Hardest Working Team in Showbiz?
Based on tonight's exhibition opener -- a 96-58 win over AIC -- the Huskies appear, if nothing else, to enjoy playing together. They have a bunch of players who can and will contribute, in a variety of different ways. They're deep and versatile. Some of the freshmen looked particularly good and all chipped in at least a little bit (except Michael Bradley, who didn't play and appears on the path to being red-shirted).
Now, rebounding -- that's a different story. The Huskies managed a 39-35 edge on the boards, but that doesn't fly against a Division 2 team that dresses not a single player over 6-foot-6. Jim Calhoun wasn't overly impressed with the effort.
"The thing we probably didn't do was keep our team motto, which is 'The Hardest Working Team in America,'" he said.
"Because AIC, for at least 20 minutes of the game, outworked us."
But there were far more plusses than minuses:
*** Kemba Walker was terrific, with a game-high 25 points to go with four steals.He canned a trio of 3-pointers and all six of his foul shots and authored the most impressive sequence of the night, hitting Alex Oriakhi with a nifty entry pass for a dunk, then stealing the ball at midcourt, hitting Jeremy Lamb with a pass, then catching a return pass and nailing a 3 to punctuate a 22-7 UConn run late in the game.
*** The Huskies shot an impressive 84 percent (31-for-37) from the foul line. And turned the ball over a miniscule five times.
As for the freshmen:
***Shabazz Napier was the most impressive. He 11 points and three assists and made two of the most impressive hoops of the night: a turnaround bank shot and a fallaway 3-pointer, both in the opening half. The kid plays with confidence and moxie.
"You have to, I guess," he said. "You don't want to go out there not feeling confident. You want to go out and make sure you play well for yourself, and your teammates. You might as well just sit on the bench next to Coach and talk about plays or something. Every time I step on the court, I play as hard as I can, because it might be my last time playing. You've got to find that drive inside you to play as hard as you can every day."
"I love Shabazz," said Walker. "I know he's going to be real good for us. We just need to be more aggressive, offensively. He's looking to pass a lot. I think we need him to take some shots. I think he's going to be real good."
Calhoun was more guarded with his compliments.
"Shabazz understands the game, he just holds onto the basketball too much," the coach said. "He wants to show he can dribble … I know that already."
*** I like Jeremy Lamb. Kid plays with a quiet confidence, and whatever hyperbole Calhoun uses about his wingspan is actually near-legit. Fella has some long arms.
Lamb's best play may have come on that Walker sequence. When Kemba hit him with the pass off the steal, Lamb dribbled to the lane but, with two men on him, had the presence of mind to kick back out to Walker on the perimeter for the trey.
*** Niels Giffey (eight points, two steals), Tyler Olander (four points, two boards) and Roscoe Smith (six points, five boards) each had their moments.
"Roscoe has a terrific, live body," Calhoun said. "In our league, you need that."
*** Charles Okwandu, the 7-foot senior, had 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds, though he didn't play particularly well. Same with Oriakhi, who added 11 points and six boards.
*** Calhoun was effusive in his praise of Donnell Beverly, who provided an infusion of energy on both offense and defense in 12 minutes off the bench.
"He's the most scared of not getting playing time," Calhoun said. "For him, there is no tomorrow."
*** Olander and Lamb both started ... and met with a little confusion in the pregame introductions.
"They called my name first, so I went out. After I slapped everybody's hand, I didn't know where to go. I just kind of stood there," Olander said. "Jeremy Lamb got called after, and he had no idea where to go, either. That was a little confusing."
*** Surprise, surprise: Andre Drummond was in the house, watching the game from behind the UCOnn bench.