Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A whole bunch of notes, quotes and video from today's AAC Media Day

It was AAC Media Day today at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan. Kevin Ollie, Ryan Boatright and Amida Brimah represented the Huskies. Rodney Purvis had been slated to attend, but had classwork to tend to.

The Huskies certainly got some love from the league's coaches: Boatright was named preseason player of the year, Daniel Hamilton is preseason freshman of the year, and UConn was tabbed to win the conference. Barely. The Huskies got six first-place votes, SMU got five. And really, that's pretty fair, in my mind. Boatright seems to agree.

Here's some video, notes and quotes:


(on UConn barely edging out SMU, by two points, for first place in the preseason coaches' poll)

“I think it was fair. I’m never gonna put another team above us. But I was just telling Amida while Coach (Larry) Brown was talking -- SMU’s gonna be tough. They beat us twice last year, they play tremendous help defense, they can score the ball, they’ve got great players, they move the ball so they’re hard to defend. They’re gonna be a real tough opponent.”

“We’ve still got some learning to do. We’re a younger team. The legs are there, we can get the ball up and down a lot more.”

“I think we’re just as talented (as last year's team). I can’t really say it’s as talented -- we won a national championship. But, we’re real talented. The main thing for me is to work. I’ve always had to work hard and grind for everything I have. What I love about this team is they come to practice every day and work very hard.”

(on Brimah)

"His game has evolved so much on the offensive end. Everybody already knows he’s a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end, but I’ve seem him put a lot of work in this summer on his offensive game. He has a knock-down, 15-footer now. He has a tremendous right-hand hook. I’m proud of the work he put in.”

(on Daniel Hamilton)

“He’s just a natural-born scorer. He has all the intangibles -- 6-7, long, lanky, athletic, a knock-down jump-shooter. He has all the things he needs to be a great player. Obviously, he’s young, so the I.Q. has to increase a little more. But as far as athleticism and intangibles, he has them all.”


“I don’t think (his off-season surgery) held me back this summer. When my shoulder was hurt, I would so stuff with my right hand to work on my form and shooting and stuff. As soon as I couldn’t do the upper-body lifts, I was doing a lot of leg workouts and stuff like that. I made up for it.”

“I think I have a pretty good jumper. My post moves have gotten way better.”

Brimah says he'll be taking more shots from 15-17 feet out. No 3-pointers, however.

(on avoiding foul trouble)

“I’ve got to have good timing and make good decisions, and know when to go for a block and when not to go for it.”

“A lot of people had a lot of doubts about our program two years ago. So, those questions are answered. But there’s gonna be other questions -- about autonomy, the (power) five conferences, about me leaving to the NBA after I sign a five-year contract. At the end of the day, I love UConn, these players love UConn, they play they great for the university. To see the men’s and women’s teams do it together, that means everybody’s on board."

(on what former Big East teams, besides Georgetown, UConn may schedule in the future)

"Maybe Providence, I’d love to start something back with Syracuse. That’ll be great, just to get back to the Carrier Dome, Syracuse come back to the XL Center or Gampel, I think that’d be awesome. I’m glad we’re starting out with Georgetown, we’ve had some epic battles … It’s gonna allow us to stay in the D.C. area, also, where we do a lot of recruiting. It’s gonna be an opportunity for us to get better. Playing against a Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova, St. John’s, to get back in the Garden -- we’re always looking for opportunities like that.”

“We’ve had some great battles against Providence, B.C. We played them a lot when I was playing there. If the opportunity arises, it works out on our schedule, we’ll definitely look at all those opportunities.”

(on Omar Calhoun, currently sidelined by a knee injury)

“Omar’s doing great. We had the MRI come back, everything was structurally sound. He does have a little sprain in his MCL, but I think he’s gonna be back, hopefully in time for the season’s start. If not, we’re gonna go with the guys that we have. But it was great results we got back from the doctor, saying there was no structural damage and he’s just gonna have to rehab.”

“You saw Omar handle adversity well last year. That’s the beautiful thing about Omar.”

(on whether or not being picked to win the conference is a "burden")
“It’s not a burden. It really doesn’t matter to me now, so how can it be a burden if it doesn’t matter to me? What matters to me is, hopefully we’re No. 1 in team chemistry. That’s gonna allow us to be where we need to be at in March and April. It can’t be a burden if I don’t care.”

“I care about Ryan getting voted, because I didn’t vote for that. I think that’s a great, humbling award for him, and how much the coaches think of him. But we’re not putting extra pressure on ourselves as a team.”


“I don’t know who’s on the all-league teams, I don’t know who was picked where. I try to practice what I preach to my players. I wouldn’t care if we were picked No. 1. I don’t think any of it matters. I think it’s a burden if you’re picked to win. To me, whoever was picked to win the league, I’m sure if you asked the coach, he’d probably rather not be picked to win the league.”


