Sunday, November 8, 2009

By a Toenail

It doesn't quite rank with some other infamous sports injuries, like the strained eyelid that once sidelined former San Francisco Giant third baseman Chris Brown. But if Jerome Dyson had missed his long-awaited return to the hardwood with a toenail injury -- well, let's just say his coach wouldn't have been too pleased.

Here's what happened: Walking through the players' entrance at Gampel Pavilion about two hours prior to UConn's exhibition bout with UMass Lowell, Dyson, who was wearing flip-flops, caught the big toe of his right foot on a piece of metal on the bottom of the door. It ripped the nail straight off his toe, causing profuse bleeding and pain.

"He stubbed his toe, as he has on many other occasions, but this was actually a physical stubbing of the toe," Calhoun explained after UConn's 88-50 dismantling of UMass Lowell in Sunday's exhibition game at Gampel. "Jonathan (Mandeldove), Charles (Okwandu), OK, but Jerome -- you wouldn't think that he would rip off a toenail. It was bleeding like crazy. They didn't know if he was going to play, I said 'He has to play.'"

So, UConn team doctor Jeff Anderson stitched the toenail back on and numbed the toe with a pain-killer. Dyson then went out and delivered a mind-numbing performance.

The senior guard poured in 32 points on 12-for-17 shooting (including all five 3-pointers) as UConn rolled to victory. At one point, he scored 12 straight points as the Huskies turned an 18-17 lead into 30-17. Dyson had six assists against no turnovers, along with four steals in a truly inspired performance – inferior competition or not.

It was enough to have Calhoun jokingly suggest maybe Dyson's other big toenail should get torn off for the Huskies' official season-opener later this week against William & Mary.

"We're going to do the same thing next Friday night … it seems to work, I guess," Calhoun noted. "He shot the hell out of the ball, took good shots. The kid played great."

Added Dyson: "They're starting to think that they're going to rip a toenail off every game."

In truth, just about everyone in a Husky uniform looked pretty good:

***Kemba Walker had 15 points, seven assists and three steals and ran the UConn fast break beautifully. When he wasn't doing so, freshman Darius Smith (nine points, six assists) was up to the task.

"He's more comfortable in the break," Calhoun said of Smith. "He's much more comfortable when he plays in a fast-paced game. Now we've got to get him to look good in the halfcourt game."

Said Smith of UConn's uptempo style: "I love it. Me and Kemba being so quick, when we're on the floor, you either step up on us and let 'Rome and Sticks do their thing, or let us score. It's a lose-lose situation (for opponents)."

***Frosh center Alex Oriakhi had nine points and 14 rebounds. That's 30 boards in his first two collegiate exhibition games -- both against Division II foes.

"Can he do that against Kentucky? Can he do that against (other good teams) – my impression is that he can. It may not be 16 and 14, it may be 10 and 11, but he still can rebound against most anyone."

Oriakhi easily got the better of his cousin, UMass Lowell senior Kingsley Onyechi (four points, two boards).

"He's a talented kid, strong and athletic," Onyechi said. "I've known him since he was young, so obviously he's made a lot of physical changes, but he's made serious leaps and bounds as a basketball player. It's good to see him playing at this level ... I used to push him around as a little kid, but now it's a little different. He's about 6-9, 250, so it's a little different now. He's really grown."

Oh, and he can shoot from the perimeter, too, according to Onyechi.

"Calhoun won't let him shoot, but he can shoot."

***Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards played steady, understated roles with nine points apiece. Freshman Jamaal Trice took a step back (one point, two turnovers), but played some solid "D".

***The Huskies outscored UMass Lowell 32-2 on fast-break points, and outrebounded them 48-22.

"UConn is very, very fast, very, very athletic," said River Hawks coach Greg Herenda, a former assistant to George Blaney at Seton Hall. "I was in the Big East back when Ray Allen, Travis Knight, Nadav (Henefeld), all those guys (played at UConn). This is as fast and as quick a team … maybe I'm blinded, but they're very fast, great in transition, and an excellent basketball team defensively. In transition, (they're) probably as good as I've seen in a long time – much better, I think, than they were last year."

Added Calhoun: "We ran well, obviously we rebounded well, and Jerome just had a terrific game. And when the game got open, Kemba and some of our other guys got the game spaced, which is how we're going to have to play the game. We play the game very well in space."

***As coaches do, however, Calhoun was able to find a negative. Okwandu, the neophyte junior center, contributed just four points, two rebounds and four fouls in 10 minutes – a slight improvement over Wednesday night's two-point, one-rebound clunker, but not much.

With 6-11 freshman Ater Majok not eligible until mid-December, and with some big-time foes (Kentucky, possibly Duke or LSU) on the Huskies' schedule before then, Calhoun is desperate to get more production out of the 7-foot Okwandu.

"I hope he can. Physically, I know he can," said the coach. "The biggest thing I'm worried about is the four/five right now. I like what we did defensively in both games. Overall, we're encouraged with what we've seen. The only discouraging note would be the fact that we've got another big man in the rotation."

Calhoun insists that Okwandu has shown flashes in practice.

"Trust me. Whether it ever turns out in a game, and I think it will, he's a better player than what he's showing," the coach said. "And he's certainly not showing very much."

***Calhoun said he "hopes" Jamal Coombs-McDaniel could be cleared early this week.

Oriakhi said of Coombs-McDaniel, his good buddy: "I don't even know his situation, but I'm pretty sure he told me that he'll be good to go come Friday against William & Mary."

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