STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Jim Calhoun and the Connecticut basketball team left 80-degree weather and returned to a cold rain, and it never felt so good.
“But you know what,” the UConn coach said. “We’re home.”
The Huskies’ charter flight arrived from Houston on Tuesday afternoon. On hand to greet the NCAA champions were Connecticut’s governor.
Calhoun and star guard Kemba Walker addressed the crowd of several dozen fans that huddled under umbrellas along a fence near the runway at Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks.
“You folks, since the moment I came here in 1986, have made this all special,” the 68-year-old Hall of Fame coach said. “And I told you someday if you stay with us, we’re going to make you feel so proud of us.”
The team, picked to finish 10th in the Big East in the preseason, beat Butler 53-41 Monday night to complete a remarkable 11-0 run through the postseason that also included a Big East tournament championship. This was the third NCAA championship for the Huskies, the other men’s titles coming in 1999 and 2004.
“You are an inspiration to your fellow citizens here in Connecticut. You are a great pride to your university,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told them. “This team, just amazing.”
Walker, a junior who averaged 23.7 points during the tournament, is expected to enter the NBA draft. He left the fans with some hope he might stay in school.
“Hopefully, we can get another one next season,” he said.
The team then boarded busses for Gampel Pavilion, where students such as 21-year-old junior Matt Kuruc had been partying since Monday night. They were already lining up for a rally.
“This whole campus is feeling great about this,” he said. “There’s nothing else I can do but celebrate this best win that we could possibly get. It’s amazing.”
The UConn Co-op, the campus bookstore, had almost sold out of national championship shirts and hats by Tuesday afternoon, and had already reordered twice.
Sophomore Byran McCloskey, 20, of Guilford, was among the bleary-eyed shoppers looking for souvenirs
“There’s been classes, but I skipped my first one because I was a little bit tired,” he said. I went to bed at 2:30. Everybody was totally pumped.”
Some fans got a little too raucous. Police say fans caused minor property damage on campus and in Storrs. No serious injuries were reported.
Campus police arrested 24 revelers, and state police made three off-campus arrests. Most were for vandalism, but others were accused of breach of peace, inciting a riot, criminal trespassing and interfering with a police officer. Of the 24 arrested on campus, 10 are UConn students. No one was held and all will be called to court this month.
“For the most part the celebrations were good-natured,” UConn police Maj. Ronald Blicher said. “A few people stepped out of line.”
Police said one car was flipped and a couple of fires were started in dumpsters. A couch was set on fire and a car was overturned at an off-campus apartment complex. State police say a crowd of 200 or so had gathered, and some were throwing bottles at troopers. Dogs were used to disperse the crowd.
Associated Press reporter Michael Melia contributed to this report from Windsor Locks
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)