Berry Tramel

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Oklahoma City Thunder: Becoming a Connecticut hotbed

by Berry Tramel Modified: March 3, 2014 at 1:55 pm •  Published: March 3, 2014
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Caron Butler (not pictured) is set to join fellow former UConn players Hasheem Thabeet (14) and Jeremy Lamb (11) on the Thunder roster.   Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman
Caron Butler (not pictured) is set to join fellow former UConn players Hasheem Thabeet (14) and Jeremy Lamb (11) on the Thunder roster. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman

The Thunder has signed Caron Butler. When Butler arrives in the Thunder locker room, he’ll be in friendly territory. He’s got two of his Connecticut basketball alums already on the roster.

Hasheem Thabeet and Jeremy Lamb also played at UConn. Twenty-seven players from the Jim Calhoun era at Connecticut have made the NBA. More than 10 percent of them now are with the Thunder.

“We actually attempted to sign Kevin Ollie to a 10-day contract, but he was busy,” Sam Presti joked. Ollie, who was on the Thunder’s first playoff team in 2010, now is the head coach at UConn, having taken over for the iconic Calhoun.

“Funny how some of those things work, how those guys all happened to have lineage,” Presti said. “We talk a lot about the type of character we look for in players. One thing about the players from UConn, generally they’re pretty tough-minded. They’re physical guys. They’ve played in big games. and they’ve played with other elite players.

“We think a lot of that program. We also think a lot about of who’s coaching that program now. Kevin, he’s had a huge impact on the team and remains close to the organization. But it was not a deal breaker if the college experience came from a different school.”

Connecticut was not a tradition-rich basketball school before Calhoun’s arrival in 1986. Calhoun coached the Huskies to NCAA titles in 1999, 2004 and 2011. Among his stars: Ray Allen, Clifford Robinson, Richard Hamilton, Butler, Ben Gordon, Donyell Marshall and Rudy Gay. All cracked the 10,000-point barrier in the NBA.

With more to follow. Kemba Walker and Andre Drummond are rising stars in the NBA. And perhaps Lamb, who is averaging 9.5 points a game for the Thunder.

“It’s cool to have UConn family around you, so yeah, it’s good,” Lamb said. “Coach Calhoun, we all played for him. He’s a good coach. Definitely taught me a lot. I guess it’s a tradition.”

Lamb said he’s met Butler and has gotten some advice from the 12-year pro but doesn’t know him well. “He’s been doing it for a long time,” Lamb said. “He can knock down shots, get after you on defense. He can do a lot of different things. It’s a great pickup.”

In the Thunder’s six Oklahoma City seasons, eight schools have supplied multiple players:

* Connecticut: Kevin Ollie, Hasheem Thabeet, Jeremy Lamb, Caron Butler.

* Kentucky: Nazr Mohammed, Daniel Orton, DeAndre Liggins.

* Arkansas: Steven Hill, Ronnie Brewer.

* Ohio State: Daequan Cook, Byron Mullens.

* Kansas: Nick Collison, Cole Aldrich.

* Maryland: Joe Smith, Chris Wilcox.

* Texas: Kevin Durant, Royal Ivey.

* UCLA: Russell Westbrook, Earl Watson.


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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