Why Weren't People Calling UConn a "Blue-Blood" Program Before This Week?
Jim McIlvaine , SportsBlog.com Presents: Legends Corner- Featuring continuous and compelling blogs written by NBA veterans, Legends Corner is the content hub for some of basketball's most legendary players. on
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With Connecticut's win over Kentucky for the National Championship on Monday, many in the sportsworld decided it was the appropriate time to identify the UConn Huskies as a basketball superpower. It was as if a loss in the title game would have somehow relegated them to "also-ran" status in the world of college basketball. Is that really fair? Maybe.
It has been claimed for years that there are "blue blood" programs in college basketball. What exactly does that mean? Google it and you probably won't find a consensus either. I guess I could consider a "blue blood" program to be one that nearly any coach in the country could take a job at without anyone blaming him for leaving his previous gig. As great as the Kansas job is, few outside of Lawrence struggled to understand why Roy Williams would leave for Chapel Hill. Marquette fans famously remember Tom Crean saying, "It's Indiana," when asked about why he left a successful Marquette program for the Hoosier state.
Indiana was Indiana when Tom Crean took the job, but is it still today? Twelve years removed from their last trip beyond the Sweet 16 and 27 years since their last national title, is it still the job it once was? Basketball is still king in Indiana, but a lot has changed since then, with other programs emerging both in the conference and even in the state. John Wooden is long gone from UCLA, but the Bruins still cling to the blue blood moniker, even though West Coast basketball has been on the decline since ESPN came along. Both programs have great coaches in place, but limited recent success and tons of pressure and expectations from a fanbase that remembers better days.
Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas have the richest traditions, are always in the conversation and they've all won championships within the past ten years, so they're probably safely on the short list. To that list, I would also add Louisville and now Connecticut. They've also won championships in recent years and have all the other markings of an all-time top program- lots of alumni in the NBA, success under multiple coaches and a rich tradition.
Programs on the fringe would probably include Michigan State, Syracuse and Florida. While Michigan State has produced lots of pros, had success with more than once coach and deep runs in the tournament, their overall resume just doesn't stack up to the other schools ahead of them. Syracuse, while enormously successful over a long period of time, going back to Dave Bing, largely remains defined by Jim Boeheim and a single national championship. Florida has had incredible success under Billy Donovan, but they only have the two titles he won and never made the Final Four prior to 1994.
As I write this and think about UConn's legacy, it's safe to say up until this year, that program was defined by Jim Calhoun's success there. While Coach K has pretty much defined Duke basketball, when you're the most-successful coach of all time, you can elevate your program to that elite level. Calhoun will definitely be among the all-time greats, but the legacy of the UConn program changed when Kevin Ollie showed that someone else could continue the great tradition Calhoun created.
UConn has been producing some great NBA talent going back to Cliff Robinson at the start of Calhoun's tenure. They're also in that elite grouping of schools with a dozen or more NBA players on opening day rosters. The other familiar names are Kentucky (21), Duke (15), North Carolina (15), Kansas (14), Florida (12) and UCLA (12). Four championships in the past 15 years under two different coaches, 32 NCAA Tournament appearances and closing in on 1600 wins in school history. If they weren't considered one of the blue bloods before last weekend, they are now.