Today Magazine • April 2024

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TODAY Covering the Heart of the Farmington Valley APRIL 2024 — WWW.TODAYPUBLISHING.NET
COME TRUE
DREAM
25th Anniversary Of Milestone Title For UConn Hoops

HUSKY-STYLE STANDING TALL

A yellow-crowned night heron stands upright on Sanibel Island in Florida — these herons feed mostly on crustaceans, especially crabs and crayfish, per Cornell University’s AllAboutBirds.org website — yellow-crowned night herons can be found on the Atlantic Coast from Connecticut to Florida and along the Gulf Coast to Texas — but not as far west as Arizona, where UConn defends its national championship at the 2024 NCAA men’s Final Four

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4 — From Dream To Title Reality

The decade of the 1990s started with a Dream Season — in 1999, the dream of a national title became tangible reality for UConn men’s hoops

12 — Radio Loud + UConn Proud

A UConn grad and award-winning WTIC Radio reporter recalls the Huskies’ historic triumph

16 — Inside Husky Info

A key player on UConn’s 2011 title team reflects on the 1999 championship and the UConn legacy

20 — Hamilton Standard

A team effort, yes — yet let’s revisit Richard Hamilton’s Most Outstanding Player performance

“ To be a part of that legacy and to have my name on a list with so many greats is beyond any dreams I had ” — UConn star Charles Okwandu 17 — UConn hoops national titles

COVER STORY KUDOS

Sports Celebrations + Questions

IN THE HALF-DECADE HISTORY of Today Publishing, a sports story has rarely become a cover story — only once, when the April 2022 edition featured an equally rare fencing team at Simsbury High School.

Two years later, we encounter another exception that presumably will make UConn basketball fans glad: 2024 is the 25th anniversary of the men’s first national title, and this edition recalls that historic celebration. UConn’s shining moment is a highlight of my sports-fan history — yet I carry ongoing conflicted sentiments about the excessive value our society places on sports, evident in way-overinflated pro salaries. My questions about the relative value of sports date back to my young-adult years, and continued during my time at ESPN Digital Media — but I remain a fan given the upside of athletics. How about you: What is your view of sports?

A further query: What is the most essential championship and the most crucial team in the proverbial game of life? Let’s talk, as you wish … BWD

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Our March cover story offers some verbal and visual morsels connected to restaurants in the Farmington Valley — CLICK HERE for our coverage

Our February cover story highlights a local VFW’s redemption mission via an Afghan refugee project — CLICK HERE for our coverage

ANOTHER GREAT cover story topic — restaurants in the Valley — and thank you for your personal sharing. Your description of family outings is etched in our minds, and you struck a chord with the many restaurants we have also visited. I wish you well moving forward and keep the great work going.

THE ARTICLE on the work of the VFW to bring an Afghan family to your area is interesting since I have a friend who is helping an Afghan family that is already in our area. The amount of preparation that needs to be done before the family can be brought to your area is almost overwhelming. It’s great to see that your VFW sees both responsibility and opportunity in this effort.

Gary is one of publisher Bruce Deckert’s uncles

THE PRESENTATION of my Farmington River photo in the February edition is spectacular. I really appreciate the special attention your printing of my picture of the river brings to this wonderful feature of our river valley. Thanks, I’m proud to share it with my e-community.

THANKS so much to Today editor Bruce William Deckert for the extensive coverage of our hardworking restauranteurs. —Lisa Natcharian • Simsbury Lisa’s terrific story anchored our restaurant coverage

GREAT restaurant roundup. Thanks! —LC Coggins

THANK YOU for covering the VFW story. Great piece!

—Carrie Lenarcic Firestone

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UConn

“Rip” Hamilton makes a move versus

forward Shane Battier — after helping UConn win the 1999 national title, Hamilton played in the NBA for 14 seasons — he was a three-time All-Star and likewise helped the Detroit Pistons win the 2004 NBA championship

ON THE COVER

• Coach Jim Calhoun and his Huskies took a trophy back to the Storrs campus after the title game

• UConn’s Jake Voskuhl (right) and Duke’s Elton Brand reach for the sky as they vie for possession at the title-game tipoff

star Richard Duke
SPORTS REPORT COVER STORY
Photo Source – UConn Huskies website

DREAM COME TRUE

UConn Marks

25th Anniversary Of Milestone Title

THE DREAM SEASON — in UConn men’s basketball lore and history, the Dream Season was the breakthrough 1989-90 campaign, but the Huskies fell short of the Final Four in 1990 and throughout the ’90s

After 10 years of knocking on the door, the UConn men finally broke through in 1999 — culminating a decade of distinction and hoops excellence with the ultimate triumph: their first NCAA championship.

Over that lengthy decade, Husky Nation journeyed from a Dream Season to the long-hoped-for consummation — the dream come true. This spring marks the 25th anniversary of that momentous national title. Since then, the UConn men’s basketball program has won four more national championships: in 2004, 2011, 2014 and 2023.

Unless you have been living under a proverbial rock or hibernating with Connecticut’s numerous bears, you likely know that the Huskies are back in the Final Four this year as the top-ranked team in the country, with their eyes squarely on backto-back titles — as we speak, UConn has advanced to the 2024 Final Four but the outcome is unknown.

