Jim Calhoun meets with the media. (AP)
April 2, 2011
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Jim Calhoun started his coaching career at Old Lyme High School in Connecticut in 1965.
Forty-six years later he'll lead the University of Connecticut into the Final Four for the fourth time, looking for national championship No. 3.
John Calipari was 6 when Calhoun first blew a whistle at practice. He's been in coaching for 29 years and will lead Kentucky, the third school he has taken to a Final Four, in Houston.
The other two coaches are coaching's version of the "Kiddie Corps."
Brad Stevens was born in 1976, five years into Calhoun's first Division I head coaching job at Northeastern. Stevens is making his second consecutive Final Four appearance with Butler, the surprise team in the national semifinals until Sunday, when Shaka Smart led 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth over No. 1 Kansas 71-61 on Sunday. The Rams become just the third No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four, and their coach also will be the youngest in Houston this week.
Born a year after Stevens, their combined ages don't reach Calhoun's 68 years.
Both Stevens and Smart are in their first head coaching position, and both will be hot topics of rumors about moving up to a more influential - and richer - coaching spot.
"Talking about me as a young coach, I think we're right around the same age," Smart said, referring to Stevens. "He's been a head coach a couple of years longer than me, and he has had a lot more success. They made the championship game last year and now back-to-back Final Fours. Obviously, they're doing a lot of things right over there at Butler."
Smart's doing something right at VCU, which is headed to the Final Four for the first time. The Rams have been on a run that dispatched teams from five of the six BCS conferences. Now they get Butler, a team from a conference - the Horizon League - which is a lot closer to VCU's Colonial Athletic Association.
"So with us and Butler matching up going to the semifinals it's a game for - I don't want to say the little guys - but the medium-sized guys, and we're excited about it," Smart said.
It might not be for the little guys, but it is between two people who would be sent to the "little coaches" table at holiday time.
Stevens shocked everybody last season with Butler's run to a Final Four being played just 6 miles from its campus. He certainly didn't let it go to his head.
"I'm incredibly proud of these guys. They carried their coach today in a big way," he said after Butler beat Florida in the Southeast Regional final. "I was saying I got out-coached big time. But our assistants did a great job and our players did a great job, and just a special group. We're really lucky that they're Butler Bulldogs."
Calipari led Massachusetts to the Final Four in 1996 and Memphis to the championship game in 2008 and both finishes were vacated by the NCAA for rules violations. He was asked after the Wildcats' 76-69 victory over North Carolina on Sunday about his place in college basketball history.
"I'm young enough to not worry about my legacy," he said. "I'm just trying to win another game."
So, too, is Calhoun.
Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 2005, he has won 823 games, third among active coaches behind Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim and sixth on the all-time list. He has won seven BIG EAST titles, including this season when the conference was considered to be among the best of all time.
This wasn't the smoothest of seasons for Calhoun.
There were a lot of games when the three freshmen played like freshmen. The end of the season saw the Huskies tumble to ninth in the 16-team conference.
But they went on a streak for the ages, winning five games in as many days to win the BIG EAST tournament and then won the four NCAA tournament games to reach the Final Four.
"I've been fortunate over 39 years to have a lot of teams do a lot of different things, but never could I imagine the team winning nine games in tournament play in 19 days," he said, referring to the run that included six ranked teams. "This unique group of young guys have just given me a thrill beyond compare."