His individual numbers as a basketball player at Penn do not rival those of many other legends of the game, but the only stats you need to know about Corky Calhoun? Try 99 wins... and six losses.
Ask Digger Phelps about Penn basketball great Corky Calhoun today and the college basketball coaching legend is quick to rattle off Calhoun's home address back in Waukegan, Ill., more than 30 years ago.
"Ask me if I know where Adrian Dantley lived. I can't tell you. Ask me about John Paxson or Kelly Tripucka, I don't know their addresses," says the ESPN analyst who recruited Calhoun to Penn before serving as his freshman coach in 1968-69. "I still remember Corky's address because I knew he would make our program into what it was."
What Penn basketball became was nationally prominent, climbing to No. 3 in the polls after putting together a perfect 28-0 regular season in 1970-71. Calhoun was a key component to the success of that squad, regarded by many to be the best in the school's storied history.
"Corky Calhoun was one of the most versatile college players of his era," says former teammate Craig Littlepage, who later coached Penn and is now the Director of Athletics at the University of Virginia. "At 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds he could play virtually any position, guard any opponent, rebound, handle the ball, and score inside or outside."
"He was a soft-spoken person," remembers another former teammate and current Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky. "Respected by everybody, liked by everybody, he was just a really good guy."
Calhoun, who led that team in rebounding as a junior, attributes much of the group's success to their balance and depth. "I felt I was a pretty good player but I had teammates that were very good as well, so I think we as a team were hard for a lot of the other Ivy League teams to handle."
Immersed into a talented core that included two other future NBA draft picks in Dave Wohl and Phil Hankinson, Calhoun – a first-round draft pick himself – helped guide Penn to Ivy League and Big 5 Championships in 1971 before eventually bowing out to Villanova in the NCAA Eastern regional final, one game shy of the Final Four in the Houston Astrodome and a potential showdown with No. 1 UCLA.
"They outplayed us that day," says Calhoun of Villanova, a team Penn had beaten earlier in the season in Big 5 play. "I still think that in a series we would have won, but college basketball is not a series."
"Obviously there's disappointment in the loss, but still the fact that we were 28-0 made that a very special season for all of us that were at Penn during that time."
That season was special, as was the era in Penn basketball history, with Calhoun and the Class of 1972 compiling a school-record .943 winning percentage (including their freshman team record of 21-0). All in all, the Quakers went a remarkable 99-6 with only one Ivy League loss and one Big 5 loss on their way to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances while being coached by three coaching greats in Phelps and future NBA coaches Dick Harter and Chuck Daly.
Calhoun remembers two of their losses coming in Princeton's Jadwin Gym, a place where "for whatever reason, we didn't play our best" – with only one of those losses coming to the archrival Tigers. The other? An NCAA tournament first round loss to Niagara, a game in which Calvin Murphy scored 35 points.
"He was just too fast for us," says Calhoun with a laugh.
When asked to list his most memorable Penn basketball moment, Calhoun says it's more of a "cumulative" thing, referring to his class' magical four-year run.
"Those of us in the Class of '72 got back this little bronze sneaker with 99-6 inscribed in it," says Calhoun. "And that's the highlight of the basketball experience at Penn, to have such a winning record over four years."
Calhoun also managed to pick up some individual accolades along the way. He was named first-team All-Ivy and All-Big 5 in each of his three varsity seasons, honorable mention AP All-America in 1972, and he is only one of five players in Penn history to win the Geasey Award as Big 5 Player of the Year.
From Waukegan to Wharton, Calhoun came to Penn from the Chicago suburb after being recruited by Phelps and assistant John Wideman, an All-Big 5 guard at Penn before becoming a Rhodes Scholar and critically acclaimed writer.
"What we sold was the Ivy League because of John Wideman being a Rhodes Scholar and Bill Bradley being a Rhodes Scholar at Princeton," remembers Phelps. "And then we sold the Palestra and Big 5 basketball."
That sales pitch turned out to be a success as Calhoun chose Penn over Wisconsin and Illinois.
"When I was in high school some of the guys that were well known as great college players were Cazzie Russell at Michigan and Bill Bradley at Princeton," Calhoun remembered. "I looked at those two individuals as obviously great college players but what I said to myself was, 'Well, the value of the Ivy League education might be greater than the value of the Big Ten school.'"
Calhoun excelled on the hardwood once he made it on campus, but he was also able to draw the most from his basketball experience by understanding the importance of putting in the time in the classroom as well.
"Athletics forces you to have a discipline," says Calhoun, who majored in marketing at Wharton. "Unless you prepare, when you get to the test, it's not going to happen. It's like how you practice playing basketball to excel in the game – it's that kind of mentality."
Graduating from Penn in 1972, Calhoun was made the fourth overall pick in the NBA Draft by the Phoenix Suns. He went on to play eight seasons, a career highlighted by winning the 1977 World Championship with the Portland Trailblazers.
As for the NBA Championship ring he dons daily, Calhoun calls it a "conversation starter." "A week does not go by where I don't get a comment about it."
Today, Calhoun resides in the Washington, D.C. area and works as a dealer-recruiting manager for the ExxonMobil Corporation, where he is responsible for approving those interested in owning and operating service stations.
He now has the privilege to reflect upon a successful playing career, and what might even be more gratifying, a rewarding life after basketball – all of which he credits Penn for laying the foundation.
"My gut told me that Penn was the right choice and I have no regrets. The timing was just right for me, Penn was just right for me."
— Wesley Harris