UConn’s five overall NCAA titles place the program in rarefied air. The Huskies are tied for the fourth-most Division 1 men’s titles in NCAA history. Among more than 350 schools competing in Division 1 men’s basketball, only 15 have won multiple national championships, per NCAA.com — here’s the list: • 11 — UCLA •

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Today
Magazine • Editor-in-Chief
6
5 —
• Indiana • UConn
4 —
3 —
2 —
• Florida • Louisville
Michigan State • NC State
Oklahoma State • San
8 — Kentucky •
— North Carolina •
Duke
Kansas •
Villanova •
Cincinnati
Francisco
continued on next page
Senior co-captain Ricky Moore and coach Jim Calhoun confer during the 1999 Final Four — Moore was named the 1998-99 National Defensive Player of the Year by Basketball News Magazine Courtesy Photos UConn Huskies

The Huskies’ four championships since 2000 lead the pack this century. Duke and North Carolina are next with three apiece.

TWOFOLD TITLE TOWN

For Joe D’Ambrosio, the longtime play-by-play radio voice of the Huskies on WTIC NewsTalk 1080, UConn’s title-game victory over Duke in 1999 is a vital highlight of his career.

When a UConn Today reporter asked about his most memorable broadcast moments, he replied: “The first men’s basketball championship game … because we knew everyone was hanging on every word.”

Coach Jim Calhoun won the

Huskies’ first three titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011 — becoming only the fifth coach in NCAA history to win three or more national championships.

He served as the men’s coach for 26 years from the 1986-87 season through 2011-12. Calhoun and UConn women’s coach Geno Auriemma are both enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Auriemma arrived at UConn one year before Calhoun and has led the Huskies to 23 Final Fours — including this year’s national semifinal in his 39th season at the helm.

The UConn women have achieved 11 national titles under Auriemma, the most in NCAA women’s history, and the math is simple: If the Lady Huskies

win the whole enchilada again, they will surpass the UCLA men as the most successful basketball program in NCAA championship history. The women’s first title came in 1995.

Kevin Ollie, a key guard on Calhoun’s team from 1991-95, coached the men’s team to a fourth NCAA championship in 2014 — and current coach Dan Hurley garnered their fifth title last year.

The UConn men and women have won the national championship in the same year twice, in 2004 and 2014. No other Division 1 school in any sport has accomplished this feat even once.

The two Husky programs share some additional distinctions. In NCAA

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UConn faced Ohio State in the 1999 Final Four — Edmund Saunders, Richard Hamilton, Ricky Moore and Khalid El-Amin were key players on UConn’s title team — all four were high school Parade All-Americans

title games, the UConn men are 5-0 and the UConn women are 11-0 — no other schools match these perfect marks. Their collective 16-0 slate in NCAA title games is surely in the proverbial ballpark of prestigious records that will likely never be broken.

Storrs, the small town that UConn calls home, can clearly stake a claim as the epicenter of the college basketball world.

TITLE TILT REVISITED

In 1999, after a decade of greatness with no Final Four reward, the long-awaited appearance of the UConn men in the national semifinals resulted in a showdown with Ohio State.

After a 64-58 victory, led by junior All-American Richard Hamilton’s game-high 24 points, the Huskies booked a date with Duke in the championship game at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.

GRANBY TODAY

UConn entered the contest as a decided underdog — the betting line was 9.5 points — even though both teams were No. 1 seeds and the Huskies had only two losses. Riding a 32-game winning streak, one-loss Duke featured the AllAmerican duo of Trajan Langdon and Elton Brand.

UConn’s starting five was as follows: Hamilton, sophomore guard Khalid El-Amin, senior guard Ricky Moore, junior forward Kevin Freeman and junior center Jake Voskuhl.

From the outset, Calhoun employed an intelligent defensive strategy that contained and neutralized Brand, Duke’s consensus Player of the Year. A conventional approach to stopping a high-scoring big man is to doubleteam him with a guard when he receives the ball in the post.

However, if UConn took this approach, Langdon would have had opportunities for open looks from 3-point territory, and the Duke sharpshooter often made opponents pay for such defensive transgressions. Instead, with Voskuhl guarding Brand directly, Calhoun utilized Freeman to

In 1999

Richard Hamilton was a consensus first-team All-American and the Big East Player of the Year — in the background at the courtside table are Jim Nantz and Billy Packer, the longtime CBS broadcast duo at the Final Four

TODAY MAGAZINE – www.TodayPublishing.net – APRIL 2024 7

double-team Brand. The strategy of double-teaming with a power forward rather than a guard kept Duke’s big man at bay — even though Brand scored 15 points, UConn’s defensive effort held him to just eight field-goal attempts and prevented him from finding a consistent rhythm.

Langdon still made his mark, scoring 25 points — including 5-of10 on 3-pointers — but nothing came easy and UConn’s D limited Duke to 41 percent from the field. The Huskies shot a respectable 52.5 percent.

Hamilton, named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, scored a game-high 27 points. Moore (13 points) and El-Amin (12) also hit double figures. Freeman and Moore each recorded 8 rebounds, while Brand grabbed a game-high 13. Freeman had a game-high 3 blocked shots, and El-Amin posted a team-high 4 assists.

