02/19/2010 10:59 AM ET
Calhoun faces critical time in recruiting
Medical leave, departing players spell uncertainty
By Adam Zagoria / SNY.tv
Jim Calhoun has called recruits to assure them of his health after a leave of absence this season. (AP)

Just three days after he returned from a seven-game medical leave, UConn coach Jim Calhoun sat in the stands last Sunday at the Sun National Bank Center in Trenton, N.J., watching some of the nation's elite high school players participate in the PrimeTime Shootout.

In the hyper-competitive world of college basketball, recruiting never ends, even for a 67-year-old coach with a history of medical issues ranging from prostate cancer to broken ribs.

As the Huskies (15-11, 5-8 Big East) put up a late-season fight to get in the NCAA Tournament, Calhoun also faces a critical time in recruiting as he looks ahead to next year and beyond.

UConn will lose two members of its "Big Three" in Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson to graduation. It will also lose senior forward Gavin Edwards. Those three combine for 45 points per game, or 63 percent of the Huskies' offense.

"If you're looking for playing time right away, at UConn, that's going to be available," said Calhoun, whose Huskies upset No. 3 Villanova on Monday to help their NCAA Tournament chances and visit Rutgers (14-12, 4-9) on Saturday (4 p.m., SNY).

UConn has five freshmen on its roster, yet none is averaging more than Alex Oriakhi's 5.3 points and 7.2 rebounds.

UConn's four other freshmen -- Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, Ater Majok, Jamaal Trice and Darius Smith -- combine for just 5.6 points per game.

Calhoun had hoped that the 6-foot-11 Majok, a native of the Sudan who came to UConn from Australia, might step in and help fill the void left by the departed Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien up front.

But he has been especially disappointing, averaging 2.3 points and 3.0 rebounds despite starting 16 games. Now Calhoun is openly searching for additional talent to add to the program at the same time that questions have swirled around his health.

"There's no question we need to get some more players that have been like some of the players we've had here in the past," Calhoun said on Thursday's Big East conference call.

UConn has signed letters of intent from 6-10, three-star center Michael Bradley of Chattanooga, Tenn., and 6-4 four-star shooting guard Jeremy Lamb of Norcross, Ga.

Roscoe Smith, a 6-8 forward at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy, and Cleveland Melvin, a 6-8 forward from Fitchburg (Mass.) Notre Dame Prep, have verbally committed but not signed. Calhoun's health has been a complicating factor for several recruits.

Smith, whose team played back-to-back games at the PrimeTime Shootout, conceded that he had "doubts" about his commitment when Calhoun missed seven games for what he later told Smith was high blood pressure.

"The situation with Calhoun is a big factor because that's the main reason why I'm going to UConn," Smith said last Feb. 13 after Oak Hill edged Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick, 79-78, on ESPNU.

Smith, who has yet to sign his letter of intent, said Calhoun called him that week to notify him he would be back from his medical leave.

"Yes, he called me personally and he called my family," Smith said. "He said he's doing fine. He said he will be coaching the next game. For me and my family, that's a good thing to hear, you know?"

Calhoun has made a lot of those calls in recent days.

"He spoke with one of my coaches and my dad, too, and he said that's he's fine," Lamb told ESPNRise.com. "I'm not worried about whether he'll be there next year or not. He said that he was going to be OK. I feel like he'll be coming back and a big reason for me choosing Connecticut was because he's the coach."

In addition to the four recruits currently in the fold, UConn is hotly pursuing a group of elite guards that includes Brandon Knight of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Pine Crest, Josh Selby of Baltimore (Md.) Lake Clifton, Queens native Doron Lamb of Oak Hill and Cory Joseph, a Canadian native playing at Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep.

All four are considering UConn along with a short list of other elite schools. Knight, Selby and Lamb are also looking at Kentucky and Kansas. Arizona is courting both Selby and Lamb. Joseph's list of five schools includes UConn's Big East rival Villanova.

With Dyson set to graduate and the possibility of former Manhattan Rice star Kemba Walker leaving after his sophomore year, the Huskies have an urgent need in the backcourt.

To that end, Calhoun and his staff have reached out to the targeted recruits to let them know the coach is healthy and plans to remain at the school.

"Coach Calhoun's leave of absence got me a little worried, but now he is back so I am not concerned," Doron Lamb told of BoxofMess.com.

Calhoun also told Lambe "he'll be there for five more years," according to the NBE Basketball Report.

The coach has a contract extension on the table for that length of time, but he has yet to sign it.

Now, more than ever, Calhoun must steer the ship of his current team while keeping a steady eye on the horizon.

Adam Zagoria is a regular contributor to SNY.tv. Read his blog at ZagsBlog.com and follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AdamZagoria.
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