It's hard not to get amped watching the NHL's "History Will Be Made" ads. We all know a memorable moment is coming, and Pittsburgh fans surely wonder if it's coming Wednesday. The Penguins play the Lightning in Game 7 of their first-round series, and it sets up the goosebump-raising possibility that Sidney Crosby will return to heroically lead his team into the next round.

"There is still no timetable for his return," says agent Pat Brisson. "He is doing better, however."

Hockey is made for such a moment. By this time of year, the old phrase "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying" is replaced with "If you ain't in a sling, you ain't trying." Red Wings forward Johan Franzen, for example, had a bandage on his head, stitches all over his face, and a nose plug even before he played his third playoff game this month. So playing through pain is both heralded and expected, as it has been since Toronto's Bobby Baun returned from a broken leg in Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Finals to score the game-winner in overtime.

Of course hockey has no trademark on this sort of bravery. Just saying the names "Kirk Gibson," "Curt Schilling" and "Willis Reed" conjures images of some of the greatest acts in sports history. And Crosby, although he's an international hero for his ability to win both a Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal by the time most of us graduate from college, doesn't have that kind of overcoming-physical-agony moment. (Sorry, but withstanding the Buffalo cold in the first Outdoor Classic doesn't count.)

In fact, a lot of Crosby haters thought it was lame when the Pittsburgh captain spent the final period of the 2009 Cup Finals injured on the bench, only to skate out to grab the silver chalice and disappear without shaking hands with the Red Wings.

This would be a chance to show fans and foes alike what kind of warrior he really is.

But it's a terrible idea.

The worst thing that could have happened to Bobby Baun or Kirk Gibson or Willis Reed was further pain and anguish. The worst thing that could happen to Crosby is not only far worse than those things, but also impossible to forecast. He's not only one big hit away from the end of his career; he's one big hit away from a lifetime of wondering how awful the next year or decade will be for him. That's not worth the risk to him, to the franchise, or to hockey.

The Penguins can win a series and maybe more without him, but can they win a Stanley Cup or several with him out of hockey completely? Doubtful. Right now he's a 23-year-old future No. 1 overall draft pick. If he sits out Wednesday and the Penguins lose, they have a 24-year-old future No. 1 overall draft pick. That's really not such a terrible outcome of a series loss.

Those who still think Crosby should play might do well to remember that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are not only the time of heroics, but also the time of hits. Perhaps you recall the devastating hit Scott Stevens put on Eric Lindros in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals after the Flyers star returned from a concussion he sustained that season. Lindros was never quite the same again.

And few can forget what happened to Paul Kariya in the 2003 Finals:

Kariya came back too, and scored a thrilling goal to lead his team to a Finals victory. That was a truly awesome performance.

But Kariya is out of hockey at age 36 with post-concussion syndrome. And so despite his courage and leadership in a big moment, it's unlikely the NHL will be producing a "History Will Be Made" commercial about him.

Whatever the stakes this week or this season, we don't need Sidney Crosby to be the next Bobby Baun.

We need him to be the next Sidney Crosby.

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Wake up the echoes.

In Tampa?

Hard to believe there's a winning hockey tradition in Florida; harder still to believe that the Lightning have won as many Stanley Cups in the last decade as its first round opponents, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But it's true. And the appropriate adjective along the Gulf Coast these days is rather odd for a laid-back region that still hasn't seen its 20th season of pro pucks:


That vibe emerged early in the season, when a team not predicted to do very much at all won seven games in October and then floundered in November. Instead of moving on to the Buccaneers, fans became testy. And the team wasn't given a pass when team captain Vincent Lecavalier broke his right hand and sat out 15 games.

"Expectations were way, way up there," says Chris Dingman, who played on the 2004 Cup team and now assists on local TV broadcasts. "I felt we gotta put things into perspective."