The Huskies attempted only eight 3-pointers and made just three, but one was Hamilton’s dagger 3 with 3:30 left that gave UConn a 73-68 lead.

With about a minute left and UConn

It’s fitting that the decisive endgame moment in UConn’s first title conquest was not a buzzer-beating shot but rather a clutch defensive stop

clinging to a one-point lead, El-Amin hit arguably the biggest basket of his UConn career— a clutch floater from the left baseline that gave the Huskies a three-point cushion.

After two Duke free throws cut the margin to one again, El-Amin missed his next shot, giving Duke the possession with 24 seconds left and a golden chance to win the championship.

Let’s pause the play-by-play for a moment to note that Calhoun is known for teaching tough hard-nosed defense, not flashy offense.

His coaching style is marked by grit, tenacity and resilience — so it’s fitting that the decisive endgame moment in UConn’s first title conquest was not a

buzzer-beating shot but rather a clutch defensive stop.

As the clock counted down and the championship was hanging in the balance, Duke gave the basketball to Langdon on the perimeter and he penetrated the lane — closely guarded by Moore, UConn’s stalwart defensive savant. As Langdon spun and picked up his dribble, Moore staunchly held his ground and the Duke star committed a traveling violation with 5 seconds left.

It’s no surprise that Basketball News Magazine named Moore the 1998-99 National Defensive Player of the Year.

Duke was forced to foul on the ensuing inbounds play. After El-Amin hit two ice-in-the-veins free throws to give UConn a three-point lead again, Duke had one last gasp, but Langdon lost possession as he tried to find room for a tying 3-pointer and time expired.

Hamilton’s smooth scoring was surely essential for UConn, but Moore’s defensive brilliance made all the difference in the closing seconds — and that, sports fans, is how the Huskies forged a 77-74 victory and claimed their first NCAA title.

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POP QUIZ RECAP

At this juncture, let’s catch our breath after such a rush of March Madness facts, figures, trivia and adrenaline-fueled play-by-play.

Slowly breathe in and breathe out … calmly inhale and exhale … and if you are pressed for time, feel free to disembark this basketball roller coaster now. Yet if you decide to keep reading, please be sure your seatbelt is secured for the remainder of the ride.

OK, for those who are still with us, let’s conclude our time-machine journey — whereby we’ve partied like it’s 1999, to borrow the Prince lyric — by recapping with a pop quiz via one basic question. So basic, actually, that you might think it’s designed to determine who has been minimally paying attention, or who simply has a pulse:

How many basketball national championships have the UConn men won?

Presumably, the answer can be summoned from your memory of the facts presented earlier in this story, or by rereading to confirm the correct number. The clock is counting down — before the buzzer sounds, what is your answer? Based on those earlier facts, the resounding and unanimous response is as follows — five!

Right? Yes, of course, you say.

However, here’s a news flash: Five is inaccurate — really and truly! Indeed, this is a classic example of what could be characterized as a trick question, or perhaps a riddle.

The right answer is that the UConn men have amassed

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Coach Jim Calhoun, Khalid El-Amin, Richard Hamilton and Ricky Moore represent UConn at a 1999 Final Four news conference

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six national championships, and here’s why: The Huskies won the National Invitation Tournament (aka NIT) in 1988 under Calhoun. The calculation is straightforward: Five NCAA titles plus one NIT title equals six national championships overall.

Someone might object and contend that five is also a correct answer, that identifying six titles as the answer is nitpicking and splitting hairs — or in this case, NITpicking.

Yes, it’s true that arriving at the right answer depends on how national title is precisely defined, yet accuracy and veracity are surely important in sports as in every other arena of life.

So let’s aim to be accurate while also allowing for paradoxical both/and answers to the tricky questions and riddles that attend topics of all sorts — from sports and politics to the economy and society to philosophy and faith.

Meanwhile, the Huskies returned to the NIT in 1989, coming seven points short of the semis, and their postseason success in back-to-back years proved to be a harbinger of the Dream Season breakthrough of 1989-90.

The UConn men and women have won the national championship in the same year twice

The UConn women first qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 1989 and have played in each tourney since for three-plus decades — so we can deduce by the most rudimentary logic that, ironically, the men’s 1988 NIT title year was the last time the Lady Huskies missed the Big Dance.

The NIT was established in 1938 and the Division I men’s NCAA Tournament debuted in 1939. For many years the National Invitation Tournament was considered more prominent, but over time the NCAA tourney superseded the NIT. A poll of

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Kevin Freeman and co-captains Ricky Moore (#21) and Rashamel Jones (#3) are fired up during the 1999 NCAA tourney — Freeman led UConn in rebounds that season and Moore was second in assists and total steals

college hoops observers would likely identify the 1960s as the decade when the NCAA tourney became preeminent — in 1964, UCLA began its remarkable run of 10 NCAA championships in 12 years under legendary coach John Wooden. He retired after winning his 10th title in 1975, and the Bruins claimed their 11th in 1995.

