I'll never forget the moment. I stood on the court with my head in my hands. Tyus Edney threw the ball in the air and the final buzzer sounded. All I wanted was to be alone and lick my wounds out of sight.
But there was coach right by my side. He hugged me, and with a few caring words made me feel like I could keep going. That's Coach Calhoun. He's always been there for me--since the day he walked into my house to recruit me.
Since I met him in 1991, he's changed my life completely. I remember he came into my mom's living room and swept her off her feet. I think she could sense that he had good intentions that he actually cared. Moms have a way of doing that.
After that day, I went from a kid with a dream to an athlete with a real shot. Eventually I'd go on to be his player, his friend, his family, and now--his successor.
But back in '95 going into our Elite 8 game against UCLA--I didn't know all that laid ahead for us. All I knew was the importance of that game. I wanted to win, but really I wanted to give coach something that could compare to all that he gave to me. His first time making it to the Final 4.
There are some moments that shift the trajectory of your career, and this was one of mine. As we stepped into the stadium the momentum was on our side, and I was ready.
I wish I could write a different story that I could say "we did it." That Coach Calhoun looked at us with pride, as we brought home the W. I'd tell you how we went on and won the whole thing.
But here's the thing about Basketball--the ball doesn't always bounce your way.
That day in 1995--it just wasn't there for me. I shot 1-6, I fouled out, and I sat on the bench as we lost.
What coach did for me in that moment impacted me forever. It's the kind of thing they don't show fans in replays. Coach Calhoun and I teamed up with Dove Men+Care to recount this day. Because when it comes to coaching, these are the moments that should be seen.
In the moment when I wanted to disappear, there was Coach Calhoun hugging me saying:
"I'm proud of you Kevin. You did so much to get us here."
His words did more than reassure me, they taught me something that's lasted a lifetime. Coach wasn't thinking about himself--he was thinking about me, and not just as his player. It hit me: for him, winning wasn't only about the score, the fame, or the trophies. It was about helping all of his players grow as people.
It takes strength for a coach to do that.
In the locker room I cried with my teammates, my brothers. At one point, it would have been hard for me to admit that. But the emotion we shared only proved how much we cared about our team, our friends, and our family. That day bonded Connecticut in an unbreakable way.
What makes my relationship with Coach Calhoun so special is that we've never really stopped supporting each other through all these years. It's made us both stronger--as coaches, players, and people.
Now, I'm out here to make him proud.
He trusted me enough to leave Connecticut in my hands. 20 years after that hug, I'm lucky enough to be with this team through another March Madness. We've made it to the tournament when many doubted we would, and hit an impossible buzzer beater to get there.
But sometimes we'll miss those shots. And in those moments I know I won't be thinking about the number on the scoreboard. I'll be thinking of Coach Jim Calhoun, and the care he showed me on that day and every day. I'll be thinking about what really matters for a basketball team--and that's being there for each other.