Lightning fans haven't quite turned into Yankees fans -- although many are both -- but this is a sign that Tampa (unlike other southern cities like Phoenix and Atlanta) is turning into a real hockeytown. Tampa had the highest attendance jump in the league this season, up more than 11 percent to 17,333 per game. "We always revert back to 2004," says former captain Dave Andreychuk. "Fans want to revisit that, just like the rest of us."

The challenge in a sun-drenched city -- both on and off the ice -- is selling a work ethic instead of an entertainment ethic. While parka-cloaked northerners will drink in a 1-0 game like so much cold beer, southern-based players (and sometimes coaches) sometimes feel that new fans want wide-open play and lots of scoring. That doesn't usually work in the playoffs. Even the '04 title team was unique in that it was high-powered on offense and fairly unspectacular on defense (other than Dan Boyle). After that season and the ensuing lockout, the Lightning's blue-collar grit devolved back into no-collar freedom. When Ryan Malone arrived from Pittsburgh in '08, he was shocked to find how loose the system was.

"At first it was run and gun," he says. "Guys had a long leash to be creative. A blind cross-ice pass to the far wall was something they were actually expecting."

Malone laughs at this, and it is kind of hilarious to imagine. But it wasn't so funny when the Lightning hired Barry Melrose to run the team in '08 and suddenly there wasn't as much substance on the entire roster as there was in the coach's hair. The days of "Good Is The Enemy Of Great" were as good as gone.

That's part of why Steve Yzerman was so well-received in Tampa. In his first meeting with the team, he and handpicked coach Guy Boucher informed a group that had not won a playoff series since the Stanley Cup Finals seven years ago that expectations were now higher and "Working hard is not good enough." (Sound familiar?) Furthermore, "relentless" was offered as the word of the day and the season. When drills are not done relentlessly, players were told, they would be done again and again. "Jeff Vinik bought the the team," says Andreychuk, "and his expectations filtered down. That's why the results on the ice are there." It also helped that Boucher, who coached in Andreychuk's hometown of Hamilton, was a latter-day John Tortorella. Although "Torts" wore on his players after a while, Boucher's hire was welcome and even desired by the two holdovers from '04, Martin St. Louis and Lecavalier.

St. Louis, who went undrafted, has been intensely driven since before he arrived in the league. But Lecavalier's reputation, floating back and forth between entitled and engaged, has told the story of this franchise like nothing else.

Lecavalier knows both individual and team expectations, and how the two often contradict each other. He was once the long-locked heir to the French Connection skaters who a one-time Lightning president dubbed "the Michael Jordan of hockey." He was allowed free reign early in his career in part because of his talent and in part because of the belief fans came to see him show off. He was given the captain's 'C' at age 19, but not for the reasons Yzerman and Sidney Crosby got that honor before turning 20. Lecavalier was simply the most talented player. When John Tortorella took over as head coach, that stopped being sufficient, and Lecavalier was stripped of his title.

Trade rumors surfaced quickly, but Lecavalier gamely bought in, and the team got better. The climax of Lecavalier's metamorphosis from me to team, ironically, came in the Stanley Cup Finals of '04, when Lecavalier stunned the hockey world and galvanized his teammates by dropping the gloves with Calgary captain Jarome Iginla.

Lecavalier has always had an unfair rap, probably because of his height, his laid-back looks, and seemingly-relaxed persona. (Hard to avoid that when "cavalier" is right there in his name.) Even after winning the Cup, he was rumored to be back on the trading block when the team sank back into its old devil-may-care ways. But Lecavalier is proving himself all over again this season, now resembling the graybeard captain who led the Lightning to the Cup in the first place -- Andreychuk.

"We all know the rumors about moving him," says Andreychuk, now VP of fans and business development. "I saw him train to get ready after his injury. He’s been a totally different player on the ice. Off the ice, Vinny has accepted the role of guy who’s been counted on."

Many fans remember Andreychuk doing the same, turning down trade opportunities and leading the Lightning into the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons in '03. (Note it's been seven seasons since '04.) But Andreychuk is still the NHL's all-time leader in power play goals. He was a 6'4" first-round draft pick whose reputation as a winner years after he had a reputation as a tall talent.

