Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Loss of Emmanuel Mudiay, Danny Manning, others makes AAC less interesting in 2014-15

Sports reporters are supposed to be neutral and play it right down the middle when it comes the teams and sports that they cover. There's no cheering in the press box, they say, and with the occasional notable exception, that largely holds true in college basketball.

What we can root for, however, is the story. It makes things much more enjoyable and interesting to cover when there are intriguing storylines behind certain teams, games or -- in this case -- conferences. The American Athletic Conference, to be exact.

While no one was happy to see Louisville leave (and no one really cared about Rutgers' departure), we all knew it was coming. We also were hoping for some good stories to pop up in the AAC, even without Louisville. Danny Manning was joining the league as head coach at Tulsa. His two battles against Larry Brown, who coached Manning to a national title with Kansas in 1988 (or did Manning lead Brown to that title?) was juicy stuff. And joining Brown at SMU was Emmanuel Mudiay, the No. 1 recruit in the nation, per most recruiting services.

Mudiay would make SMU better than it already was -- and the Mustangs already were pretty good, with Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy and Keith Frazier returning and Xavier transfer Justin Martin joining the fray. SMU beat UConn twice last year and would rightfully be not only the preseason favorite to win the conference, but a legit candidate for the Final Four. This was going to be fun.

Then, it all unraveled. Manning joined Louisville as another ACC defection, bolting incoming Tulsa for Wake Forest. All whole bunch of good players transferred (TaShawn Thomas and Danuel House of Houston, to Oklahoma and Texas A&M, respectively; Temple's Anthony Lee to Ohio State; USF's John Egbunu to Florida). 

And the big blow was Mudiay, who apparently had a whole bunch of eligibility concerns stemming from his two years at Deion Sanders' Prime Prep (who ever would have guessed that could happen?), is instead going to play professionally in China.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Rodney Purvis, Daniel Hamilton, Sam Cassell, Jr. talk UConn at the GHPA

Checked out the GHPA on Saturday and had nice conversations with Rodney Purvis, Daniel Hamilton and Sam Cassell, Jr. Purvis played in the late game and looked pretty good.

He certainly looked a bit Ferrari-like on this driving lefty layup:

And on this nifty spin move (the second of the two moves in this clip):

Purvis, who had played in a few pro-am games back in Raleigh, N.C. over the past month, said his surgically-repaired shoulder is 100-percent.

He's an even better interview. Here's some of what he had to say:

(on how he's helped Amida Brimah through his own, similar shoulder surgery)

"Any questions he had, I answered all his questions for him, helped him get through whatever he needed as far as helping him. The day of his surgery, I went to go see him, just to make sure he was in great spirits. Because it is a long process, with a six-month recovery. That's my brother, so I had no choice but to be there for him."

Brimah was also at Crosby High on Saturday and reported that his shoulder is coming along fine.

(on just how difficult it was sitting out an entire season as a transfer from NC State)

"I heard from different guys that it was rough on them. Of course it's rough, having to sit out, but I really couldn't play anyway because of my shoulder. It is what it is. I was around a great group of guys, they always kept me in the loop and never made me feel like I was outside. The only thing I didn't do was play in games. Everything else, I did. I felt a part of the team."

(on Kevin Ollie's constant references to him last season as a "Ferrari in the garage, that I can't use")

"I can't believe he said that. I took advantage of everything, going against guys like Shabazz and Boatright in practice every day. I was in Shabazz's ear all the time, trying to pick up different things -- in the room, watching film with him. He really gave me a lot of great feedback before he left."

(on what was the key to UConn's national title)

"We stayed together, no matter what. Any time you saw one of us, there were probably five or six of us. We stayed together. I don't think people understand how far being close off the court carries you on the court. We don't put on a front for Twitter or the media or anything, we're really brothers. We take our relationship seriously among each other."

"I'm really strong on brotherhood, because that's just how I was raised. I saw what a brotherhood could do last season, and we want that same thing this year."

(on how excited he is to play alongside Ryan Boatright this season)

"I honestly feel like, just having the relationship we have off the court, that'll carry onto the court. That was my roommate last year, he kind of took me under his wing, helped me learn a lot of things. Not many people know this, but the whole entire year, me and 'Boat were in the gym every single night playing one-and-one, basically beating each other up, going back to the room not speaking to each other because one of us got the better of each other that one day. I just appreciate Boatright. He's a great guy, I can't wait to play alongside him."

Purvis added that he and Sam Cassell, Jr. are now roommates. He also noted that he checks in at about 205 pounds and noticeably more toned than when he first arrived last year at about 215.

Hamilton and Cassell, Jr. didn't play because they weren't able to get a ride to their scheduled 3 p.m. game. Both believe they'll definitely play next Saturday.

Here's some of what they had to say:


"It's good to get on campus, just working out with the coaches and being able to adjust to the college life."

He said he'll head home to Los Angeles on Aug. 8 for a couple of weeks before returning to Storrs to start classes.

(on his new teammates)

"The funniest dudes I've been around. I just like hanging around them, because it brings joy to me. It reminds me of my brothers. That's why I like the atmosphere. It's just fun to hang around with these dudes and fun to be around this program."

