STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Jim Calhoun is set to have back surgery Monday to help alleviate pain caused by narrowing of his spinal column, a procedure that he hopes could lead to his return to the court this season.
Connecticut has not provided details about the surgery, but Calhoun said it is being performed after conventional therapy to treat his spinal stenosis failed. The Hall-of-Fame head coach is expected to be hospitalized for two nights.
Dr. John Knightly, who is the medical director of the Spine Center at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, N.J., said that time frame means it is likely Calhoun will undergo what is called a laminectomy, which involves removing some of the bone in the spinal column to create more space and relieve pressure on the nerve roots. He is not treating Calhoun.
“They open the skin up and either on one side or both sides remove the back portion of the canal so there is more room for the nerve to come out,” said Knightly.. “The analogy I use with my patients is that it is like a covered bridge you have an 18-wheeler and you come across this covered bridge and you need to get to the other side. So, you take out your chain saw and cut off the top of the bridge and you drive the truck through.”
Knightly said doctors could also opt for an even less invasive procedure that involves putting a tube in the canal to “core out the arthritis and leave all the rest of the bone alone.”
Calhoun, who has missed seven games so far during his medical leave, will not coach Tuesday at Providence, and the school said he will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis.
Calhoun told The Associated Press Saturday that he hopes to be back in time to coach the March 3 season finale against Pittsburgh.
Knightly said that is certainly a possibility.
“I have patients driving after a couple of days, and if you can drive, you can coach, assuming he’s not having other problems that would require a much more aggressive surgery,” he said. “He’s not humping two-by-fours for a living. This is so he can walk more independently without pain.”
The Huskies are 3-4 in Calhoun’s absence after Sunday’s 71-69 loss Syracuse. Associate head coach George Blaney said the staff also expects the coach back, but is more concerned with his health.
“I hope more than anything that he takes care of the pain,” Blaney said. “The pain has been really, really tough for him — for anybody — but for him because he doesn’t acknowledge pain. So, I can imagine what the pain really is for it to keep him out, and I’m hoping the operation or procedure is successful and that he’ll be back as soon as possible.”
Calhoun turns 70 in May and is a three-time cancer survivor. There has been talk after the past several seasons of his possible retirement, but center Alex Oriakhi said he doesn’t believe this latest health setback will mean the end of the coach’s career.
“It takes a lot to bring Coach Calhoun down,” he said. “I definitely think this is really nothing for him. That’s a man who fell of his bike, broke his ribs and kept riding. I definitely think you’re going to see him back soon. This is just a little bump in the road, but he’ll get through it.”