Now Lecavalier is the 6'4" captain with a recent reputation as a winner. "Vinny's a little smarter than he used to be," half-jokes defenseman Pavel Kubina, another '04 vet who is now back on the Lightning blueline. And Lecavalier is using his smarts to help Steven Stamkos, the wildly talented No. 1 overall pick of a new generation, deal with his own expectations.

Tampa brass at first reverted right back to the talent-over-team ways of the past when it launched (which now redirects to the team website), but Lecavalier has tried to save mini-Vinny from the harder lessons of being the face of the franchise. The two have had a few conversations about how things are different in the playoffs.

"I've learned how hard you have to compete," says Stamkos. "You can't afford to take any shifts off."

Almost as soon as those words came out of Stamkos' mouth after practice Sunday, Lecavalier interrupted the interview by telling the 21-year-old to hurry up and get to a power play meeting.

Stamkos can be forgiven if he tries to do too much after scoring nearly 100 goals over the past two seasons. Lecavalier's job is to push Stamkos away from the pressure to score and toward the pressure to sacrifice. Those are the expectations fans now have in Tampa, and the expectations Lecavalier himself has learned to live with. He's been known as brooding or aloof, but these days he notices the fans wanting more and feels unburdened rather than put-upon.

"I really feel the love," he says, smiling. "Maybe that's me talking; I've been here so long. It's good. The expectations in here have been higher, too."

Stamkos, the future of Tampa and maybe the sport itself, can only hope to feel as young in 10 years as Lecavalier does now.

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Baseball season charges out of the gate every year in the same way: fast starts, early conclusions and lots of weather postponements. About 200 games have already been played, which means there's plenty to review in case you were busy watching The Masters or discussing Kate Middleton's fashion sense. But instead of the typical laborious recap, here are all the opening month highlights in a style everyone's familiar with -- an MLB Facebook news feed.

Albert Pujols and St. Louis Cardinals changed their status from "In a relationship" to "It's complicated."

Johnny Damon updated his status: "Seriously? NO ONE else is interested?"

Zack Greinke was "Shooting Hoops" at 24 Hour Fitness.

Zack Greinke is at Milwaukee General Hospital.

Jayson Werth added "Piles of cash" to his interests.

Tim Lincecum likes "SF Giants: 2010 Champs," "Dude, Where's My Car?" and "Pineapple Express." (Manny Ramirez likes this.)

Texas Rangers wrote on Boston Red Sox wall: "Come back to Texas anytime! We had a blast(s)!"

Logan Morrison likes Twitter.

Chicago Cubs wrote on Albert Pujols' wall: "Heeeeeeyyyyyy! Like Us On Facebook!"

Houston Astros changed their employer from "Drayton McLane" to "Someone who will mind their own business, hopefully."

Adam Wainwright, Joel Zumaya and Pedro Feliciano are now friends with Dr. James Andrews.

Murray Chass and 0 other users created the group "Stan Musial was a racist."

Joe Posnanski commented on Murray Chass' group: "You have GOT to be kidding me."

Boston Red Sox added "Losing to keep things interesting" to their activities.

Felix Hernandez is now friends with Larry Bernandez. (Manny Ramirez likes this.)

New York Mets invited you to the event "Join the Ownership Group! Please?"

Buck Showalter wrote "Don't act like you're not impressed" on New York Yankees’ wall.

Boston Red Sox added "Seriously, we just wanted to give everyone a head start to be fair" to their activities.

Fredi Gonzalez created a poll question: "It doesn't matter where I bat Heyward, does it?"

Ozzie Guillen wrote on Bobby Jenks' wall: "HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!" (Manny Ramirez likes this.)

Troy Tulowitzki tagged Chris Capuano, Bobby Parnell, Jonathan Niese, Paul Maholm, Blake Hawksworth and Clayton Kershaw in the note "Thanks for grooving one."