These days, while the NCAA manages both the NCAA Tournament and the National Invitation Tournament, the NIT is considered a secondary competition — but in 1999, for the first time in program history, the UConn men were second to none in the NCAA hoops universe. +

Today editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert previously worked at ESPN Digital Media, Imprint Newspapers and The Master’s School in West Simsbury — he is an award-winning journalist who believes that everyone on the planet merits awards daily when they leverage their God-given gifts for good

Today Magazine covers community news that matters nationwide, focusing on the heart of Connecticut’s Farmington Valley — the five core towns of Avon, Canton, Farmington, Granby and Simsbury

UConn Grad Shares WTIC Memories Of ’99 Title

The UConn men’s basketball team excelled throughout the 1990s and closed the decade by winning the program’s first NCAA title — in this article, a veteran Connecticut journalist and UConn graduate reminisces about the Huskies’ historic triumph

UConn’s 1999 national championship still stands out for me, a quartercentury later.

I was five years out of college and three months into my first full-time broadcast journalism gig. It happened to be at the flagship radio station for UConn sports, WTIC NewsTalk 1080. I had a love-hate relationship with UConn basketball going back to the 1989-90 Dream Season.

When Tate George’s improbable buzzer-beater in the NCAA Tournament lifted the Huskies past Clemson to advance to the program’s first Elite Eight, I developed an irrational resentment over the popularity of these college basketball players.

At that time I was in high school, and as an enormous NHL fan I had little use for basketball.

My still-forming frontal lobe couldn’t process how amateurs playing an inferior sport could be more popular and beloved than the professionals we had playing the world’s greatest sport, right here with the Hartford Whalers — as if you had to choose Huskies or Whalers, you couldn’t support both.

It wasn’t so much that I was fearful of losing the NHL franchise at that time; I was just immature.

By fall 1991, I was a freshman at UConn, still not digging the whole basketball vibe. But I eventually came around — by my sophomore year I had joined the sports department at the student radio station, WHUS 91.7 FM, and was part of a group that took turns broadcasting games on the radio, including both men’s and women’s basketball.

I embraced the sport and the teams as I fell in love with calling games on

Coach Jim Calhoun relied on starter Khalid El-Amin and key reserve Edmund Saunders throughout the 1999 NCAA Tournament — El-Amin scored the final four UConn points in the 77-74 title-game victory over Duke, netting 12 points overall, while Saunders scored four and posted three rebounds

the radio. By my senior year, 199495, I was on the short list of student broadcasters for the most coveted games, men’s and women’s.

That meant road trips, which after the regular season meant the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden and NCAA Tournament games in places like Miami, Salt Lake City and Oakland. What an amazing experience!

After graduation the dream of doing play-by-play for a living slowly died, but I had a journalism degree to fall back on, and that set me on a path to join the WTIC news staff.

Along the way that path crossed with the editor of this publication — we overlapped for five months in 1996 at

the Imprint Newspapers, a collection of weekly community papers in Greater Hartford.

January 1999 is when I started as the overnight newsman at WTIC. The WTIC/UConn Radio Network already had an outstanding play-by-play man, Joe D’Ambrosio.

As an aspiring play-by-play man in college I was envious of him, but I respected his work; there was no denying he was as good as they come. Point is, by then, I had nothing to do with the UConn games on the radio.

But the 1999 title game was memorable for me because the nerve center of the UConn Radio Network was the same radio station that

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employed me. The broadcast feed went from St. Petersburg, Florida, to the 19th floor of the Gold Building in Hartford — WTIC’s home until the move that summer to Farmington, where the station still is today — and from there, to all the UConn Radio Network affiliate stations.

I remember being in the newsroom, with the game on both TV and radio. I don’t remember if the broadcasts were synchronized, but I do remember the CBS microphone picking up Khalid El-Amin hollering, “We shocked the world” — and of course Joe’s famous call on the radio: “UConn? You bet! Huskies 77, Duke 74!”

Bob Joyce was at the UConn Radio Network controls, cutting the highlights for the postgame. He was almost too busy to stop what he was doing to connect with my high-five.

I of course had my lead story for my local news breaks all through that overnight, and that would be the lead story throughout the morning, not only during news at the top and bottom of

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Trainer Joe Sharpe wraps Kevin Freeman’s right forearm during the 1999 NCAA tourney — Sharpe spent nine years at UConn before moving to the NBA At UConn Sharpe developed a strong bond with coach Jim Calhoun — each lost his dad early and Sharpe says Calhoun was “a friend and a father figure”

Sophomore forward Edmund Saunders of Waterbury exults after a dunk versus the UTSA Roadrunners in the first round of the 1999 NCAA tourney

After graduation the dream of doing play-by-play for a living slowly died, but I had a journalism degree to fall back on, and that set me on a path to join the WTIC news staff

the hour, but of course also sports with Scott Gray at 15 and 45 minutes past.

It had been five years since I called a UConn game on the student radio station. The players who were there during my college days were gone. I didn’t really have a connection to the team or the broadcasts anymore. My heart was still broken by the Whalers leaving in April 1997.

At that point Connecticut was in between losing the NHL and supposedly gaining the NFL — we would learn a month later the Patriots were backing out of the deal to move to Hartford. UConn was all we had for big-time sports.