(on how good the team can be this season)

"We are loaded with talent, all we've got to do is play for each other and not worry about what other people have to say. If we just play for one another, we're good enough to be able to repeat."

(on what position he'll play this season)

"I'm not sure where he's going to put me, but I just know when I get out there, he wants me to make plays and contribute to the team. Not just scoring, but rebounding, passing, facilitating, playing defense. Much more than just scoring."

(on DeAndre Daniels, who he knew from growing up in L.A.)

"I'm a little disappointed I couldn't play with him, but I'm happy for him at the same time, to be able to see him make it to the NBA and accomplish that goal. That's big."

Cassell, Jr.:

"I"m definitely ready to step on the court and put a UConn jersey on."

"I want to be a point guard, but I can play point and two-guard, a combo. I can bring shooting to the team, leadership, defense keeps you on the floor. Whatever it takes for us to win, that's what I'm going to bring."

"It's a guard-oriented offense. K.O.'s a good guy, he knows what he's doing."

"Hard practices make easy games."

(on rumors that his dad was in the running for some NBA head coaching jobs recently)

"That's his goal. He's always wanted to be a head coach."

(on how tough it was being an academic non-qualifier and spending two seasons at Chipola Junior College in Florida)

"It was real tough, just because a lot of my friends went on to play college basketball and I had to take a longer journey. But, in the long run, I'm at the place where I want to be."

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Friday, July 11, 2014

2014 GHPA schedule

Here's the 2014 GHPA schedule for this season, for those interested:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A talk with Jim Salmon, who coaches UConn target Isaiah Briscoe -- and used to coach Kevin Freeman

As part of a story we did this week on UConn's prime recruiting targets, we spoke with Jim Salmon, who coaches Husky target Isaiah Briscoe on the New Jersey Playaz AAU team -- and also happened to coach UConn director of basketball administration Kevin Freeman at Paterson Catholic back in the day.

Here's what Salmon had to say about Briscoe:

"He’s fearless, he’s two plays ahead on the floor. He’d rather give an assist or a Gretzky – the pass before the assist – rather than scoring. This year, he’s put the team on his back. He’s led us all season. He passed out uniforms, collects them after game, washes them, wakes his teammates up in the hotel room. He’s like an assistant coach for us ... He's an ideal teammate."

Briscoe put out a list recently of his final seven schools: UConn, Arizona, Louisville, St. John's, Seton Hall, Rutgers and Villanova. However, he's not likely to start seriously considering anyone until August, at the earliest. He's already an academic qualifier, according to Salmon.

"All the teams have a shot," Salmon said. "He's got a different relationship with at least one person on the staff of all the schools. I'm sure (his dad) is taking the calls right now, but I don't think he's there. He's really tuned in and trying to win." 

As for UConn?

"Kevin Freeman used to play for me," Salmon noted. "I'd be delighted if he went to UConn."

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Charlie Villanueva chronicles his foray into free agency in 'Crossroads' documentary

Charlie Villanueva is at a crossroads in his NBA career. After nearly a decade in the league, he is currently a free agent.

The former UConn star has documented this period of his career in "Crossroads", an eight-part video blog series chronicling his free agent journey. Here's Part One (about five minutes), which includes a conversation with his agent, Cheshire's Jeff Schwartz; footage of his workouts; some personal thoughts, and more.

Crossroads, which has been created by Charlie and his brothers and shot on a Samsung phone, is produced by Tivity Social in partnership with SportsBlog, VISalus and WeVideo.

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Pat Lenehan earns UConn scholarship

Nice to see UConn reward a scholarship to Pat Lenehan, a Cheshire native, Xavier High grad and 4.0 student. Lenehan has been a walk-on for the Huskies the past two seasons, but Kevin Ollie had a few extra scholarships to give, and why not reward a kid who, as a molecular and cell biology major, also recently earned a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for math and science students.

Here's a story we did on Lenehan back in December.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A brief interview with UConn target Steve Enoch

Had a brief interview with Norwalk's Steve Enoch the other day, via text messages, for a story I'm writing for later this week. Here's Enoch's highlights video (couldn't figure out how to embed it). And here's how the interview went:

Did you enjoy your most recent visit to UConn, on June 27?

“Yes, I enjoyed my last visit a lot. The thing I enjoyed most was meeting the players and seeing them work out, because I can use some of the drills they were doing.”

What do you like most about the UConn program?

“I haven’t come up yet with what I like most about the program, but overall I think UConn is a great program.”

How much are you enjoying the recruiting process so far?

“I definitely like the recruiting process and the looks I’m getting from colleges because I see all of the hard work paying off.”

Did you grow up a UConn fan?

“Growing up in Connecticut I was surrounded by a major amount of Huskies fans, including my parents, so the team has always been in the atmosphere. Yes, I’ve been a fan of UConn and glad for the entire organization’s success.”

How tight are you with ex-Husky Andre Drummond?

“He’s someone I look up to. I don’t get to see him often because he’s always on the grind but every time I see him it’s like family. I make the most of every time we hang out, whether it’s him giving me good tips and mentoring on and off the court, or getting scraped in a 1-on-1.”

When will you narrow down your list of schools, or make a decision?

“Whenever I feel like the time is right for me to decide the top schools that fit my list of requirements for them.”

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