Baseball Writers Association added "Hyperbole" to its religious beliefs. (Manny Ramirez likes this.)

Three commercials are now friends with Brian Wilson's beard.

Josh Johnson added "Near no-hitters" to his activities.

Josh Hamilton wrote on Dave Anderson's wall: "Sorry I was a jerk. I feel like a big dummy. We cool?" (Manny Ramirez likes this.)

Manny Ramirez is "Chillin" at "joo mama's house." (Manny Ramirez likes this.)

Ozzie Guillen updated his status: "Big game for us continue to play hard thas all not to woorie about crap."

Error: Facebook has been shut down for maintenance.

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On the morning of the final round of the Masters, a 42-year-old man named Herman Belton orders breakfast at a Waffle House two miles away from Augusta National. Belton isn’t a world-class golfer -- though he does play to a one handicap -- so Phil Mickelson he’s not. What he is, however, may be nearly as important to a sport that is struggling more than ever to build new fan bases and find new pockets of American talent.

Belton is the golf coach at Paine College in Augusta. He’s only been coaching 10 years, but he already has a strong resume. He has an inspiring life story. And he wants to be considered for an assistant's job at a Division I school.

That would make him only the second black Division I golf coach ever.

There are only 17 black golf coaches in this country. All but one of them, including Belton, are at historically black colleges. "It's disappointing," says the only black D-I head coach, Michigan State's Sam Puryear. "I look at all the black coaches in football and basketball, and then I look at golf, and it's disproportionate."

Is this the sole reason golf has so few black golfers? No. Is it part of the reason? Absolutely.

Young people are inspired by older people in positions of power and influence. If he can do it, kids think, I can do it. That’s what Lucas Gunn (above with Belton) thought when he was eight years old watching Tiger Woods win the Masters in 1997. Now he’s a sophomore on Belton’s team.

And he’s white.

Don’t be surprised. Golf teams at historically black colleges are populated by a large amount of whites. The Paine College team has six players, and three – including Gunn, the captain – are white. That’s how rare it is to find young black golfers these days. As of 2008, more than a decade after Woods inspired a generation by winning the Masters at age 21, there were only 39 blacks among the 27,000 Class A PGA members. From 1999 to 2005, in the years after Tiger burst onto the golf scene, the percentage of black men playing golf in college grew only minimally, from 1.8 to 2.4. Back in the '60s and '70s, when the PGA Tour had black legends like Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder (pictured below, with Belton), there were more black PGA Tour players than there are today.

Maybe mentorship is missing. Nobody can make African-Americans choose golf over football and basketball, and few can or will donate clubs and gear to minorities who can't afford to play a rich man's game. But for African-American teens who want to try golf, how many teachers are out there who they can easily access and identify with? The First Tee, geared toward introducing young people to the game, is more about sportsmanship than training. Since being founded in the late '90s, it hasn't made much of a change in the makeup of golf's racial demographics.

Black golfers, rare though they are, still greatly outnumber black college coaches. Even Puryear says he has his job because of the "perfect fit" he had at Stanford, which hired him as an assistant in 1998. Puryear's father was an All-American golfer, and he himself was a standout fundraiser and golf philanthropist before getting the call from the Pac 10 school. Reached by phone after a tournament Sunday night, Puryear said of the lack of black coaches like himself, "I have discussed this with so many people, but I have no idea what to do."

Maybe Belton is part of the solution.

He grew up in Camden, S.C. and enlisted in the Navy. It was there he found his love for golf, in 1991. A cousin took him to a driving range, lent Belton his 7-iron, and marveled as he hit it farther than he could with a 6-iron. A friend then gave Belton a full set of clubs, and he shot 84 (from the back tees) six months later.

After traveling the world as a naval officer, Belton enrolled at Benedict College and played golf there. He graduated in 2001, becoming the first in his family to get a college degree. Then came the reason he now says "Golf saved my life."

