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CALHOUN NOT ABOUT TO QUIT NOW

Jim Calhoun was talking to a reporter recently when he was asked if now -- after winning his second national championship in the spring -- was the time to step away and retire while he's at the top of his profession. The Connecticut coach, his wit as effective as his aptitude with X's and O's, responded with humor.

"Are you trying to run me outta here?" he said. "Are you with the alumni board? Geez, I thought we had a good year last season. I was with (Arizona's) Lute Olson on the recruiting trail and he's 70. I'm just a baby."

Indeed, the 61-year-old Calhoun exudes the energy of a younger man. He probably couldn't begin a reclamation project similar to the one the University at Buffalo's Reggie Witherspoon endured five years ago, but he can continue to benefit from his work at UConn. And that means contending annually for the national championship.

Calhoun and the Huskies begin their quest for back-to-back titles Saturday when they host UB as part of a three-game weekend that includes women's basketball and football in Hartford and Storrs, Conn. The defending national champion UConn women's team plays the Bulls on Friday night, the football teams play Saturday at noon while the men's basketball teams play Saturday night.

Calhoun begins his 32nd season on the sidelines.

"The moment I don't have the passion to do it at this level or any level," Calhoun said, "that's when I'll step away."

He's had opportunities to leave for the NBA with the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets, but the news caused only a slight murmur because of the belief Calhoun would probably get pushed out before he leaves the college game. And renovations aren't his thing anymore.

"I'd like to be offered the Lakers job when Shaq and Kobe were there, or San Antonio with (Tim) Duncan, but I never had any aspirations to go someplace and lose," Calhoun said. "That's the kind of jobs that most of us (college coaches) have been offered. Most of us don't get offered the good jobs, which is why the college coaches haven't had the kind of success that they would like to."

Calhoun certainly doesn't lose much in Storrs, and his record has been consistently excellent: 33-6 last season, 432-165 at UConn and 680-302 in his 32 seasons as a major-college coach. This year, he may not have a Player of the Year candidate as he did last season with big man Emeka Okafor or a serious contender for the national championship as he did last season when the Huskies defeated Georgia Tech in one of the more lopsided title games in recent memory. But he has already approached a prestigious milestone: He joins Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Texas Tech's Bob Knight as the only active coaches with multiple national championships.

"His passion, his desire and will to succeed are second to none," said DePaul coach Dave Leitao, who coached and played under Calhoun.

While the football team is in position to land a bowl bid, the state's attention is turning back to basketball. Both of UConn's exhibition games were sold out. Despite losing Okafor and guard Ben Gordon to the NBA, expectations remain high, and Calhoun said his front line is as deep as any he's coached, but young nonetheless.

"We're a January, February team," he said.

UConn is still loaded. Freshman forward Rudy Gay is projected as the next great UConn player, alongside players such as Okafor, Gordon, Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton and Tate George. Marcus Williams is arguably a better playmaker than the departed Taliek Brown, the Huskies' career assists leader. Sophomore Charlie Villanueva could have turned pro out of high school but ended up coming off the bench at UConn. Forward Josh Boone may not be as talented as Okafor, but he may be more advanced at the same stage offensively.

So Calhoun isn't in a hurry to leave.

"I still enjoy it very, very much, and I love UConn very much," he said. "But the moment I don't, that's when I'll leave."

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com