Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Patrick Sellers cheers from China
By Dana O'Neil
He should have had a front-row seat, should have been a chair or two down from Jim Calhoun, knee deep in the huddle, plotting and planning the next play.
He, after all, is the man responsible for recruiting most of the freshmen who have served as Kemba Walker's supporting cast in this run to the Final Four.
But Patrick Sellers spent this season about as far away from the University of Connecticut as a person could get.
On the days the Huskies were playing this season, enjoying the high life and bright lights of the Big East, Sellers woke up at 6 a.m. He'd hustle down to his computer, log on to Slingbox and watch the game from the breakfast table in his hotel room in Taiyuan, China.
Sellers, a former Huskies assistant, was among the first pieces of collateral damage following the NCAA's investigation of UConn. He, along with director of basketball operations Beau Archibald, resigned in May.
But while most people might consider his remote outpost as basketball's version of Elba, Sellers never regarded his past year as an assistant with the Shanxi Dragons as exile.
A year later, he's not bitter. He's not angry and he's not rooting for Kentucky. In fact, when the Huskies play the Wildcats on Saturday night in a national semifinal, Sellers will be in Houston cheering.
"No, I'm not angry at all. I wasn't a scapegoat," he said. "I am 100 percent pro-UConn, pro-Coach Calhoun. Those are my guys. I talk to Coach [Calhoun] once a week or once every 10 days."
That's not to say the past year has been easy.
Sellers admits that he was stunned and embarrassed when the charges -- that he provided false and misleading information to investigators -- first came out.
He worried what friends in the business -- especially younger coaches he'd worked with, people whose camps he'd spoken at -- would think of him.
"I was like the guy in 'My Cousin Vinny.' I shot the clerk? I shot the clerk?" Sellers said. "I didn't do it."
So why resign if he wasn't guilty?
"Because, well, it's kind of difficult to answer that one," Sellers said. "There was no other choice, really. I had to go and prove to the school that I wasn't guilty of what I was accused of doing."
Though Connecticut's sanctions remain place, in February the NCAA agreed with Sellers.
He was cleared.
That morning, Seller's lawyer called him at 5 a.m. (Taiyuan, China time) to tell him the news.
"We had shootaround at 9 o'clock that morning and I went out and I dunked," Sellers said. "People were like, 'What in the world?' I just said, 'The weight has been lifted.'"
|Former UConn assistant Patrick Sellers, left, resigned last May amid an NCAA investigation into the Huskies program.|
Sellers is now clear to rejoin the college coaching ranks if a school wants to hire him. He's not sure if that will happen or if he's still branded with a scarlet letter -- "I like to think people know me, know my character, know I'm a hard worker" -- but if it doesn't work out here, in August he'll gladly head back to China for the start of a new season.
He went there this past summer because, really, there wasn't anywhere else to go. A friend hooked him up with what was supposed to be a one-month preseason gig in Shanxi, the pro team that Stephon Marbury once played for.
Instead, the owner and general manager were so impressed they asked him to stay on.
Sellers gladly said yes.
It was, he said, the best decision he could have made. Away from the scrutiny and attention, Sellers had time to let his wounds mend and to recharge his batteries.
"I'm a better basketball coach because of it," he said. "You don't have to go out recruiting, so you can really sit and watch films. I learned so many different things. I'm so much more confident in my basketball skills now than before."
The Chinese league uses the same rules as the NBA, save for illegal defense, and Sellers picked up enough of the language that he could at least speak basketball.
He also worked with plenty of American players, some of whom he even recruited at UConn, including former St. John's player Ernest Brown and Alexander Johnson, who played at Florida State.
Of course, it was a team full of other Americans that he was most curious about.
Sellers watched nearly every Connecticut game and was thrilled when the recruiting promises he made to the freshmen came true. He told Jeremy Lamb he'd be a starter and he was. He told Shabazz Napier that he'd get significant minutes at the point, which he has.
"You want to be a part of it, of course you do," Sellers said. "I missed the fellas, not just our guys, but everyone. So that part is hard, but I think being away, I think it helped. I got the fix for basketball again."
Sellers currently has no suitors in the college ranks. He returned to the United States only a short time ago after the Chinese season ended and, in fact, only this week collected the rest of his belongings in Connecticut.
For now, he'll use Los Angeles as a jumping-off point.
It's just a matter of where he's jumping to.
"I worked at every level -- at Central Connecticut, at UMass, at UConn, so I'm fine anywhere," he said. "I figured out in China that as long as I'm involved in basketball, I'll be OK."
No, I'm not angry at all. I wasn't a scapegoat. I am 100 percent pro-UConn, pro-Coach Calhoun. Those are my guys. I talk to Coach [Calhoun] once a week or once every 10 days.
--Former UConn assistant Patrick Sellers
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Dana on Twitter: @dgoneil1.