Belton’s father, Herman, Sr., had a history of drug abuse. Belton says his dad's influence was "leading me down the road of self-destruction." Herman Belton, Sr. is now serving a prison sentence for drug trafficking. And if Belton himself didn’t have a passion that required study and discipline, he says, "I'd be in jail."

In 2004, the Benedict College athletic director asked Belton to be the school’s golf coach. The program was brand new, but Belton led the school to the National Minority Division II Collegiate Championship in his first year. He went on to South Carolina State in 2009 and coached one of his players, Roberto Cacho, to the PGA Minority Tournament championship. Belton says the love for golf has kept him on the straight and narrow, as he owes it to his players to live and act right. "I'm living the total opposite of what I was taught," he says.

This February, Belton was hired as the head coach at Paine.

"He's a great player's coach," says Gunn. "The prior coach couldn't play a lick of golf. He was just there to drive the bus."

Belton calls himself a "Shade Tree Mechanic," which usually describes a car lover who charges reasonable rates to people who want their ride fixed without being gouged. It’s a bit of a self-deprecating term, but anyone who’s had a golf lesson at a club knows how ridiculously priced an hour with a swing coach can be. Golf needs a lot more shade tree mechanics if it's going to reach new audiences.

"I feel like I should be at a major program," Belton says. "Am I prepared? What do you think?"

Puryear thinks Belton would make a great assistant. "He knows so many people," the Spartans coach says. And that's no small thing, as a lot of being a college coach is networking with equipment reps and other power players in the golf community who might know where to find the best recruits.

And sometimes the best recruits are reluctant to take a chance on committing to a black coach simply because they are so used to playing for white coaches.

So Puryear remains the lone wolf.

"It's obscene," Belton says. "It's absurd."

He leans in over his breakfast plate and adds, "How many administrators are willing to have a black coach?"

Problem is, there's no urgent reason for that to change. "If you don’t have someone fighting for [more black coaches]," Belton says, "where would it come to pass?"

Perhaps a version of the Rooney Rule could work, borrowing from the NFL's policy of insisting on one minority interview per job opening. But there aren't nearly enough black candidates to make that work. In the NFL, there are plenty of former black players who want to stay in the game. But Puryear says a lot of black golfers don't want to go into coaching. And it's a pretty big leap of faith to elevate a coach from a tiny school like Paine College to a major university.

For any momentum to gather, somebody in academia needs to take a chance on a coach from a historically black college.

A coach like Herman Belton.

Eric Adelson can be reached at

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(Three chapters of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association will boycott the voting on many of the NHL's top individual awards, including MVP. The boycott is to protest the New York Islanders' decision earlier this season to revoke, without explanation, the media credential of Chris Botta, then a senior writer for AOL FanHouse and now a correspondent for The New York Times. He also writes an independent blog about the Islanders.)


As the NHL’s 2010-11 regular season winds down, and with voting on the league’s awards imminent, the Professional Hockey Writers Association remains adamantly opposed to -– and distressed by -– the early season decision of the New York Islanders to revoke the media credential of a PHWA member.

This is even more objectionable than the original decision itself: In the months since, league officials have refused to intervene and overrule the Islanders’ decision, which would serve to re-emphasize the NHL’s commitment to facilitate objective and authoritative coverage from PHWA members.

The media marketplace is changing daily, and newspapers and other outlets for written journalism are among those adapting. To its credit, the NHL and its teams have aggressively taken on the challenge of creating and enhancing their “own” coverage on several platforms, going beyond the more traditional “in-house” broadcasts to now include team web sites and other outlets.

Yet the league’s savvy fan base understands the need for, and desires, independent and objective coverage that doesn’t pass through league and team filters.

Our concern is that this decision, if allowed to stand and become precedent, signals an end to the league’s agreement that independent and objective coverage not only benefits its fan base, but the NHL itself.

The PHWA’s position is absolute. The splitting of hairs about the circumstances of the Islanders’ decision is an irrelevant waste of time. We ask that the NHL disavow the Islanders’ capricious decision in this specific instance, but even more important, reaffirm that -– barring egregious actions that would cause the PHWA to expel a member, anyway -- PHWA members will be granted access to cover its teams.