And that night, it was more than enough. +

Christopher DeFrancesco is a communications professional at Farmington-based UConn Health — he previously was an award-winning reporter and anchor for WTIC Radio NewsTalk 1080

He received a first-place award in last year’s SPJ contest for a story published in Today Magazine — CLICK HERE for that coverage

In case you missed it, DeFrancesco and Today editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert were colleagues at the Imprint Newspaper group — then owned by the Journal Register Company

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UConn-Avon Bond: Okwandu Reflects On 2 Titles

Special to Today Magazine

WHEN the UConn Huskies won their third NCAA championship in 2011, Charles Okwandu was a key piece of the national-title puzzle.

A senior 7-foot center, Okwandu played in all 41 games that season and started 19.

Today, Okwandu is the junior varsity boys basketball coach at Avon High School, where he works fulltime as a para-educator. He is also an assistant coach for the boys varsity team. Previously, he coached at Granby Memorial High School.

He says that winning the championship “was one of those moments that you see happen in movies and never really imagine it happening to you.”

In an exclusive interview with Today Magazine, he reflects on the UConn men’s first NCAA title in 1999, his time in Avon, and more:

1 — Where were you and how old were you when the UConn

Avon Coach Helped UConn Triumph In 2011

men’s basketball team won the program’s first national title in the spring of 1999?

I was 13 years old when the UConn men’s basketball team won the program’s first national title. I was living in Lagos, Nigeria with my three younger brothers and my parents in a two-bedroom apartment.

2 — What were your impressions of the championship game and the UConn victory?

I was unaware of it in Lagos, so it did not make a large impression on me until I made it to UConn and was able to be a part of the legacy. At that point in time I was actually into playing soccer.

3 — Before you decided to attend UConn, what other Division 1 schools recruited you — and when you chose UConn, how much did

UConn’s national-title success factor into your decision?

The other Division 1 schools that recruited me were Indiana, Villanova, La Salle, Seton Hall, West Virginia and Georgia Tech.

UConn’s national-title success did factor some into my decision to play for UConn. Their reputation for developing great players was well-known, and I especially was impressed with how they were able to develop great players who specifically come from Africa, like Souleymane Wane — who was on the 1999 title team.

4 — What connection do you see between the UConn men’s first national title in 1999 and the title-winning team you were part of in 2011?

I think it is easier to point out the differences between the two teams.

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Many people bring up the fact that the 1999 team was ranked #2 and we were the underdogs unranked at the beginning of the season. Both teams had amazing drive and heart. The ’99 team is known for Richard Hamilton and ours of course is synonymous with Kemba Walker. Our team went through a ton of obstacles and many counted us out, but we learned from the past champions, and with coach Jim Calhoun leading the charge we kept our determination and heart in the game every game.

5 — When you consider all the standout players in the history of the UConn men, who are the top 3-5 who stand out in your mind?

• Co-captain Rashamel Jones cradles the game ball moments after the buzzer sounded and UConn won the 1999 national title — he averaged 10 minutes per game during the season but played just 6 minutes versus Duke in the title game — Jones scored three points in UConn’s 77-74 victory •

• In the game’s final five seconds, with Duke inbounding the ball, coach Jim Calhoun placed Jones on the court — he defended Trajan Langdon as the Duke All-American dribbled upcourt — Jones prevented Langdon from taking a potential game-tying 3-pointer and forced him to lose possession as time expired •

• Jones picked up the basketball that Langdon lost control of — and this Husky celebration ensued •

• Albert Mouring (#23) and Souleymane Wane (#34) were two vital reserves throughout the season and postseason — Wane appears to be walking on air — and to get to UConn he needed air transportation because he is from Dakar, the capital of Senegal in western Africa, on the Atlantic coast •

• Avon High JV basketball coach Charles Okwandu won a national title with UConn in 2011 — he is from Lagos, a major city in Nigeria about 1500 miles west of Dakar •

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Photo Source – UConn Huskies website

The top five who stand out to me are Ray Allen, Emeka Okafor, Kevin Freeman, Richard Hamilton and Kemba Walker. All of these great players not only contributed and changed the game of basketball, but also contributed to their communities. They are people who I look up to — not just as basketball champions but also as people.

6 — If your 2011 UConn team hadn’t won the national title, would you have considered your season a failure and/or would you have a lower opinion of your teammates and coaches?

If we didn’t win the national title I would not have seen it as a failure because no one expected us to go as far as we did. Would it have hurt a bit, absolutely — but we all knew we had to not just be good but great to win. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into that win, and honestly I couldn’t see it going any other way with the amazing teammates and coaching staff we had. We all knew the task at hand and we all were ready to prove people wrong.

7 — What were your initial emotions in the moments after your 2011 team won the national championship — and at what juncture after that victory did the program’s first title in 1999 come to mind?

I was extremely excited. Coming from Lagos, Nigeria, I knew I wanted to graduate college with my degree, but winning the national title with my team helped me make a name for myself and make my birth country proud.

All I ever wanted was to make my family and Nigeria proud. This solidified it.

The ’99 victory started the reputation of UConn being the basketball capital of the world. To be a part of that legacy and to have my name on a list with so many greats is beyond any dreams I had.

8 — How many seasons have you been on the Avon High boys basketball coaching staff, and what roles and titles have you had — and what do you see as the Avon team’s greatest accomplishment in that time frame?

I have been with Avon High boys basketball for three seasons as the JV and assistant varsity coach. We have had some rebuilding years, but our greatest accomplishment has been sticking together and developing players to the point where one was able to go on to play at a Division 2 school — Jack Hall is a sophomore guard at American International College.

