WEST HARTFORD — Last weekend, amid the reconstruction of athletic facilities at the University of St. Joseph, Jim Calhoun won his 900th career college game with a 44-point rout of Pratt Institute.

On Saturday, Calhoun is expected to move into a tie with Bob Knight at 902 wins in a road game at Norwich.

Consider those two previous paragraphs for a moment. Now envision Calhoun coaching against Pratt Institute, at age 77, a limp in his gait, having beaten cancer again, tossing water bottles low against the wall behind him in disgust, banging his stool into the hardwood, wandering onto the court to argue calls and, ultimately, smiling and waving to the O’Connell Center crowd.

And now envision Calhoun making the 400-mile roundtrip ride from West Hartford to Northfield, Vermont. Not to play Georgetown like win No. 700 or at Marquette for No. 800. No, a GNAC opener against Norwich, the oldest private military university in the nation, to tie Knight as the third winningest coach among those with at least a decade in Division I. It has to be something an old Army coach — The General, as Dick Vitale likes to call Robert Montgomery Knight — could appreciate.

“I’ve known coach since I was 18, most of my life,” said Rashamel Jones, the co-captain on Calhoun’s first national champion team at UConn in 1999 and now an assistant at St. Joe’s. “To see him start this program and take it this level, getting his 900th win doing something he loves, is amazing. They say, ‘Ball Is Life.’ It’s so true. Ball is his life.”

Ball is his life all right, and life can be complicated. Last season, his return to the game had been a romantic, highly publicized passage. ESPN documentary, the works, that ended one victory short of an NCAA appearance and with an ESPY award highlighted with a moving speech. And then Calhoun was accused of sexual discrimination in October as part of lawsuit that Jaclyn Piscitelli, fired as an athletic administrator, filed against St. Joseph. Calhoun vehemently denied the allegations and making any inappropriate comments.

Just when you think it’s all sunshine and roses with Jim Calhoun a controversy happens.

Just when you think a controversy has overshadowed him something warm and entirely successful happens.

That never seems to change. And on and on he fights, a 42-season passion play. I wrote this a long time ago: They are going to have to carry Calhoun out of the ring, bloodied, kicking, screaming, after the 15th round. Well, the 15th round still isn’t here.

“I thought we were flat,” Calhoun said after No. 900. “I’m going to hold them to a higher standard. I’m thinking of Williams halfway through the second half. I can’t stop that. I really wish I could. I wish I could be a normal human being. That ship has already sailed.”

Sailed down the Charles to Northeastern. Sailed up the Connecticut toward UConn. Sailed halfway around the world for three NCAA Division I championships, docking at a small Catholic school whose future he is determined to help reshape as co-educational with increased enrollment and a new $15 million facility.

“Jim is a very vibrant personality and an incredible advocate for his student-athletes,” St. Joseph president Rhona Free said. “He pushes things sometimes probably to a point where they can be annoying, but it is a wonderful experience having him here. In terms of building the athletic center he really helped us make the case with the Trustees as something good for the whole campus.

“The students he has brought to campus have brought energy and interest that otherwise would have been hard to attract. And he always has been philanthropic in a number of important areas and he is very concerned for his student-athletes, their families and their future well-being.”

And the lawsuit?

“The plaintiff acknowledges in her lawsuit that she was terminated,” Free said. “We really look forward to explaining in the appropriate venue why that happened and defending the university against the other allegations in there.

“But, really, (Calhoun) has had decades and that’s true of others in the lawsuit, too — they’ve had decades working with women and diverse populations. None of them have been accused of doing anything discriminatory in any way before.”

So Calhoun pushes on. The Blue Jays did beat Williams for 11 W’s in a row. Their GNAC rivalry with Albertus Magnus, ranked 18th nationally, already is nearing full boil. With Jaecee Martin, Taelon Martin, Jordan Powell and Tyree Mitchell gaining big minutes, there is a changed look alongside Delshawn Jackson and Ryan O’Neill this season from Year One.

“I want to thank Rhona for giving me the opportunity to go back and do something I love,” Calhoun said. “I do love it. I know it doesn’t appear that way all the time. It’s a funny kind of love. That’s all I can tell you. But it’s a true love.”

It’s a love that sees Calhoun bounce between past and present. A question about his first win with Northeastern against LIU — “I think there was a fistfight,” Calhoun said — is followed with stories about the growth of Jackson as a leader. A story about remaining in contact with Robert Swain even though he transferred from UConn is preceded by talking about Mitchell losing weight and gaining dedication. He’ll talk about Donyell Marshall coming to the game and his Connecticut-filled team needs no explanation.

“They know coach’s history, they know the UConn players’ history,” Jones said. “That’s why he gets the respect he does from them.”

“It’s crazy because we’re all from here and we all watched him when we were young on TV, winning national championships,” Powell said. “Seeing him every day, it’s really a blessing. He doesn’t make it about him. He helps us on the court and off the court.”

“Always about us,” Mitchell said. “Never individuals.”

There are unexpected visitors on the historic night. Allen Freshler lives in West Hartford. He finished playing at AIC and was graduating as Calhoun arrived. “He was a big prize from the Boston area,” Freshler said. “He was a very good shooter, especially from the corner. He didn’t love to mix it up though. As a coach, he loves his guys to mix it up.”

Calhoun got off a few zingers of his own in the press conference.

“We had a 3.1 (cumulative GPA),” Calhoun said of his team’s recent classroom performance. “That’s what Geno (Auriemma) used to say all the time.”

And when I asked Calhoun what would have been his reply if I’d told him after win three or four that he’d have 900, he said, “I would have said Jeff Jacobs is crazier than normal.”

Relax. I laughed.

Nine hundred wins, as Jackson said, “is a lot of wins.” Calhoun is the 11th men’s college coach at all levels, NCAA and NAIA, to win 900. Among the three NCAA divisions, according to the NCAA record book, Calhoun will tie Knight for sixth overall. The NCAA record book has this category: Coaches who have at least 10 years at Division I. Mike Krzyzewski of Duke is first at 1,146 wins, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse is second at 954 and Knight and Calhoun should be tied for third by Saturday night.

“I started playing against Mike Krzuzewski when he was at Army,” Calhoun said. “Of course, Jimmy. Bob Knight became a dear friend. My era guys in many, many ways. The meaning is very special. I remember (last season) I passed Dean Smith and someone said it’s Division III. No, it’s a basketball game and they actually kept score.

“These (St. Joe’s players) give me so much, something I need. I’ve got an incredible family, great people in my life, my grandkids, wonderful people here at St. Joe’s. That thing I need in the gym is to watch them go from boys to men. To watch them grow, understand, take responsibility for things. They fill a void I was missing.”

Connecticut Media Group