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Hall can wait until Calhoun cuts another net

SAN ANTONIO -- The timing couldn't be more ironic.

Jim Calhoun is on the verge of winning his second national title in as many tries, which would make the Connecticut head coach only the third active coach with multiple national titles.

This on the day he is snubbed by the Basketball Hall of Fame, after being nominated for the first time on Feb. 15.

"The Hall of Fame thing is a shame,'' said Connecticut assistant coach George Blaney, who has been a trusted friend for decades and a close aide the past three seasons in Storrs.

"It always infuriates me to think that somebody has to validate themselves by winning another championship. For some reason you have to do that to put him in a category that he's already in."

Yes, Calhoun's win totals rank among some elite names -- Hall of Fame names -- but at least another year will pass before he joins them in Springfield, Mass. If UConn beats Georgia Tech in Monday night's title game, it would be win No. 680 in Calhoun's career. He enters the game 18th on the NCAA all-time win list, and seventh on the active all-time win list, right behind the coach his Huskies beat Saturday night -- Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.

Beat the Yellow Jackets and Calhoun will have won two national titles in six years -- one behind both Texas Tech's Bob Knight and Krzyzewski, who each have three. Calhoun, who has maximized his Final Four trips with a title-game appearance in his only two Final Fours, welcomes being included in such elite company.

"If I'm keeping the company of Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight as a basketball coach then I'm doing OK,'' Calhoun said on Sunday.

Calhoun, in his 18th season at Connecticut, has coached the Huskies to five 30-win seasons, including 32 wins through Saturday's victory over Duke. He has 431 wins in Storrs, and won 248 more games as Northeastern head coach from 1972-85.

But, Calhoun said nothing has given him more pleasure than sending six players to the Wooden Award ceremonies in Los Angeles, and discussing his 2-2-1 press with the legendary John Wooden while there. Being in the company of Wooden, or at least being treated with respect by the legendary coach, was memorable. Etch him with Knight and Krzyzewski in the NCAA record book and that would be even more humbling.

"If you told me that Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski rolled off your tongue, and that I was the guy in the same ballgame? I'd be a really happy guy," Calhoun said.

Calhoun's career is bridged by his ability to take over two programs -- Northeastern and Connecticut -- and make each into regional powers at their respective levels. Ultimately, however, he's turned Connecticut into a national program, one that has been equal year in and year out throughout the late '90s and now into the 21st Century with any other traditional name school.

He went to five NCAA Tournaments at Northeastern. He's been to 12 at Connecticut. His Huskies also won the '88 NIT championship.

"Where he has done it is as remarkable as what he has done," Blaney said. "Unless you live in Storrs you can't really appreciate it. He has done an unbelievable job of evaluating talent, too.

"If he's not legendary then I don't know who the hell is. When you get a sense of what he's done it's quite remarkable."

Calhoun has always been a demanding coach. He doesn't take kindly to unforced errors. He can't stand losing, let alone not playing with purpose or effort. He's as intense as any coach in the country.

He is extremely philanthropic in the Hartford-area, especially when it comes to heart disease. A year ago, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, Calhoun didn't flinch. He hit the disease head on and immediately wanted his prostate removed. He returned within weeks.

"I knew he was going to get it cut out and get back as soon as possible," said Blaney, who took over for Calhoun during his absence. "I knew he'd be back.

"He always talks about doing a lot of other things and he certainly could be an administrator if he wanted. He's a lot smarter than people think. He's got many other interests. He's a voracious reader, too."

Calhoun said in jest Sunday that his wife Pat put him through sensitivity training. (He claimed it's why he talked glowingly on Sunday about how much he loves this team.) But he genuinely feels as though he's stealing money coaching Emeka Okafor, who he said has been a blessing for him and the program.

After 32 years on the sidelines, Calhoun said his junior center is the lowest maintenance player he's ever had, or any coach could be around, because of Okafor's commitment to both his mind and body. Okafor, who will graduate in three years, has been the linchpin in getting this program toward another national title.

"I truly do love these guys in the sense that they want to be really good," Calhoun said. "They want to be the best they can be and work as hard as they possibly can."

Calhoun wakes up these days the morning of a practice extremely excited about working with this team. He enjoys the coaching, maybe even some times the yelling, but whatever it takes to get this team to become a champion.

It's been refreshing to hear Calhoun talk about winning the title this week. He hasn't shied away from projecting his players toward a championship. Why should he? He knows it is possible, so why not discuss it?

Okafor talked about cutting down the nets and Calhoun embraced the talk, instead of squashing it.

"Why would you shudder when he dreams the greatest dreams?" Calhoun said. "If it doesn't come true and Georgia Tech beats us then life will go on. We've given it our best shot. There's no reason for us not to think and not to dream and not to aspire to be absolutely something very special."

Calhoun, 61, doesn't plan on retiring any time soon. Like his colleagues in Knight and Krzyzewski, he has the same drive to win as many games (and national titles) as possible. Calhoun felt as though Krzyzewski was as devastated after Saturday's loss as he's ever "felt him." The same may have been said about Calhoun had the Huskies not rallied for the one-point win.

"Mike Krzyzewski is as hungry now to win another championship as he was when he won his first back-to-back 10 years ago, 12 years ago, whatever it was," Calhoun said. "The problem with people who are incredibly motivated -- the problem with us, people who are highly driven -- is that you never look at what you've done, but what you've tried to do. You can't check that at the door. It stays with you."

And Blaney, 64, doesn't see Calhoun leaving this profession anytime soon.

"The reason he and I get along so well is that we like the gym," Blaney said. "He feels safe in the gym. That's where we feel safe. We told our guys prior to Saturday's game (against Duke) that 'we're going to a gym,' that's it. He's got a lot of years left to coach."

And like Knight and Krzyzewski, he might be doing it as a member of the Hall of Fame two years from now. Because, even though he shouldn't have to win his second national title Monday night to convince the voters, win No. 680 won't be his last, but should be enough to get him enshrined in 2005.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.