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UConn coach Jim Calhoun returns to practice

By Pat Eaton-robb

Associated Press

Published: Friday, March 2 2012 7:51 p.m. MST

Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun, center, watches players during his first practice since having successful lower back surgery in Storrs, Conn., Friday, March 2, 2012.

Jessica Hill, Associated Press

STORRS, Conn. — Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun returned to practice Friday four days after undergoing back surgery.

The Hall of Fame coach was back with a whistle around his neck, leading UConn (17-12, 7-10 Big East) through drills ahead of the season finale Saturday against Pittsburgh (16-14, 5-12). He said he's not sure when he will return to the bench, but just couldn't stay home any longer.

"I'm getting back to normal," he said. "I'm not quite as cranky as I should be, but hopefully I will get there."

Calhoun took an indefinite medical leave on Feb. 3 and has missed the Huskies' last eight games because he has spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine, normally associated with aging and sometimes with arthritis.

The two-hour surgery Monday in New York involved removing a large disk fragment that had been pressing on a spinal nerve, the school said. The surgeons decompressed the area around the nerve.

The team is 3-5 since Calhoun took his medical leave. He said he is planning to return either on Saturday or at the Big East tournament on Tuesday in New York.

"I feel tired now," he said. "It's the first time I've practiced in almost four weeks. So it's kind of hard to anticipate where I will be. But hopefully I'll wake up tomorrow and feel better. If I don't, if I feel like I can't give the kids my all for a couple of hours, then I won't do it and I'll try it on Sunday in practice again."

Calhoun, who turns 70 in May, said he still has a desire to coach, and his back issue has not changed that. He is in his 40th years as a head coach and currently in sixth place on the career wins list with 870, six wins behind Adolph Rupp.

"I have not made plans to do anything else except come back," he said. "A few things along the way have gotten in my way."

George Blaney, who has been leading the team in Calhoun's absence, said he will prepare as if he is going to coach the team on Saturday. He said Calhoun arrived on campus at about 10 a.m. for the 1:30 p.m. practice and the two met for about 90 minutes to talk about what they wanted to accomplish. Blaney said he did more at practice than he normally would with Calhoun there, but said the coach was still very active and "very much in control."

Center Alex Oriakhi said Calhoun's return gave the entire team a lift, and impressed everyone.

"You couldn't even tell he had surgery," Oriakhi said. "It just says a lot about his toughness. That's a tough guy right there man."

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