by John Bauernfeind
IU Student News Bureau
ARLINGTON, Texas — Ricky Moore and Kevin Freeman are sitting in a quiet room near the dressing room assigned to the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team at the Final Four. Dressed in sleek UConn zip ups and grey sweatpants, Moore and Freeman both look the part of the different roles they have taken on.
They have returned to the campus where they once helped the Huskies achieve a championship pedigree. Moore is an assistant coach. Freeman is director of basketball administration. After careers in professional basketball, Moore and Freeman became part of the staff under head coach Kevin Ollie, connecting generations within the program hall of fame coach Jim Calhoun began to build in 1986.
Moore and Freeman played pivotal roles in the 1999 national championship run, the school’s first, which culminated in a 77-74 victory against Duke in the title game.
Moore was UConn’s defensive stalwart that season, earning National Defensive Player of the Year honors from Basketball News Magazine. Freeman was named to the 1999 West Regional All-Tournament Team and has played in 140 games, the most in Connecticut history.
But that was 15 years ago, and this is a completely different role for Moore and Freeman. The Connecticut program has endured the retirement of Calhoun and sanctions resulting from academic issues that kept the Huskies out of the postseason a year ago. Despite the disruption, the former players were eager to return.
“For me, it was an easy decision,” Moore said. “I was coming back home.”
“I just wanted to get into coaching,” Freeman said. “Coach Calhoun gave me the opportunity to get in.”
Moore and Freeman each played professional basketball overseas for 11 seasons in 13 total countries, including time spent in the Continental Basketball Association and the NBA Developmental League.
After his playing days were over, Moore went to Dartmouth College, where he worked as an assistant basketball coach for two seasons. Now, he is in his second season at UConn, the first as assistant coach after a year as assistant director of basketball administration.
Freeman is UConn’s director of basketball administration for a second year after one year as an assistant.
Choosing to return to UConn was easy. Sharing last year’s struggle was challenging.
“I think it was tough for the guys,” Moore said. “I think Coach Ollie did a great job of motivating everyone. Knowing that we weren’t going to be able to participate in the postseason, I think everybody played for each other.
“We were able to get to the Final Four this year, so I think everything paid off.”
For Moore and Freeman, the surprising postseason has carried them all the way to another Final Four.
A decade and a half ago, the circumstances and expectations were different. That 1999 team began the season with a No. 2 ranking in the Associated Press media poll and No. 3 in the ESPN/USA Today poll of coaches. The Huskies, led by Richard “Rip” Hamilton, earned a No. 1 seed in the West Region.
The championship game victory was the climax in a 34-2 season. These Huskies, a No. 7 seed in the east region, required overtime to beat No. 10 St. Joseph’s in the second round, and went on to build a record of 30-8 after four NCAA victories.
“I think it’s totally different,” Moore said of this year’s journey. “We won a ton of games. For us, everybody expected us to get to the championship.”
Freeman said senior Shabazz Napier and this year’s Huskies have surprised teams in this tournament.
“This team has kind of blindsided everyone and fought their way to the Final Four,” he said.
In addition to Moore and Freeman, Ollie and assistant coaches Glen Miller and Karl Hobbs all have played for UConn basketball at some point in time. Miller played two seasons for the Huskies and transferred to Northeastern, where he played two seasons for Calhoun. He joined Calhoun’s first UConn coaching staff in 1986.
Moore said the UConn basketball program helps breed strong relationships.
“We have a strong brotherhood as coaches and even as players,” Moore said. “We love UConn. Every opportunity we have that we can come back and work for the university, I think most guys would do that.”
Members of that 1999 title-winning team still come back. At Madison Square Garden last weekend were Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin, whose energy and creativity at the guard position helped lead the Huskies.
Moore said Hamilton and El-Amin joked about jumping in with this season’s team as towel boys.
In their brief careers as a coach and director, however, Moore and Freeman aren’t afraid to get after their players. When a player steps out of line or tries to challenge a coach, Moore says the player has to know who, and what, came before him.
“You have to show them ‘You’re still in college, and I’ve already done this before,’” he said.
Freeman gets up and excuses himself when it’s time to get to work. A few minutes later, he is seen in the UConn locker room, gathering his players. The open practice, scheduled to start at noon, is approaching.
“Six minutes,” Freeman yells, urging his players to get up. “Six minutes. We out.”
Fifteen years after winning a championship in a dome in St. Petersburg, Fla., Moore and Freeman are trying to lead a different team to a similar celebration.