabazz Napier.

Even associate head coach said “I walked into the locker room and he was standing there and I said, ‘I knew you were going to be here.’ He just smiled at me and then went out there and performed.” Clearly his locker room presence inspires players, coaches and all UCONN affiliates and fans alike.

Received to a standing ovation, Calhoun went out and beat an always-tough Pittsburgh team. Calhoun’s surgeon sat in the stands to watch this bout and monitor his health situation. Just days after surgery, the game was a risk for the coach who is approaching 70.

He put his players ahead of his own personal well-being and in doing so, showed the world the power of the head coach. Instead of a man just uttering a few words on the sidelines to a sport that is passing by him a million miles per second, Calhoun proved that his presence, ambition and companionship with his players is enough to drive a program forward with players who adore him.

The Hall of Fame coach has proven to be a prominent example for other NCAA coaches. Working to reach Calhoun’s stature with his program, long-tenured coaches can sometimes only dream of having the influence that Jim provides. A cancer survivor and powerful campus presence, there is merely no match to this coach.

This story even drives relevance here at Monmouth. Although he’s been at the helm of the Hawks for only a year King Rice was noted as being a coach who preaches team connectedness at the time of his hiring. Although the Hawks were eliminated early in the NEC Tournament, the team is very content with their play on the court, stemming from the presence of an influential head coach...King has clearly provided this influence.

Hopefully years from now we will have a feature spotlight on the accomplishments of Rice at Monmouth, noting his immediate turnaround of the program from the start. Until then we must make today’s emotional stories prime examples of the impact of sports. It is clearly not just a game, but a way of life, as thousands would attest.

As Calhoun defied all odds to make his comeback recently, he has shown the world how a truly admirable man acts. Already beating prostate cancer and multiple other health problems, he epitomizes the words ‘endure and prosper,’ a phrase none of his players can now ignore. At 69-years-old, he continues to build his resume.