(on Emmanuel Mudiay, now playing in China)

“He’s done pretty well. He’s trying to adjust to the food. But he’s got his mom, his brother and his cousin there.”

“I’m excited for him. I’m not excited for the precedent it might set. But, you’ve got to recognize a lot of kids, when they have an opportunity to help their families, it’s tough to pass up. But, it’s not a good message for young people. Hopefully, the NBA will address it.”

“I think it’ll get worse. If he’s as good as I know he is, and he’s the first, second or third pick in the draft, which I’m pretty confident he will be, I’m worried that a lot of kids will think about it. They won’t think of Jennings or so many kids who have come out early and aren’t playing anymore. We’ve got to address that. Maybe do it like baseball -- let them come out after high school if they’re great, and if not, it’ll help make the college game better, stay in school, give us a chance to coach and teach kids.”

“If Emmanuel had stayed -- he’s the only kid we signed -- we could have played with anybody. WIth him not being here, it gives opportunities for other kids. We have depth, we have experience. We lacked maturity in big games last year, at times. If we can get over that, I think we’ll be better.”


“The coaches in this league -- wow. From Larry Brown, Hall of Famer, to Kelvin Sampson, who’s coached in the Final Four, to Kevin Ollie, who just won a national championship -- you know these guys are going to play at the highest level, because of the competitiveness and the coaching, the knowledge of the coaches in this league. That’s exciting for me.”

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UConn tops AAC coaches poll (barely); Ryan Boatright player of year, Daniel Hamilton rookie of the year

UConn dominates the American Athletic Conference's preseason awards.

The Huskies were picked to win the conference by the league's coaches -- though just barely. Meanwhile, Ryan Boatright has been tabbed as the preseason player of the year, and freshman Daniel Hamilton the conference's preseason rookie of the year.

The defending national champions edged out SMU by two points as the preseason conference favorite. The Huskies garnered six first-place votes and a total of 96 points, while SMU earned five first-place votes and 94 total points. The Mustangs beat UConn both times they played last season.

Memphis is picked to finish third, followed by Cincinnati and newcomer Tulsa to round out the top five.

Along with earning preseason player of the year honors, Boatright was a unanimous choice for first team all-conference. SMU's Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy were also unanimous first-team selections, while Memphis's Shaq Goodwin and Austin Nichols and Tulsa's James Woodard round out the first team.

UConn's 7-foot sophomore center Amida Brimah earned second team all-conference honors. He's joined by South Florida's Anthony Collins and Chris Perry, and Temple's Will Cummings and Quenton DeCosey.

1. UConn (6) 96
2. SMU (5) 94
3. Memphis 82
4. Cincinnati 71
5. Tulsa 62
6. Temple 59
7. Houston 39
8. South Florida 32
9. Central Florida 26
10. East Carolina 24
11. Tulsa 20

Preseason Player of the Year

Ryan Boatright, G, Sr., UConn

Preseason Rookie of the Year

Daniel Hamilton, G/F, Fr., UConn

Preseason All-Conference Teams

First Team

Ryan Boatright, G, UConn *
Shaq Goodwin, F, Memphis
Austin Nichols, F, Memphis
Nic Moore, G, SMU *
Markus Kennedy, F, SMU *
James Woodard, G, Tulsa

Second Team
Amida Brimah, C, UConn
Anthony Collins, G, USF
Chris Perry, F, USF
Will Cummings, G, Temple
Quenton DeCosey, G, Temple

* unanimous selection

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Omar Calhoun has sprained MCL, out at least a week

Omar Calhoun was all set to make amends for last year's disappointing season. He looked leaner and
in much better shape in early practices, but his redemption has been put on hold, at least temporarily.

Calhoun suffered a right knee MCL sprain in practice on Sunday. There is no definitive timetable for his return, but will likely be out of action for at least a week or so.

Calhoun had surgery on both hips after the 2012-13 season and was sidelined all of that summer. He never seemed to catch up last season and wound up averaging just 3.8 points per game and shooting 24-percent on 3-pointers after averaging 11.1 ppg as a freshman.

Calhoun was noticeably more toned this season after working hard over the summer.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Some video, notes and quotes from UConn's practice today

Some notes 'n quotes from UConn's practice today at the Werth Center:

Asked about today's announcement that the Huskies were rekindling their rivalry with old Big East foe Georgetown, Kevin Ollie had some interesting things to say ... about possibly rekindling a rivalry with Syracuse:

A lot of talk today about Phil Nolan, who is noticeably bigger after adding about 20 pounds of muscle in the off-season. Here's a story on how Nolan put on the extra pounds over the summer, and how the early results are positive. Ollie noted that Nolan will be playing alongside Amida Brimah at the four at times when UConn goes big this season.

