Calhoun, Boeheim transformed Northeast hoops

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Pity the successors at Connecticut and Syracuse.

It's too early to say they have no chance, but they certainly will face two of the toughest gigs in the country.

Just think about what these coaches will have to follow: the two Jims -- Calhoun and Boeheim -- who put a face on basketball in the Northeast and essentially have anchored the Big East through the 1990s and deep into this decade.

So far, with no sign that either is close to retiring, they have won three national titles combined (two for Calhoun, one for Boeheim), each has over 700 wins and, after Friday night, each will own membership in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Now toss in that each has an incredible loyalty factor among his former players and deep hearts with charitable organizations (Boeheim with Coaches vs. Cancer and Calhoun with heart disease research) and it makes them even more difficult to duplicate.

"They've been two guys who are very bright and willing to give back," former Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt said. "Both Jims have been willing to give back and in a lot of different ways. They have a great relationship with their graduated players, they have mentored and reached out and done things with the NABC and charitable organizations. There was never a question that these two would be Hall of Famers."

Both men even have experienced the same battle with prostate cancer (Boeheim in 2001 and Calhoun in 2003). Calhoun said one of his first calls was to Boeheim to calm his fears.

All of that is why it made sense for the two to go into the Hall together (along with former coach/broadcaster Hubie Brown, Brazilian star Hortencia Marcari and late LSU women's coach Sue Gunter).

"[Calhoun's] the most similar [to me]," Boeheim said. "We both had to go through similar things and it's very apropos that we're going in together. One couldn't have gone in without the other. You wouldn't have been able to explain why one would without the other."

One of the key characteristics of previous Hall of Fame college coaches, in addition to exceptional records, has been longevity in one place, and both Jims have that.

Calhoun got his start at Northeastern, turning the Huskies into a regional power in 14 seasons, but he is now entering his 20th season in Storrs, having transformed Connecticut from what had been a Yankee Conference team into a Big East power. Boeheim seemingly has never left Syracuse, playing for the Orange during 1963-66 and then, 10 years later, beginning his tenure as head coach. Mutual admiration has developed over that time.

"I've always thought he was unappreciated," Calhoun said of Boeheim. "It wasn't until he got to the Final Four in the Meadowlands in 1996 that I felt he was truly appreciated. I remember the first 10 years in the league I had to answer why Jim can't win this or that. We're the old guard of the Big East."

Having both continue on in the now 16-team Big East will be critical for a league that now has three marquee names, with Louisville's Rick Pitino joining the mix. It could have been four, but Cincinnati forced out Bob Huggins last month.

"Say what you want, but people wanted to see Bobby Huggins there and losing Bobby will be difficult for the league," Calhoun said. "Jay [Wright at Villanova] is coming along, but as far as national reputations, you've got the three of us [Calhoun, Boeheim and Pitino]."

A threesome that is the equal of the ACC's troika of Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Roy Williams (North Carolina) and Gary Williams (Maryland).

"I've always thought that one of the reasons the Big East took off like a meteor was because of the coaches in the early days," Gavitt said. "We had four key coaches stay at their schools the entire decade -- [Georgetown's John] Thompson, [St. John's Lou] Carnesecca, Boeheim and [Villanova's Rollie] Massimino. Three of the four are in the Hall of Fame. Then, at the same time Calhoun came along, [Seton Hall's P.J.] Carlesimo and Pitino [Providence] came into the league. It was a conference of great coaches.

"Once we got into the '90s in the Big East, the two Jims put the conference on their backs and carried it. Syracuse and Connecticut weren't thought of in the same sentence with Kentucky, UCLA, Kansas, Duke and North Carolina, but today you can say that because of the two of them."

The two already are immersed in preparation for the upcoming season. Boeheim said he was watching individual workouts this week, and on Sunday he's off to go recruiting. Calhoun has been inundated dealing with the possible year-long suspensions of point guards Marcus Williams and A.J. Price, who were suspended by Calhoun pending the results of their legal and university cases dealing with alleged thefts on campus. And like Boeheim, Calhoun also has been hot on the recruiting trail throughout the summer and into the fall.

Both coaches seem to be just as driven as when they arrived on their respective campuses. Their intensity, passion, and plenty of talented players are what got them into the Hall of Fame. Boeheim's 2-3 zone, Calhoun's intense coaching style, and plenty of wins ultimately will define their legacies. Their generosity in their respective communities will also be remembered for years.

"Sure, coaches have been escalated, but these guys have been committed to their universities and their area of the country and to the legacies that they've built," Gavitt said. "These two are two of the best."

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.