Rivalry: UConn regularly graduating players to NBA, QU hoops on the rise

Ed Kacik

STORRS – While the Quinnipiac men’s basketball team was being introduced on Friday night at Gampel Pavilion, UConn students pretended to read a copy of the school newspaper. These newspapers then get crinkled and thrown into the air like graduation caps at a college commencement when their beloved Huskies take the floor.

In years past, these students would have been better served to turn the page and read the next article than to watch the game. The cross- state rivalry between the Huskies and the Bobcats has been anything but a rivalry. In seven previous meetings, UConn is undefeated. When the rivalry began in 1998 the final score was 102-60 in favor of the Huskies. Over the past five years, Quinnipiac has played better, culminating this night with a 53-46 loss which included a score of 48-46 with 1:12 to go in the game. QU has experienced its share of lopsided scores though. The Bobcats lost by 52 during the 2004-2005 season and lost 111-75 a year ago.

The cause for such a disparity in the score is all in the name. Quinnipiac was still competing in Division II athletics while UConn was cutting down the nets for Division I national championships. To date, Quinnipiac has had no Division I first team All-America selections and there are no active players in the NBA from Quinnipiac. In contrast, the list of UConn players who were All-Americans or who play in the NBA is longer than a 7-year-old’s Christmas list. Twenty-one players to be exact have gone onto the NBA after playing for UConn head coach Jim Calhoun. The names Gordon, Okafor, Hamilton, and Allen are just a few that adorned the back of UConn jerseys before they were signed to NBA contracts.

The Bobcats finest moment may have come during the 2001-2002 season, when they reached the NEC finals, putting them one game away from the NCAA Tournament, a field that includes UConn almost yearly. UConn has won the Big East Conference Tournament six times and shared or won regular season championships in its conference nine times.

The history of the QU program and the UConn program are very different. However, with performances like the one Quinnipiac put on Friday night, the gap may be closing. Despite yet another loss in the series, the Bobcats played inspired. “We played hard, we played together, and we played with a purpose,” said Quinnipiac head coach Joe DeSantis. “I’m proud of my guys.”

Calhoun also praised the QU program. “I always feel that Joe has done a terrific job over the years,” Calhoun said. “But, there is no question, they ran their stuff down 19. They stayed with us, I give them all the credit.”

Despite the bright future, DeSantis remembers where this program used to be. When he first arrived as head coach, he didn’t even have his own office. He shared a room in the recreation center with his one assistant coach and the women’s basketball coach. In the office there was a partition, DeSantis recalls. “On the other side of that partition was a study hall room. On Jan. 27, I’ll have my own office overlooking Long Island Sound,” he said. “We’ve come a long way.”