Seeing how our players not only gain confidence and discipline on the court, but are able to bring that back to class and achieve off the court using strategies learned through the coaching staff and program.

9 — How has your national title-experience helped you as a coach?

Being around a great coach like Jim Calhoun and seeing how he planned and strategized for each game has impacted my coaching style. I use him as a model for how I want to prepare for a practice or a game.

He treated each practice as importantly as he did every game. I try to do the same and push my students to do their best every practice, every game, every time.

10 — What are your hopes for the UConn men’s team and the Avon High team moving forward?

My hope for the UConn men’s team is to of course take home the title this year — this would be the first time the men’s team has won the Big East and the national title since we won back in 2011. Bring us back that title Husky Nation!

My hope for the Avon High team moving forward is that we continue to develop and grow as a team and one day, of course, make it to Mohegan Sun for our own championship game. +

18 APRIL 2024 – www.TodayPublishing.net – TODAY MAGAZINE
CLICK HERE — for Today Magazine’s award-winning feature on Charles Okwandu and the 10th anniversary of UConn’s 2011 national title Okwandu
Kemba Walker was the inspirational leader of UConn’s 2011 championship team — that squad won 11 straight postseason games, a feat that will likely never be equaled — five to win the Big East tourney and then six to claim the NCAA tourney title
TODAY MAGAZINE – www.TodayPublishing.net – APRIL 2024 19 Playhouse Program NOw accepting 2024 team building Applications Email Suzanne@hfhncc.org to apply today! For more information www.hfhncc.org

Hamilton: Most Outstanding Player On Biggest Stage

CONNECTICUT’S RUN to the 1999 national championship was a total team effort, as is always the case when a team achieves success.

Yet Richard Hamilton’s excellence was honored as the most important element of the UConn men’s first NCAA title — he received the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player award and was a consensus All-American and the Big East Player of the Year.

Hamilton is an unassuming star.

Listed at 6-foot-6 and a slender 185 pounds, his stature is far from imposing in a basketball realm populated and sometimes dominated by extraordinary athletes like Vince Carter, LeBron James and Michael Jordan. In UConn’s lineup Hamilton was an undersized small forward, shorter than some guards — yet his contributions were clearly large.

A junior during the championship season, Hamilton entered the 1999 NBA draft. A half-decade later, after

jumping to the pros a year early, he won the 2004 NBA championship as a key component of the Detroit Pistons.

Hamilton’s superlative NCAA performance preceded another Hamilton that appeared on the national scene a decade-and-a-half later. Hamilton, the sensational stage musical, debuted on Broadway in August 2015 and likewise garnered some prestigious honors, winning a Pulitzer Prize while also receiving the major Tony Awards in 2016.

20 APRIL 2024 – www.TodayPublishing.net – TODAY MAGAZINE
continued on page 22

RIP-ROARING STAR

TODAY MAGAZINE – www.TodayPublishing.net – APRIL 2024
Clockwise from above — UConn luminary Richard “Rip” Hamilton elevates above Duke stars Shane Battier and Elton Brand in the 1999 title game — Hamilton soars versus UTSA in the first round — He greets a fan in Gampel Pavilion — Hamilton and senior Rashamel Jones exchange a double-high-five

LAST LAUGH

• Led by coach Jim Calhoun, the UConn men had been knocking at the door for an entire decade before reaching the Final Four and winning the national title in 1999

• In those 10 years, counting ’99, they reached seven Sweet 16s and four Elite Eights — the Huskies were a No. 1 seed three times and a No. 2 seed three times

• After winning the 1999 title, at a UConn celebration in Gampel Pavilion broadcast on WTIC Radio, Calhoun recalled that Husky Nation had their hearts broken throughout that decade — but this time, he famously told the gathered UConn students, “We kicked some ass and broke some hearts” •

HAMILTON — continued from page 20

For UConn fans, Richard Hamilton’s rendition of Most Outstanding Player during the 1999 Final Four — on college basketball’s biggest stage — was the most significant performance of his career, and set the stage for future Husky championships.

—Today editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert

Title Coverage Note

In conjunction with Today Magazine’s coverage of the 25th anniversary of the UConn men’s first national title, Today sought comment— via an email media request to UConn’s athletic communications office — from legendary Huskies coach Jim Calhoun and the five starters on the 1999 title team.

Bobby Mullen, UConn’s director of men’s basketball communications, sent a courtesy reply: “We will not be able to

accommodate interview requests with these subjects at this time.”

Today editor-in-chief Bruce Deckert was previously an editor at ESPN Digital Media, and he also requested comment from a few of his former ESPN colleagues, but they declined.

Further, he invited and requested comment from readers on Facebook and LinkedIn, to no avail.

However, one of his former colleagues at The Master’s School offered a fitting reminiscence via email from UConn’s Dream Season — Deckert was a public-relations director at West Simsbury-based Master’s before his ESPN tenure.

Dr. Robert Naeher began his education career at Master’s and is currently a history teacher at Avon Old Farms School.

He relates the following anecdote that dates to his time as a UConn

doctoral student on the Storrs campus: Naeher was attending a women’s game in the Husky field house that predated Gampel Pavilion and “several of the men’s players came in to watch as well — this was during the 1989-90 season that became the Dream Season.”

