Championship Follow Column

UConn's George Blaney Not Just Along For The Ride

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George Blaney

Associate head coach George Blaney tried his best to guide UConn to victory in Jim Calhoun's absence, but in the end, the Huskies lost to Marquette in 74-67 in overtime at the XL Center Thursday night. (STEPHEN DUNN, Hartford Courant / February 24, 2011)

By his own calculation, UConn associate coach George Blaney had been to 36 Final Fours before 2004. He sat on the board of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. That meant Blaney always had good seats.

That does not mean he didn't want to be standing.

"I'd be there, just looking down, trying to imagine what it was like to be on that floor," Blaney said. "I was jealous, to be honest with you. I wanted to feel it."

He would feel every bit of it that Saturday night in San Antonio. Seven years have passed and Blaney remembers it like it was seven minutes ago. He walked onto the Alamodome floor with coach Jim Calhoun before the semifinal against Duke and whoa …

"The crowd, everything, it got to me, there were tears in my eyes," Blaney said. "It was such an emotional feeling to reach the point every coach wants to reach."

He thanked Calhoun.

In 2009 when UConn got to the Final Four in Detroit, he thanked Calhoun again.

On Saturday, before UConn defeated Kentucky, George Blaney thanked Calhoun a third time.

"I felt it necessary to thank Jim for bringing me along for the ride," Blaney said. "And, lately, I've got to tell you, we've taken to calling it the magic carpet ride."

In the hours before and after UConn suffocated Butler 53-41 for its third national title in 13 years, much was made of Jim Calhoun, 68, becoming the oldest head coach to win an NCAA championship. Calhoun isn't the oldest coach on his staff. Make no mistake, George Blaney, born Nov. 12, 1939, in Jersey City, N.J., has seen plenty.

Starring at Holy Cross, playing briefly for the Knicks and 76ers, Blaney was a head coach for more than 30 years, 22 at Holy Cross before three at Seton Hall. To Blaney, Bob Cousy isn't an award Kemba Walker won. He's a compatriot. Among a select few, he is New England basketball.

At 71, he also is tranquil, unembroidered, not given to exaggeration. If you went to trial, you'd want Blaney as your witness. So accept the next few paragraphs as a voice of sobriety.

"I don't think you can overestimate what has taken place," Blaney said of this UConn season and its 28-day tournament run from Manhattan to Houston. "It's so far beyond belief in my mind."

And on Calhoun becoming only the fifth coach in history to win three national titles?

"Even before Connecticut got into the Big East, we — I'm talking the New England mafia basketball guys — always thought Connecticut was a sleeping giant."

Blaney chuckled.

"None of us ever envisioned it was this kind of a sleeping giant," he said. "No one but Jim Calhoun thought he could take it to this kind of heights."

Blaney talks about how good Calhoun is for him. Over a decade, he has been just as good for Calhoun. He has given Calhoun a confidante, a man of the same generation he can trust in the business of X's and O's and in the business of life. Blaney weathers storms. He rides the rough seas. An eruption by Calhoun? Blaney will wait for the lava to cool and ashes to clear.

It is one of the remarkable sights in UConn basketball, always telling, sometimes shocking, and occasionally a little comical. Something will go wrong during a game. Maybe somebody got lazy and didn't box out. Calhoun's temper will flare. He'll wheel around, turn to Blaney and yell about the indiscretion.

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