Meanwhile, three of our chapters -– those made up of writers who cover the Islanders, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils -– have decided not to participate in the PHWA voting for the NHL’s 2010-11 regular-season awards. That voting selects the winners of most of the league’s major trophies and its first- and second-team all-stars.

The PHWA takes seriously its role as an authoritative, objective and independent voting body for these awards, and is honored to participate in the process. It also respects and will support the decisions of individual members not to return their ballots, which the league already has distributed to PHWA members. However, the PHWA also believes that because the voting process has begun, both the writers’ organization and the league have entered into a mutual and honorable pact to see through the voting process for the 2010-11 awards.

The PHWA is confident that with potentially nearly 90 percent of its 177 members continuing to participate, the pool of voters -- which has grown significantly in recent years – is more than sufficient to maintain the integrity of the voting.

In the upcoming offseason, the PHWA hopes to again meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and other league officials to seek clarification of the credentialing issue and to discuss the future of the PHWA’s role as an independent and objective voting bloc in continuing to bolster the credibility of the league’s awards.

-- Terry Frei is a columnist for the Denver Post and a vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. He wrote this statement to reflect sentiments that PHWA chapter chairs expressed during a conference call Sunday.

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Most of all, I remember the empty orange chair.

Fifteen years have come and gone. Fifteen Roads to fifteen Final Fours. Fifteen shining moments. But that day at the Basketball Hall of Fame there was only the vacant chair.

I was writing then for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, the closest newspaper to the University of Massachusetts campus, so I had been given an up-close look at the basketball program under John Calipari. The press conference at the Hall in early June 1996 had been set up weeks earlier. Finally Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun had agreed to resume the ancient rivalry with UMass. The peace between Calipari and Calhoun had been brokered by Dave Gavitt, the former Providence coach and Big East founder, who stood at the dais in Springfield and declared this “a great day for New England college basketball.”

On one side of the dais sat Calhoun. Next to him was former UConn athletic director Lew Perkins.

On the other side, sat former UMass AD Bob Marcum. Next to him was the empty orange chair.

In one sense, the room was probably not big enough for the two coaching JCs -- each of whom had led his own hoops resurrection. Their relationship was then (and I suspect still is, despite all the bouquets they are tossing this week before their Final Four matchup) filled with ice.

Acidic ice.

The two schools had played almost every year since the rivalry began in 1904, but after Calipari’s second season at UMass, 1989-90, Calhoun canceled the series.

After 11 straight losing seasons (at one point losing 29 straight games), UMass was a program on the rise. The Minutemen had yet to earn a national ranking or make it to the NCAA tournament, but they were on their way. Their brash young coach adopted (and patented and profited handsomely from) the phrase “Refuse to Lose.” He declared his scheduling philosophy as “Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime.” He felt Calhoun was ducking him.

Calipari didn’t design the T-shirts then in vogue on the UMass campus, but he loved the message. The shirt coupled “UMass” with “Refuse to Lose” and UConn with “UScared” and “Refuse to Play.”

Hailing from some place called Moon Township, Pennsylvania, Calipari often talked about how UMass “embodied the spirit of New England.” You can only imagine how that played in the basketball office in Storrs, whose main tenant grew up just outside of Boston, went to college in Springfield, and had spent all of his coaching life, in high school and college, in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Calhoun’s Huskies were becoming a national program. They had yet to earn a No. 1 national ranking or a coveted trip to the Final Four, but they were on their way. The Big East provided plenty of challenges in the league, and Calhoun liked to schedule teams like Yale and Fairfield, ostensibly because it was good for the state of Connecticut. His distaste for Calipari and his program was thinly veiled.

He told the school’s sports newsletter, the Husky Blue and White, that for good non-league opponents he preferred to play schools like Kansas and Virginia: “... schools we have more in common with ... we recruit the same kids and we have respect for them. I’m not sure if that’s the case with UMass.”

