Jim Calhoun, the UConn head coach—who is no relation to Omar’s family—sees his newest prize recruit playing significant minutes as a freshman and following in the footsteps of Kemba Walker. “As a player, Omar is the total package,” Jim Calhoun says. “And a high-character kid, because of his upbringing. Some parents have no ideas of the ups and downs—I know you love your son, but there’s more to it. His parents, they get it.”
A cold January Friday night in Fort Greene. The gym at Bishop Loughlin High School is shaped like a butter dish and not much larger. Bleachers press right up against the basketball court’s sidelines. White brick walls and a low metal ceiling amplify the crowd screams and cheerleader chants to headache-inducing volume. It’s a fantastic place to watch a game. Now, with Loughlin ahead by one point and ten seconds left, the home team’s fans turn up the noise even higher by banging on heat pipes as Omar Calhoun steps to the foul line.
Christ the King had blown a seven-point lead in the final two minutes, so with 30 seconds remaining and his team down two, the ball of course went into Calhoun’s hands. He started left, jab-stepped, then flew down the center of the lane, above nine mesmerized players, before laying the ball delicately into the hoop. Tie game, until Loughlin sinks one of two free throws. Down one, the clock melting away, Calhoun starts left again, drives the lane again, rises—but this time is greeted by a wall of Loughlin hands. No matter: He instantly spots a teammate wide open underneath and hits him with a pass … only to have the teammate blow a wide-open three-foot shot. No matter: Calhoun is in perfect position for the rebound. He’s fouled as he grabs the ball, which is why he’s now on the foul line, with two shots, a chance to win the game, and the decibels climbing. He dribbles twice and, as calmly as if he’s stepping onto the team bus, hits both free throws, the final two of his 24 points. Loughlin can’t get off a final shot. CK wins.
Afterward, Calhoun emerges from the locker room in street clothes looking, it must be said, pretty dorky, a knit cap on his head and his bulging school backpack strapped to his chest. Reporters are hustling over, wanting a few more quotes, even though it’s nearing midnight. Then Sierra, who has been waiting patiently to go home, whacks her brother on the butt. Hard.