The UConn mens basketball coach Jim Calhoun says his team's run to the Final Four is one of the most gratifying experiences of his Hall of Fame career. It's pretty special for the Huskies fans, too.
The Huskies reached the Final on Saturday with a 65-63 win over Arizona in the West Regional final in Anaheim, Calif. For longtime fans Stamford's Nick DeVito and Mike Tamborrino, the Final Four run has been particularly sweet.
"I think it's even more enjoyable because there were no expectations,'' said DeVito, a member of the board of Trinity Catholic football team's First Down Club. "I said, ‘If they got to the Sweet 16, Calhoun should be the coach of the year.’ You couldn't anticipate anything like this. This is one of the most satisfying years by far."
"Early on, we could see an indication that they could be a good team,'' Tamborrino said. "It's like there has been three seasons. They had a great start, a meltdown in the middle and a third season that started 19 days ago."
DeVito usually gets to several home games a year and ventures to Madison Square Garden to watch the Huskies play St. John's. He was there this year when the Red Storm rolled over UConn, 89-72, on Feb. 10. The Huskies went just .500 during the Big East regular season but have come alive in the postseason with nine victories in 19 games.
"I said that after they won the Maui tournament in November, what the heck is this all about,'' DeVito said. "The only player they had coming back from last year was Kemba [Walker]. You have [Charles] Okwandu and [Alex] Oriachi as your big men. You can't win with that. These kids weren't even highly recruited, except for Roscoe Smith. Shabazz [Napier] was a last-minute decision. Calhoun has done a miraculous job. He even looks healthier. From a pure basketball standpoint, it's sensational."
Tamborrino believes the team's reduced turnovers, Walker's brilliance and the emergence of Jeremy Lamb have been some of the keys during the team's tournament run. "Lamb has really stepped up,'' Tamborrino said. "He's been great."
DeVito watched the game at Marianne's, a Stamford restaurant, where he and friends were celebrating his wife's birthday. The victory wasn't secure until two 3-pointers by Arizona in the final five seconds were off the mark. "I'm one of those that, if I'm into a game, I'm a yeller and a screamer and a fist-pumper,'' DeVito said. "I think I scared some people. I'm yelling, ‘Rebound!’ ‘Box out!’ and people are watching like, ‘Who is this guy?’ There were some UConn grads there, so it worked out well."
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