Right from Calhoun’s backyard in Hartford, UMass plucked Marcus Camby, a gangly, doe-faced kid who would go on to become the National Player of the Year. Calhoun would tell Gerry Callahan, then of Sports Illustrated, that Camby would not have gotten into UConn because of academics.

Perhaps the acidic ice was wrapped around a grenade.

In 1994-95, UMass became the first New England team ever to become No. 1 in the 45-year history of the AP poll. At one point later that year, UMass was ranked first with an 11-1 record while UConn was second at 12-0. Calhoun told a nationally syndicated radio show that he felt that the Huskies -- not the Minutemen -- should be the top-ranked team in the land.

Asked who should be No. 2, he said, “UCLA.”

At that point, many people felt that if both teams won their next games, UConn probably would vault past UMass in the polls. The Minutemen were going down to West Virginia to take on a mediocre Mountaineer team on a Friday night. On Saturday, UConn would play at Kansas -- the one team that had defeated UMass.

That theory seemed moot on Friday night when UMass was getting walloped, 80-62, with just 4:48 to go. But in what had to be one of the greatest comebacks in college basketball history, the Minutemen stormed back, forced overtime, and prevailed. The next day, to the horror of UConn fans, the halftime guest on the CBS broadcast was none other than John Calipari. And Kansas wiped out the Huskies, 88-59.

That set the stage for 1995-96. UConn, led by Ray Allen, had a marvelous season. They won their third straight Big East regular season title. At one point they won 23 straight games. They earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.

But in New England that was only good enough for second fiddle. UMass bolted out of the gates with 26 straight wins. Calipari and the Minutemen were America’s darlings. They were featured in Newsweek and USA Today, and on "Good Morning America." They made it to the Final Four.

Then it all came crashing down. With a gold "21" chain hanging from his neck, Camby began a late April press conference with the words, “Today I decided that I’m going to transfer to UConn." When the laughter subsided, he announced effectively that he was taking his talents to the NBA draft.

In early June, a Hartford Courant reporter confronted Camby in a Chicago hotel with evidence he had taken cash and gifts from an agent. That ultimately led to UMass’s Final Four appearance being vacated by the NCAA.

Just days after Camby’s tearful confession, there was the press conference and the empty orange chair.

Calhoun left the press conference that day and went on to win two national titles in 1999 and 2004. When he hosted UMass in 2005, he admitted, "I ended the series because of John Calipari. I said I wouldn’t play them while John was there. We agreed to play it and unfortunately he left. Actually, that wasn’t so unfortunate."

So much for bygones and buried hatchets.

I left the press conference that day in 1996 and sped up to UMass, aware that Calipari had agreed to become the coach of the New Jersey Nets. I was not aware just how much UMass would fall off the national map (two first-round exits in the NCAA tournament the next two years, and no trips back ever since).

In the parking lot at the Mullins Center, I found a huge pack of journalists waiting for Calipari. They had been told that he was coming out of his office soon and that he had agreed to meet with them as a group. I stood out there for awhile, but then noticed that Joe Burris and Mark Murphy, the beat writers for the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, were not there. Suspicious, I ducked into the Mullins Center and took an elevator up to the third floor, where I was met by a beefy security guard telling me I was not allowed in the basketball office.

I called the basketball secretary and found out Burris and Murphy were sitting outside of Calipari’s door. I called the sports information director to plead my case. Ultimately, I was deemed worthy and got to sit next to Burris and Murphy. After quite a while, the second highest paid coach in the NBA emerged, giving the three of us a characteristically entertaining interview. Then he took off. His Saab was parked inside the Mullins Center, and he went out the back way, waving goodbye to the long line of media members on the way out.

It was classic Coach Cal. He was headed out of New England, off to the next challenge. There would be plenty of time to meet up with Jim Calhoun at a later date.

-- Marty Dobrow is the author of Knocking on Heaven’s Door: Six Minor Leaguers in Search of the Baseball Dream.

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