“As people realized who they were, a couple of young boys went up to ask for their autographs. The players seemed genuinely surprised and a little bit humbled to be asked. Even then I thought this was a moment of purity that was sweet and wonderful and would be difficult if not impossible to maintain.”

“The men’s team players were there to support the women’s team and enjoy each other’s company, and seemed shocked that anyone would pay special attention to them — it was the complete opposite of being full of themselves.” +

22 APRIL 2024 – www.TodayPublishing.net – TODAY MAGAZINE

Unearthing History: The

Discovery of a 12,500 year old Paleo-Indian Site Along the Farmington River in Avon, CT

2024 series sponsored by a grant from

APRIL 11 MARCH 7 MAY 9

The History of Native American Archaeology in Connecticut, presented by Nicholas Bellantoni, emeritus state archaeologist with the UCONN State Museum of Natural History and adjunct associate research professor in the Department of Anthropology. He will take the audience through the history of archaeology in CT bringing it up to present day with new discoveries and the process during the work at the Brian D Jones Site.

Bioarchaeology in North America: Ethics, Issues and Where the Field Stands in 2024, presented by Alex Garcia-Putnam, PhD, University of New Hampshire. He will talk about the field, basics of bioarchaeology, the lack of skeletal remains found in the United States and some of the reasons for, and implications of, that lack of data.

SEPT. (tbd)

Microscopic Evidence for the Manufacture and Use of Stone Artifacts, presented by G. Logan Miller, Assoc. Prof. Anthropology, Illinois State University.

OCT. (tbd)

Update on the Brian D. Jones site in Avon, CT since discovery in 2019 presented by the team at Archaeological and Historical Services, Storrs, CT. October is Archaeology Month in Connecticut, so this presentation will be 90 minutes with time after for Q&A.

Foraging in the Paleoindian Period: A Macrobotanical Analysis

(tentative title), presented by Katharine Reinhart, Project Archaeologist/Botanical Analyst, Archaeological and Historical Services, Inc, Storrs, CT. She will focus on the analysis of plant evidence from various sites to learn what they ate and where they found it

Watch the webinars from the 2021-2023 series on the Avon Library’s YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/user/afplct

In partnership with

Photo provided by Archaeological and Historical Services, Storrs CT
24 APRIL 2024 – www.TodayPublishing.net – TODAY MAGAZINE Funeral Home 880 Hopmeadow St. Simsbury, CT 06070 (860) 658-7613 The Vincent Family caring for yours for over a Century, since 1902 120 Albany Turnpike Canton, CT 06019 (860) 693-0251 www.vincentfuneralhome.com We offer complete cremation services at FARMINGTON VALLEY CREMATORY The only on-site crematory in the Farmington Valley ◆ www.carmonfuneralhome.com Owned & Operated by the Carmon Family Granby Location 364 Salmon Brook Street 860.653.6637 Avon Location 301 Country Club Road 860.673.8610 …the Carmon Family believes that each funeral should be personal and meaningful. Our services reflect the Carmon family values and our ongoing commitment to serve families with care and compassion. ADVERTISER Directory – TODAY Magazine Long-Term Advertisers – Alphabetical Order by Category Barbershop
TODAY MAGAZINE – www.TodayPublishing.net – APRIL 2024 25 Health Care Center Hardware Insurance GRANBY TODAY 1/4 PAGE AD 4.9” wide x 3.65” high Safety, compassion and respect have been our philosophy for over 45 years. We provide a supportive environment for residents to achieve and maintain their highest level of function and quality of life. PATIENT-CENTERED CARE ALWAYS OUR TOP PRIORITY Family Owned and Operated 652 West Avon Road, Avon 860-673-2521 avonhealthcenter.com 130 Loomis Drive, West Hartford 860-521-8700 westhartfordhealth.com D Short-term rehabilitation D Long-term care D Post-acute & transitional care D Respite care D Alzheimer’s & dementia care D Hospice and palliative care D Physician & nursing services D Therapeutic recreation SKILLED NURSING & REHABILITATION
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ADVERTISER Hall of Fame –

• These advertising sponsors have seen the value of investing in Today Magazine’s award-winning journalism as we cover the heart of the Farmington Valley and aim to record the Valley’s underreported upside •

• If you have paid for a recurring advertisement with Today Magazine but don’t see your business or organization listed, send an email so you can be added to our Advertiser Hall of Fame — advertise@todaypublishing.net •

Anthology Senior Living — 860-546-8037 — Simsbury www.anthologyseniorliving.com > Location

Avon Health Center — 860-673-2521 — Avon www.avonhealthcenter.com

Avon Historical Society — 860-678-7621 — Avon www.avonhistoricalsociety.org

A Teen Edge — 860-593-2822 www.ateenedge.com

Board and Brush — 860-392-8567 — Simsbury www.boardandbrush.com/simsbury

Canton Barn LLC — 860-693-0601 — Canton www.cantonbarn.com

Canton Food Bank — 860-693-5811 — Canton www.townofcantonct.org

Carmon Funeral Homes — 860-673-8610 www.carmonfuneralhome.com

Carol Cole Real Estate — 860-212-0687 — Canton www.carolcolerealestate.com

Cherry Brook Health Care Center — 860-693-7777 — Canton www.cherrybrookhcc.com

Christensen Insurance — 860-651-8236 — Simsbury www.insuranceagentswhocare.com

Christopher Bryant Co. — 860-243-3500 — Bloomfield www.thechristopherbryantcompany.com

