Game #9-025: Vermont at Connecticut HuskiesNovember 13, 2012 7:00 pm
Hartford Civic Center
STORRS, Conn. - There was a time when I was a huge fan of the University of Connecticut and its basketball team.
As a wee lad in the early 1980s, I took a couple of trips to Greer Field House to see guys like Corny Thompson and Earl Kelley battle in a new conference called the Big East that had a few games broadcast a new network that few people had called ESPN.
Greer Field House was, shockingly, a field house, an old-school gym opened in 1954 that UConn could squeeze 5,000 or so in when they had to.
They rarely had to, though, because the team was rarely good in that era under a coach named Dom Perno. In his final season, 1985-86, UConn raced to an 8-0 mark, but ended up losing their last eight to finish 12-16. While it was clear, even to a pre-teen fan that the rest of the Big East was passing them by, it was still fun to root for a lovable loser.
Perno was out, UConn hired a guy named Jim Calhoun (who had inflicted one of the losses on Perno at Northeastern the year prior), and the rest is history.
As UConn's dream 1989-90 season played out, which culminated in a heartbreaking loss to Duke in the regional final, played out, it seemed to me more and more people in the state were identifying themselves as big Husky fans.
You weren't there when Perno was coaching, I thought. You're just a bunch of frontrunners. I became bitter. As UConn quickly became a state institution, they outgrew me. Or I outgrew them.
Personally, I'm no fan of Calhoun. I always thought he was a jerk and the few times I had to deal with him professionally, he did nothing to dispel that notion.
But in driving Tuesday to Storrs, through back roads and very little civilization, I reflected on how great a job the now-retired Calhoun did. Three national titles. Seven Big East crowns. Getting guys like Rip Hamilton, Ray Allen, Kemba Walker, and countless others to turn down other schools with bigger tradition and come to Storrs freaking Connecticut? That's amazing and Calhoun deserves his spot in the Hall of Fame for sure.
However, why should success have turned me off so much to UConn basketball? Isn't that what we're striving for?
Before I could answer those questions, though, I was paying $9 to park outside Gampel Pavillion, which I still think of as new, but actually opened in 1990. It could actually pass for an arena in the Atlantic 10 or Missouri Valley Conference these days, it seats just over 10,000 and reminds me a lot of the Mullins Center (UMass) and the Ryan Center (Rhode Island).
With Calhoun gone, a new-look UConn team takes the floor this season under new coach Kevin Ollie. When it was announced that Connecticut is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament due to low graduation rates, I actually felt some sympathy because how many others are out there that didn't get caught (my alma mater, Syracuse, has not been exactly exemplary in that regard in recent years, either)?
The building wasn't quite full, but the student section was. Impressively so, especially against a team like Vermont.
We hope the hypocrisy of the modern Division I student-athlete isn't spreading below the Red Line, but can we be sure?
No matter, my loyalties Tuesday night were obviously with reigning America East champion Vermont. When we last saw head coach John Becke
r, the team bus had stranded him outside a ferry in Bridgeport, Conn. and he was waiting for a ride.
That same bus took him to Gampel Tuesday, and like Ollie, he's had to revamp things a bit. His top shooter, freshman Four McGlynn, decided to transfer. The Catamounts top player is one of the most unique in all of college basketball, junior Brian Voelkel. At 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, he looks like he should be playing linebacker for a big-time college football program. He's a fantastic defender, led America East last season in rebounds, and was second in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio.
But he doesn't like to shoot, taking only 154 in 36 games in 2011-12, averaging only 4.6 points per game. He had 15 rebounds and seven assists in the America East title victory over Stony Brook and 12 more bounds and seven more assists against Lamar in the NCAA play-in (first round) victory, yet didn't make it into double figures in scoring in either contest.
This season, though, he's clearly the floor leader, and the Catamounts are going to have to figure out where the offense is going to come from.
I've surely seen Red Line upsets in my day, but this was the first game I've covered for Mid-majority with an opportunity at one. Therefore, it was my first live look at the futility of it all.
Vermont grabbed a 10-9 lead and was able to hang around for most of the first half thanks to its trademark stingy defense that made UConn struggle to get good looks at the basket. But by halftime, it was 32-23 UConn, and by the second media time out the lead had ballooned to 18 and it was game over, especially against a Vermont team that is going to struggle offensively early in the season.
Even when they kept it close, you never had the feel Vermont was going to win the game. No one in the building did. It was a formality, life below the Red Line playing a guarantee game on the road.
The Catamounts are still one of the favorites in a fairly weak America East. In addition to Voelkel, point guard Sandro Carissimo was impressive, and they'll make life miserable for teams with the way they play defense (the America East final ended 51-43 last season). But they just had too much to overcome: physically and financially.
On the way out, I walked over to Greer Field House, which still stands next to Gampel. The main arena has been converted into an indoor track facility
, and some athletes were coming out of training for one of the many intercollegiate sports that go even more unnoticed that mid-major college basketball.
Next to the door was a plaque for Hugh S. Greer, the building's namesake. Greer coached UConn from 1947 to 1963 and never had a losing record, going to the NCAA Tournament seven times, before tragically dying of a heart attack in January of 1963 at the age of 58.
The caption read: "Dedicated to the memory of the quiet, polished, and restrained gentleman whose courteous manner and exemplary conduct marked him as an ambassador of sportsmanship for the University of Connecticut, for the Yankee Conference, and for the game of basketball".
Wonder what Greer would think of the modern game a half-century later? at CONNECTICUT 67, VERMONT 49
VERMONT 1-1 (0-0) -- B. Voelkel 2-4 4-7 8; S. Carissimo 3-8 2-2 8; L. Apfeld 2-10 4-4 9; C. Rugg 3-7 2-2 8; T. Blue 2-5 2-4 8; E. O'Day 2-7 0-0 4; C. Rusin 1-7 0-0 2; J. Elbaum 0-1 2-2 2; B. Kilpatrick 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 15-50 16-21 49.
CONNECTICUT 2-0 (0-0) -- S. Napier 4-10 5-6 13; T. Olander 3-9 3-3 9; O. Calhoun 3-7 4-6 12; R. Boatright 4-10 0-0 9; D. Daniels 3-10 1-2 7; N. Giffey 2-3 0-0 4; R. Evans 5-5 1-1 11; P. Nolan 1-1 0-0 2; L. Tolksdorf 0-1 0-0 0; E. Wolf 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-56 14-18 67.
Three-point goals: UVM 3-18 (T. Blue 2-4; L. Apfeld 1-3; C. Rusin 0-5; S. Carissimo 0-1; B. Voelkel 0-1; C. Rugg 0-3; B. Kilpatrick 0-1), CONN 3-12 (S. Napier 0-2; R. Boatright 1-3; D. Daniels 0-2; O. Calhoun 2-4; L. Tolksdorf 0-1); Rebounds: UVM 36 (L. Apfeld 8), CONN 28 (T. Olander 9); Assists: UVM 8 (B. Voelkel 4), CONN 14 (R. Boatright 7); Total Fouls -- UVM 16, CONN 18; Fouled Out: UVM-E. O'Day; CONN-None.