“We got a glimpse of it last year against South Florida," Nolan recalled, "and it was pretty fun that game.”

*** Asked a couple of Calhouns -- Jim and Omar -- about the North Carolina situation, where the Tar Heels program apparently ran fraud classes for athletes for the past 18 years or so. UConn, of course, got a postseason ban for the academic shortcomings of players who wound up leaving the program. UNC allegedly kept players eligible by cheating. But the Huskies aren't paying much attention to see if UNC gets a similar punishment.

“We don’t want to say bad things about other teams," said Omar. "You’re kind of upset because we weren’t really to blame for it, but we’re just focused on the season we have now.”

Said Jim Calhoun: "Ours is almost the exact opposite situation ... it's obviously something that got away from the institution ... I think coaches, someone on their staff, has pretty good idea of what every kid was doing."

Summed up Ryan Boatright: “I heard about it. I’ve got my own academics to worry about.”

Boatright said he's been keeping tabs on Shabazz Napier from afar.

“I caught that one (game) and saw the highlights. We’ve been keeping in touch. He’s being Shabazz.”

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

CPTV to air Jim Calhoun documentary on Nov. 6

Connecticut Public Television (CPTV) will air the broadcast premiere of the new documentary Born to Lead: Jim Calhoun on Thursday, Nov. 6 at 8 p.m. This film provides a unique look at the life and career of Jim Calhoun, whose powerhouse coaching legacy includes 26 years spent as head coach of the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team. Encore presentations of the film will air throughout the month on CPTV and CPTV Sports, CPTV’s 24/7 local sports channel.

Calhoun has come to be thought of as one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history, having led his UConn players to three NCAA titles in 12 years and making the UConn men’s basketball program one of the most accomplished in the country in the process. Calhoun’s leadership style, motivational tactics and run-ins with the media are the stuff of legend, as is the tough-love commitment he showed to his players. This new film explores his larger-than-life persona, but also provides insight into a softer side of the former coach not often seen by fans, and explores his past with archival materials never before shared with the public.

Born to Lead: Jim Calhoun features 70 percent original material, including interviews with more than 30 members of Calhoun’s “inner circle” — from Kevin Ollie, who succeeded Calhoun upon his retirement in 2012, to Ray Allen and Ben Gordon, former UConn players who went on to achieve professional basketball success.

The film also includes footage of Calhoun being honored at the 2005 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony; a tour of Madison Square Garden with Calhoun, who reflects on the greatest shots in Big East history from the spots on the court where they took place; and much more!

Produced and directed by six-time Emmy Award winner Chris Martens and co-produced by screenwriter, producer and award-winning writer L.C. Cragg, Born to Lead: Jim Calhoun tells a story of underdog determination, human compassion and one very unique three-time NCAA champion.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My AP preseason Top 25 ballot, All-America team

Happy to be an Associated Press Top 25 voter again this season. Our preseason Top 25 and five-man All-American team is due by Friday. The first AP Top 25 will be released on Oct. 31, with the All-America team moving on Nov. 3.

Here's what I'll be submitting:

1.       Wisconsin
2.       Kentucky
3.       Arizona
4.       Duke
5.       Kansas
6.       North Carolina
7.       Louisville
8.       Texas
9.       Wichita State
10.   Iowa State
11.   Villanova
12.   UConn
13.   Florida
14.   Gonzaga
15.   Virginia
16.   SMU
17.   San Diego State
18.   Michigan State
19.   Virginia Commonwealth
20.   Michigan
21.   Harvard
22.   Ohio State
23.   Stanford
24.   Syracuse
25.  Memphis

Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
Georges Niang, Iowa State
Marcus Paige, North Carolina
Fred Van Vleet, Wichita State

I’ve never particularly liked the Wisconsin men’s basketball team. Just hasn’t been very aesthetically pleasing over the years, a bit too … boring, we’ll say. Yeah, boring.

But the Badgers won me over last season, led by big Frank Kaminsky and dynamic Sam Dekker (who’s anything but boring). Now, pretty much everyone’s back from last year’s Final Four team that fell a few points short of a date with UConn in the national championship game. That’s why I’m picking them as my preseason No. 1.

It seems most people are going with Kentucky, the team that beat the Badgers in last year’s Final Four, after all. The Wildcats have a record nine McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster, including key players from last year’s runners-up like the Harrison twins (Aaron and Andrew) as well as Willie Cauley-Stein (whose injury for the national championship game undoubtedly helped UConn).