Collinsville Bank — 860-693-6935 — Canton www.collinsvillebank.com

Connecticut Dance Academy — 860-707-4198 — Canton www.ctdanceacademy.com

Connecticut Headshots — 860-263-9277 — Avon www.connecticutheadshots.com

Dynamic Auto Works — 860-693-6359 — Canton www.facebook.com/DynamicAutoCanton

Erica Maglieri: Realtor — 860-324-6842 bhhsneproperties.com/real-estate-agent/757/erica-maglieri

Fresh Start Pallet Products — 860-266-5726 — Hartford www.freshstartpalletproducts.org

Granby-Simsbury Chamber of Commerce — 860-651-7307 www.simsburycoc.org

Green Door Restaurant — 860-693-9762 — Canton www.41bridgestreet.com

Habitat for Humanity — 860-541-2208 — Hartford www.hfhncc.org

Harris Home Improvement — 860-817-7191 — Granby www.harrishomeimprovement.net

Hartford Symphony Orchestra — 860-246-8742 — Hartford www.hartfordsymphony.org

HealthMarkets Insurance — 860-307-1128 — Torrington www.healthmarkets.com — Mel Brickman

Hulme & Sweeney Pianos — 860-408-4895 — Simsbury www.hulmesweeneypianoservice.com

Karedigs.com — 860-379-4340 — Barkhamsted www.karedigs.com

Kerian Home Health Care — 860-851-6267 — Simsbury www.keriancares.com

Kevin Witkos: State Senator

Landscape Solutions — 860-329-2014 — New Hartford www.landscapesolutionsct.com

Leslee Hill for State Representative

Lifetime Family Dentistry — 860-605-2075 — Collinsville www.lifetimefamilydentistryct.com

Linda Kessler: Realtor — 860-836-6172 — Avon www.coldwellbankerhomes.com > Agents

Liza Sivek Marketing — 203-278-5492 www.lizasivekmarketing.com

Maglieri Construction — 860-242-0298 — Bloomfield www.maglieri-construction.com

Magna Physical Therapy — 860-679-0430 — Avon www.magnapt.com

Maher’s Paint & Wallpaper — 860-678-1200 — Avon + Simsbury www.maherspaintandwallpaper.com

28 APRIL 2024 – www.TodayPublishing.net – TODAY MAGAZINE
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Make It GF — 860-693-1300 — Canton www.makeitgf.com

Mandel Vilar Press — 806-790-4731 — Simsbury www.mvpublishers.org

Massage Envy — 860-693-8000 — Canton www.massageenvy.com > Locations

The Master’s School — 860-651-9361 — West Simsbury www.masterschool.org

McLean — 860-658-3786 — Simsbury www.mcleancare.org

Nails of Envy — formerly Canton + Avon

Northwest Community Bank — 860-379-7561 www.nwcommunitybank.com

Odalys Bekanich: Realtor — 860-965-3652 — Avon www.coldwellbankerhomes.com > Agents

Peggy’s Personalized Promos — 860-379-7775 — New Hartford www.peggys.biz

Planning Partners LLC — 860-693-9916 — Canton www.planningpartner.com

Raimie Weber Jewelry — 860-409-3400 — Avon www.rweberjewelry.com

Randy Brolo: Book Author www.lulu.com > Spirit of Delilah

Ravenswood Natural Health — 860-264-1587 — Simsbury www.ravenswoodnaturalhealth.com

Red Bison General Contractor — 860-810-8581 — Hartford www.nextdoor.com/pages/red-bison-general-contractor-llc-hartfordct

Richman Business Brokerage — 860-408-9177 — Simsbury www.richmanbusiness.com — formerly The Deal Team

Stone Man Masonry — 860-693-4637 — Canton www.facebook.com/StoneManMasonryCT

Suburban Sanitation Service — 860-673-3078 — Canton www.subsanserv.com

Tom Kutz Photography — 860-693-6254 — Canton www.tomkutzphoto.com

Trading Post — 860-693-4679 — Canton www.tradingpostmusic.com

Transition Fitness Center — 860-398-1449 — Canton www.transition-fitness-center.business.site

UConn Health — 860-658-8750 www.health.uconn.edu

Up Top Barbershop — 860-658-4499 — Simsbury www.booksy.com > Up Top Barbershop

Vincent Funeral Homes — 860-693-0251 www.vincentfuneralhome.com

Vincent Tully: Realtor — 860-214-3030 www.coldwellbankerhomes.com > Agent

Welden Hardware — 860-658-4078 — Simsbury www.weldenhardware.com ———————————————————————————————

William Raveis — 860-693-2987 — Avon www.raveis.com/agentfind.asp?smart=1

The Village for Families & Children — 860-236-4511 — Hartford www.thevillage.org/second-chance-shops

virtualens Designs — 860-348-6902 — Simsbury www.virtualens.art

TODAY MAGAZINE – www.TodayPublishing.net – APRIL 2024 29
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