Jim Calhoun never saw it coming.
No signs. No pain.
Calhoun, the University of Connecticut men's basketball coach, underwent a routine exam in late January. Less than a week later, Calhoun was in the hospital where doctors removed a cancerous prostate.
"It was a very difficult time in my life," Calhoun said. "Especially in the basketball season."
Calhoun, who had cancer diagnosed Jan. 31 and had surgery six days later, missed five games last month recovering from surgery. Doctors have told Calhoun he will be 100 percent cleared of cancer.
"So I'm actually here on probation," Calhoun said wryly in a pre-tournament news conference. His U-Conn. team opened NCAA South Region play with a 58-53 victory over Brigham Young on Thursday. The fifth-seeded Huskies (22-9) will face fourth-seeded Stanford (24-8) in the second round Saturday.
His health issue aside, the 60-year-old Calhoun has had to be patient with a youthful team that features four freshmen and two sophomores who have shown a penchant for turnovers and stretches of poor shooting. Understandably, Calhoun felt compelled to return quickly.
"I came back after 13 days to practice. I couldn't stay home anymore," said Calhoun, who was told by his doctors he would need three to four weeks for recovery. "I missed the game and the kids too much."
His prostate test results were only slightly higher than normal, but he did not want to wait until the end of the season for surgery. According to the American Urological Association, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men. It affects about 189,000 American men each year and 30,000 men die each year from the disease.
With assistant coach George Blaney filling in, U-Conn. lost its first game without Calhoun, a 95-74 turnover-laced setback to Virginia Tech, but went on to win three of five under Blaney, including a win over then-No. 18 Syracuse. When Calhoun returned to the bench 17 days later, it was emotional.
"I learned how much I really love this basketball team," Calhoun told reporters Feb. 22 following the Huskies' 77-69 home victory over St. John's. "They're young and make a lot of mistakes. I learned how much I miss them.
"Walking into [Gampel Pavilion] with the fans was an incredible feeling. Just seeing the kids' signs and [Mike Jarvis, St. John's coach] having his kids come over to welcome me back was a real class gesture."
Calhoun was overwhelmed by the phone calls, notes and letters from his peers and outpouring of love and gifts from other friends and boosters.
"Everything that has happened since [the surgery] has been incredibly touching to me personally," Calhoun said.
Has the feisty, animated coach changed or perhaps mellowed?
"You'd be scared if he was acting any different, like maybe something was wrong," said senior guard Tony Robertson said.
Said junior point guard Taliek Brown: "Our team felt sorry for Coach. We put that in God's hands and just came out and played hard. Coach [George] Blaney stepped in and did a great job. Everybody just worked hard and dedicated the games to Coach Calhoun."
Calhoun's absence also confirmed his confidence in Blaney.
"I found out something I already knew -- it reaffirmed to me that George Blaney can really coach," Calhoun said. "Unfortunately for him, we talked 10 hours a day, and I initiated all hours of that."
Calhoun said his sideline demeanor remains the same. He had one technical prior to the surgery and has had two since returning.
"I've mellowed over the last couple of years. But mellowed is a relative term," Calhoun said. "During the time I had surgery, the [players] were talking about the intensity on the sideline. George Blaney did a wonderful job, but a different style of coaching. I translate that to mean less yelling."
In his 17th season at U-Conn., Calhoun has led the Huskies to national prominence, capped by an NCAA title in 1999. His teams are 11-0 in NCAA tournament openers, 8-2 in the second round.
With a youthful team, it isn't likely U-Conn. will return to the top of the NCAA heap this year. But Calhoun likes the team he sees now.
"We're not the same team that we were in January and February," he said. "I'd like us to realize how good we were. If we don't we're going to get beat. If we do, we're really dangerous. There was a point in the second half [against BYU] where we were really, really good. Sometimes our humility shows on the basketball court. That's not the place to show it. Show it afterwards, but not on the basketball court."
A kinder and gentler Calhoun? No, the same spirited man. Not even a bout with cancer could extinguish his competitive fire.