But Kentucky also loses key players like Julius Randle and James Young. They’ve got great freshmen coming in, led by Karl Towns, but so often we’ve seen teams with great newcomers have trouble jelling and, ultimately, disappointing. 

I'll side with teams like Wisconsin -- veteran, experienced teams who truly love being in college and value their entire collegiate experience -- over teams stacked with talent but, too often, have too many guys with one eye on the next level and perhaps aren't buying into the whole team concept.

Sure, every now and then there’s a team like 2012 Kentucky, which rolled to a national title behind freshmen and sophomores, led by Anthony Davis. But look no further than 2014 Kentucky. Remember, some pundits were predicting an undefeated season for a team led largely by freshmen? The Wildcats wound up disappointing through much of the season and were a No. 8 seed for the NCAA tournament. Kentucky started to come together at just the right time, of course (John Calipari deserves a lot of credit there) and wound up in the national title game … where it fell to UConn.

Ah yes, UConn. What to do with the Huskies? It’s funny to look at the preseason coaches’ poll and see four of the teams UConn beat in last year’s NCAA tournament (Kentucky, Florida, Villanova and Iowa State) all ranked ahead of the Huskies. But it’s somewhat understandable.

The graduation of Shabazz Napier is huge. Yes, Ryan Boatright is a terrific player who really matured last season – particularly in the postseason – as a true point guard, a leader and a defensive whiz. Yes, Amida Brimah should be one of the best shot-blockers in the nation. Yes, Rodney Purvis, Daniel Hamilton and Sam Cassell, Jr. are outstanding additions. Yes, Terrence Samuel boasts championship pedigree, and if Omar Calhoun can turn things around … watch out!

But it’s hard to quantify just how much Shabazz meant to this program that past couple of seasons. There were so many games in which his late heroics saved the Huskies from defeat. Never mind the obvious ones like Florida and Indiana last season; don’t forget South Florida on the road, where Napier delivered an inspirational halftime speech (after the Huskies had played their worst half of the season and trailed by six), then scored 11 of UConn’s final 14 points in a 61-56 win. Or how about against Quinnipiac in the 2012 Paradise Jam, when he scored 23 of his 29 points in the game’s final 3 ½ minutes of regulation and two overtimes? Those are just two of too many other examples to list.

I like UConn this season. There’s a lot of talent, but I see it taking a while for it all to jell together. It’s going to take a couple of months for guys like Hamilton, Purvis and Cassell, Jr. to learn how to play together, share the ball and do what’s best for the team. I don’t worry about Boatright – I think he knows he’s got to prove to NBA scouts that he’s a distributor and that he can make his teammates better. He’ll do that. But there are a lot of shots to go around, and it’ll be interesting to see how everybody co-exists. It’ll also be interesting to see if UConn still has some long-distance threats now that Napier, DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey are gone. Early returns are that Cassell may just be that guy.

So, I like the Huskies more than some (for instance, Lindy’s magazine has them ranked No. 36. Even though I did the UConn and AAC season previews for this edition, I’ll take no blame for that low ranking. Wasn’t me). However, it wouldn’t shock me at all if SMU beats out UConn for the AAC championship. If Emmanuel Mudiay had stayed at SMU rather than zipped off to China, that might be a no-brainer. Even without Mudiay, however, the Mustangs return just about everyone from last year’s 27-10, NIT runners-up, including all-AAC picks Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, former McDonald’s All-American Keith Frazier and talented Xavier transfer Justin Martin. And, let’s not forget, SMU beat UConn last season both times they met. This Larry Brown guy can coach a little bit.

In fact, I was prepared to rank SMU even higher and pick it to win the AAC until reports the other day that Kennedy may be sidelined for at least the early part of the season due to academic issues. If Kennedy misses part (or all) of the season, it’s a big blow to the Mustangs.

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Friday, October 17, 2014

Some sights and sounds from UConn's First night

A few sights and sounds from First Night:

Omar Calhoun went 3-for-6 from the floor to finish with six points. He also looks markedly slimmer than he did a year ago, and while he hasn't lost weight (still at about 205 lbs.), he's toned up and looks good and refreshed. And that's a good sign for UConn.

*** Amida Brimah looked good, scoring 10 points and blocking Rodney Purvis here ...:

... as well as at the end of the game on Purvis's shot attempt in the waning seconds, preserving the win for Brimah's "Team Geno." Brimah scored the first points of the night on a nice, low post turnaround. If he can hit that shot consistently -- watch out.

Having said that, you really shouldn't take much from the scrimmage. This may come across as sexist, but when you're playing in a co-ed game, you're not really going to show all our true skills.

*** This didn't come out very well, but trust us, it's the unveiling of the 2014 men's national championship banner:

It was rollicking at Gampel prior to First Night festivities on Friday:

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