Tags: calipari | ncaa | uconn

All Eyes on UConn for the Championship

Monday, 07 Apr 2014 07:13 AM

By Jon Friedman

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Meet the new America's team.

It's a neat little coincidence that the University of Connecticut's men's basketball team is playing Monday night for the NCAA championship where the Cowboys call home. The Dallas Cowboys are well known as America's team. But right now, there's a new sheriff in town, and its name is the UConn Huskies squad which will confront the University of Kentucky Wildcats on Monday night. Kentucky won the championship only two years ago under its coach, John Calipari.

UConn teaches us the basics for success in life. While few gave it much of a chance to win it all, much less get this far, it stands on the perch of winning the championship and earning its place forever in the record books. It's a real life, collegiate version of the movie "Hoosiers."

UConn has had great success as recently as 2011, when the team also won an unexpected national championship. The difference between then and now is that the squad three years ago was more highly touted than this group — and the coach was named Jim Calhoun, who had win the whole shebang before.

What UConn shows us is that it doesn't matter what skeptics and cynics tell us. As long as a team has a positive approach, a new vigor, and a powerful work ethic, it can surprise the "experts." This shouldn't be anything new.

It doesn't matter about the political affiliation, either. Remember cases as varied as Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, who all came seemingly out of nowhere on the political scene and reached the White House — against great adversity.

As with the saga of any overnight success story, UConn seems like an unlikely championship contender. The team entered the annual March Madness tournament as a seventh seed, traditionally the haven of the mediocre.

The Storrs, Connecticut-based Huskies — pronounce UConn, get it? -- have won three NCAA men's hoops titles in the past few decades, as well as a slew of championships for the women's teams. So, the squad is not a stranger to the limelight.

But this team remains a heartwarming rags-to-riches story. Its long time fabled coach Jim Calhoun helped put his stamp on the team, the Big East conference and the record books as he led the Huskies to glory. But his failing health forced him to the sidelines. UConn was not eligible for the NCAA tournament last year, the first one in which Kevin Ollie replaced Calhoun.

Little was expected publicly of Ollie, a former NBA journeyman guard who was hardly a household name. Professional players are often too impatient or demanding to inspire excellence from teenagers.

Few knew whether Ollie could mold the players that he inherited from Calhoun to play as a unit. Mostly, nobody could tell if Ollie would be able to outwit the likes of Duke, Kansas and Michigan State. When UConn upset mighty Florida, the No. 1 seed in the whole tournament, in the semifinals on Saturday, it was clear that Ollie's Huskies were here to stay.

Meanwhile, the University of Kentucky has come a long way as well. It entered March Madness seeded eighth, even lower than the Huskies. It was rather unheralded. The team that won two years ago has moved on. It took fresh players, mostly talented, fearless freshmen, and true grit. Still, Coach Cal, as Calipari is known far and wide, is the glue. Whenever a college coach has got an established championship coach, it has a shot.

But the UConn story is genuinely heartwarming because it was so unexpected. Welcome the new America's team.

Jon Friedman writes the Media Matrix blog for Indiewire.com. He is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)Invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution." Read more reports from Jon Friedman — Click Here Now.
 

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