Moore Returns To UConn, Mentor Calhoun

Moore Returns To UConn, Mentor Calhoun
By Zach Smart

Tom Moore was angry. He was angry at his team for a sub-par practice. He was angry that the practice squads didn’t bear any resemblance to what he was expecting to see on the floor this season. He was angry at a certain freshman for making some off-the-court freshman mistakes that would prolong practice and culminate the three-hour workout with “suicide” sprints. He was angry at the fact that his team had no choice but to practice in the bandbox Burt Kahn basketball court, because of floor problems at the TD Banknorth Sports Center.

In the midst of a yelling session, the Burt Kahn door busted open, as a fiery Moore apparently had an uninvited guest.

Poor timing.

“Get out!” Moore barked at a reporter who had no business being in the gym during practice time. The reporter’s saunter abruptly changed into a hurried walk out the door, and Moore cleared his throat before dismissing his team.

In just his first week as the Quinnipiac coach who has enhanced the program’s profile, the Jim Calhoun inside Moore leaped out and made its presence felt.

After serving under the no-nonsense Calhoun for 13 years at the University of Connecticut—the last two as UConn’s associate head coach—Moore will be reunited with his mentor and former team on Sunday afternoon.

At the Hartford Civic Center, Moore’s old stomping grounds, the state’s longest existing blood-feud will be renewed.

The annual meeting between hasn’t played out like a rivalry the past eight years. UConn has pummeled the Bobcats in every meeting except last year’s, when a freshman-laden Huskies team gutted out an ugly 53-46 win. It was the first game of a frustrating 2006-2007 campaign for UConn.

“This is certainly unique,” said Moore during a recent teleconference, where he was peppered with questions.

“I have very strong feelings for the University of Connecticut and for Coach Calhoun in particular, and just what he did for my career and the opportunity he afforded me throughout my time there.  I’m also trying to balance what are the best interests with my number one priority right now, which is our program here at Quinnipiac.”

Moore payed homage. He said Calhoun essentially molded his coaching career by blessing him with the opportunity to coach such a top-tier program, front-loaded with top-flight talents. UConn, which won the NCAA championship in 1999 and 2004, has established itself as the NBA factory these past few years (no college team currently has more alumni in the NBA).

Despite the emotional sub-plot, however, Moore insists he will not prepare for UConn’s run-and-gun, go-go brand of basketball much differently. Moore did reveal, however, that he will employ a different defensive style and sit in a zone.

“We’ll try to prepare the same way we did in terms of pre-game stuff. And when we go out to do our stretching and net routine and all that stuff, we’ll keep it as much like that.”

In order to pull off a titanic, historic upset, however, the 4-4 Bobcats will have to jack up their energy level. To the naysayers, just playing neck-and-neck with the up-tempo Huskies—whose superior athleticism few teams can simulate—seems like a daunting task.

Moore explained that he’ll eschew the linkage of emotional ties and Xs and Os to game play.

But he admits that the Big East opponent Quinnipiac will meet about 35 minutes down I-95 Sunday is going to be colossally different than anyone they’ve seen in eight games this season.

“The size and the athleticism will be on another total scale from what we’ve faced,” said Moore.

“So we’re going to try to do a couple things differently, and I’ll be so wrapped up into survival mode during the game, where we’ll constantly be thinking about how do we handle a dunk in traffic by them, how do we handle a reach blocked shot?”

The season couldn’t have started more differently for the two teams and their coaches.

UConn brought back nearly its entire roster while adding freshman guard Donnell Beverly from California.

Quinnipiac, whom Moore left the Huskies bloodline for Quinnipiac following the firing of Joe DeSantis in March, had its roster thoroughly cleansed from last season and was beset by injuries.

Moore, like Calhoun, appears to have a short chain this season, yanking players for a single gaffe. Like Calhoun, Moore is a household name. And also like his predecessor, Moore has scorched the recruiting trail, bringing in arguably the best recruiting class in Quinnipiac’s history this season.

Though he appears to be coaching at a lower stratum this year, and in an entirely different situation, there’s still a bit of Calhoun visible in Tom Moore.

Headlines: You can already picture them in Monday’s sports pages. “Super DeMario,” or “The Price Is Right.” Both leaders for their respective teams, UConn’s A.J. Price and Quinnipiac’s DeMario Anderson have been told by their coaches that the team will only go as far as they can take them.

After a sophomore campaign where he failed to stamp his imprint, Price has lived up to the name he etched for himself at Amityville High in Long Island. The 6-foot-2 point guard has spearheaded the Huskies’ high-horsepower offense to the tune of 12.9 points and 5.6 assists per game. On his way to UConn, the praise lavished on Price was unmatched. But Price was sidelined his first few seasons due to health and legal issues. This year, he has emerged into the leader of a young torrent of talent. Price has been particularly strong in marquee games this season, averaging 22.5 points and 3.5 assists in the losses to Gonzaga and Memphis.

Anderson, he of  mid-range jumpers and hang-time, has been the leader of a Bobcat team that starts two freshmen and a sophomore. Anderson, who played under another former Calhoun assistant in Howie Dickenman at Central Connecticut, is an explosive scorer averaging just a thread under 20 points per game. The University is hoping for Moore to take the Bobcats on a rapid ascension through the Northeast Conference, behind senior stalwart Anderson.

Anderson knows plenty about rapid ascensions. He didn’t play organized basketball until his junior year at Oxon Hill High School (Chicago Bull Mike Sweetney’s alma mater in Oxon Hill, Md.) and was elevated from obscurity his senior year. After two seasons at Central and a year at Global Institute, Anderson transferred to Quinnipiac and skyrocketed to small-school stardom last season.

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