STORRS, CONN. (AP) - University of Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun, who missed three games earlier this season because of NCAA sanctions, is taking an indefinite medical leave of absence because of back problems.
The Hall of Fame coach of the defending national champions, who turns 70 in May, has been suffering for several months from spinal stenosis, a spinal condition that causes him severe pain and hampers mobility.
“I had back pain like never before last summer, thought it was back spasms,” he told The Associated Press on Friday. “I saw a neurologist and he told me about scoliosis, stenosis and other things and that there could be things like a bone spur and that I could probably need something done at some point. I went for the physical therapy and it worked, but it started to lock up sometimes recently and it was worse.”
“When we got off the plane, he really had trouble getting in the car and going home,” he said.
Blaney will lead the team in Calhoun’s absence. The Huskies (14-7, 4-5 Big East) have lost four games in a row and fell out of the Top 25 for the first time in 28 weeks. They host Seton Hall on Saturday before travelling to Louisville Monday.
The school confirmed that Calhoun will miss at least those two games.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spine, normally associated with aging and sometimes with arthritis. If physical therapy and medicines aren’t effective, surgery may be considered, although some people’s symptoms may not improve after an operation.
“The bottom line is I’m going to need some work done,” Calhoun told the AP. “In January the shooting pains were getting worse and after one plane ride I couldn’t even get up. I tried to hide it. I’m taking medicine right now for the pain and they are waiting for things to quiet down and I’ll meet with the doctor next week. I told (university president) Susan (Herbst) about it and said I could make it through the season that there were only 3 1/2 weeks left. But it’s just so bad, even getting through practice. Now I’m going to see what the next step is. The bottom line is I’m hurting.”
Calhoun has had a history of health problems. He is a three-time cancer survivor, overcoming prostate cancer in 2003 and skin cancer twice, most recently in 2008.
“I don’t know anybody tougher,” Blaney said. “He doesn’t use Novocain when he goes to the dentist. He’s a tough guy and usually `No’ spurs him on.”
Calhoun has missed 21 games during his career at UConn, 17 for medical reasons. He has had to leave another 11 games with health problems. His last extended medical leave came in 2010, when he missed seven games with stress-related issues.
“We wish we could be there to help him, and he wishes he could be there to help us,” said guard Shabazz Napier, a team captain. “Sometimes you have to go on a journey without your captain and we’re going to do whatever we got to do to fulfill his dreams and fulfill ours at the same time.”
Napier and forward Alex Oriakhi called a players-only meeting to discuss the team’s recent slump, and talk through any issues players were having with one another.View Entire Story
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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