"I told the players, 'we're not defending national champions,' " Calhoun said as the new season neared. "We're not defending anything. We won last year, no one can take that away from us."
Indeed, the Huskies won the championship last March in a run that will never be forgotten in Connecticut, or other places where college basketball is chronicled. They did it their way, and not the easy way. They started with an eye-opener, beating Michigan State and Hawaii in the tournament in Maui. Then they struggled during the Big East regular season, finishing 9-9, and when they lost the regular season finale against Notre Dame, no one gave them much chance for a postseason run.
Then came five wins in five days in Madison Square Garden and a Big East championship. After the signature game, Kemba Walker's shot to beat Pittsburgh, Calhoun told his coaches UConn "was going to win this thing."
What, the Big East?
No, Calhoun told them. The whole thing.
And UConn did, running through the NCAA Tournament, beating Kentucky again in the semifinals and Butler in the final, a game considered ugly by some, but a grind-it-out, possession-by-possession thing of beauty for the Huskies.
It all began with routine wins over Stony Brook and Vermont, then came the splash in Hawaii. When Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall spoke of his team's versatility, Calhoun said, "Gregg just said he has a bevy of everything, I have a bevy of nothing."
But UConn had Kemba Walker, and for a time that seemed to be all they needed. He scored 30 in the win over Michigan State, 29 in the win over Kentucky, and when he walked onto the team bus with the tournament MVP Trophy, his teammates stood and applauded. That, Calhoun has since said, was the first clue that this would be a special team.
They kept on winning and were 10-0 when the Big East season began with a thud, a 78-63 loss at Pittsburgh on Dec. 27 that signaled a rough go in the nation's roughest conference, but also provided a measuring stick that would matter in March.
It was fits and starts as the new year began, but whenever one was tempted to write off the Huskies, they'd do something wonderful, like beat Texas 82-81 in OT on yet another dramatic shot by Walker on Jan. 8. Nine days later he did it again to beat Villanova at Gampel.
Still, the Huskies were waiting for their young supporting cast to develop. Slowly, it was. But there were tough losses to take -- two to Louisville, one to Marquette, a 17-point loss to St. John's at Madison Square Garden.
As the regular season wound down, the question was begged: could the Huskies get it back? The last game, against Notre Dame, meant a lot, but UConn lost at home 70-67 on March 5. That made two losses to the Irish.
With their 12-0 nonconference record, the Huskies were borderline to make the NCAA Tournament, but as they returned to The Garden, they would need a long run to secure it and get a decent seeding. When they beat DePaul and Georgetown on the first two days, it looked good.
Day Three changed everything. Pitt again. Kemba again, the fall-away jumper. Semfinals? A win over Syracuse, and two losses to Lousville were rendered ancient history. UConn won the title, and got a No. 3 seed.
Bucknell was no problem in the first game, nor was a good Cincinnati team in the second. Everyone was starting to notice Jeremy Lamb, and he scored 24 against San Diego State in the Round of 16. In the Region Final, the Huskies had to sweat out the last possession, but kept Arizona off the board the last 1:02 and held on to win, 65-63.
Now it was on to Houston and the Final Four, and UConn was hardly the only underdog. Virginia Commonwealth and Butler were there, too.
Kentucky could have won when DeAndre Liggins put up a three-pointer with two seconds left, but he missed. It was still UConn's year.
Butler had gone all the way to the final in 2010 and lost to Duke, and here were the Bulldogs again. They were not ready for prime time, not ready for UConn's defense. Butler shot 18.8 percent.
The Huskies' 53 points were enough. Kemba Walker's 16 were enough and Lamb's 12, all coming in the second half, represented the margin of the 53-41 win.
Jim Calhoun, 68, the oldest coach to cut down the nets, looked younger, smiled as he hadn't in a long time. His 855th career victory, and UConn's 32nd of the season, was sweet.
There was a parade and a glow that lasted all through the spring and summer. Perhaps no team will ever match UConn's 11-game winning streak to end the season, and if someone does, it would not take the luster from March and April of 2011.
"All that's left from last year is the memories," Lamb said, as the Huskies received their championship rings on Oct. 6.