Thursday, April 29, 2010

Calhoun 'Thrilled' With New Recruits

Tell us where you've heard this one before: Jim Calhoun says that signing a contract extension with UConn is just around the corner.

“It’s signaturable,” Calhoun said of the contract, while perhaps making up a new word along the way. “Right now, it’s up to the university. As soon as they say ‘go,’ as far as I’m concerned, it will be done.”

Of course, Calhoun said back in January that his extension was essentially done, and after a source with knowledge of the situation told me in mid-March that it would be a done deal in about a month, Calhoun said the same thing publicly.

A Wall Street Journal story on Wednesday noted that questions surrounding Calhoun’s unsigned contract, coupled with health issues that sidelined him for seven games this past season, had scared off potential recruits, including Josh Selby, the McDonald’s All-America guard who recently signed with Kansas University.

In fact, over the last couple of weeks, the Huskies have whiffed on some of the most sought-after recruits in the country. Selby, Brandon Knight (Kentucky), Doron Lamb (Kentucky), Corey Joseph (Texas) and C.J. Leslie (North Carolina State) all were heavily recruited by UConn but ultimately chose to go elsewhere.

Still, when reached on his cell phone this afternoon while he was on his way to a round of golf with his son and George Blaney, Calhoun said he is “thrilled” with the five members of the program’s incoming freshman class, which is ranked No. 17 in the nation by and includes Roscoe Smith, the scouting service’s No. 6-rated small forward.

“I like the kids we have here,” Calhoun said. “We didn’t get everybody we started out after, no. But we got more guys than we expected.”

Calhoun apparently is referring to the fact that two players – 6-foot-9 power forward Tyler Olander of Mansfield and 6-foot point guard Shabazz Napier of Cambridge, Mass – were originally slotted as Class of 2011 recruits. But Olander elected to graduate from E.O. Smith High this spring rather than return to prep school for a year. Napier has been awaiting word from his prep school, Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass., on whether he’ll be able to re-classify from Class of 2011 to 2010. According to one source, Napier received word on Wednesday that he’s good to go for next season. However, sources around the program said it wasn't a done deal yet.

If Smith, Napier, Olander, 6-4 shooting guard Jeremy Lamb and 6-9 center Michael Bradley are all to suit up for the Huskies next season, something must be done to make room for them. UConn has nine returning players, which would give them 14 players for 13 scholarship spots.

Calhoun said he’s had discussions with freshman guard Jamaal Trice, who didn’t see a single second of action in Big East play this past season, about playing time next year and a possible transfer, though nothing has been determined.

Asked if senior center Jonathan Mandeldove, who effectively red-shirted last season after struggling with academics, is definitely in the mix for next year, Calhoun said: “Talk to me after finals.”

Read more on the potential NCAA investigation into UConn's alleged recruiting violations in tomorrow's Register.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Come Monday for Leslie? (EDITED)

Just spoke to Lisa Leslie (no, not THAT Lisa Leslie ... C.J. Leslie's mom). Looks like C.J. will wait until Monday to make his announcement, probably at a press conference.

Or today ... apparently, Leslie has decided on NC State, according to reports.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Little More Shabazz

Here's some more video of Shabazz Napier signing his LOI -- or some piece of paper -- on Friday afternoon at the Tobin Community Center. Also donning his new UConn hat.

Nothing spectacular here, just emptying out some extra video on my flip camera this afternoon. Anyway, thought UConn fans might like to see their new recruit sporting his new hat. For what it's worth, I like this kid's attitude, and I think he'll be a big boon to the Huskies right away.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Napier Here to Help Kemba Shoot Better

Went up to Shabazz Napier's "press conference" at the Tobin Community Center in Boston's Mission Hill this afternoon. Napier's announcement was supposed to come at 3 p.m., but had to wait until after a 3 p.m. youth hoops game inside the gym was finished. Wouldn't you know, that game went to overtime.

Anyway, we finally got to chat a bit with Napier after he unveiled his UConn hat. Seems a good, personable kid. Definitely think he'll help the Huskies on the court -- and we're talking right off the bat.

Here's the video of some of his interview:

If that didn't work, here's the link.

Some tidbits:

Napier, who will make his official visit to UConn this weekend, was blown away on his unofficial in February:

“I felt like this is the place I want to be,” he said. “It’s not too far away, my mother can come see every game like she always does. I just felt like I can make a life there.”

Napier grew up in the tough Mission Hill neighborhood of Roxbury, and by age 5, had fallen in love with basketball. He frequently played at the Tobin Community Center, where Friday’s brief press conference was held, tagging along with Will Blalock, the future Iowa State player, and Steve Hailey, who later played at Boston College.

Napier has emerged as a top-notch scoring point guard.

“When I went to the Reebok All-America camp, I showed everybody that I’m a true point guard,” he noted. “Teams I’ve been on, I have to score. But if you want me to be a passer, or if you want me to be a role player, I’ll do that. I’m so competitive, I want to win each game, no matter what. If I have to score 50 points or get 50 steals, that’s how I am.”

Napier knew current Huskies Alex Oriakhi, of Lowell, and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel of Boston through playing together in community center leagues and against each other in AAU ball. The two didn’t reallly influence Napier’s decision to go to UConn. He is, however, relishing the opportunity to share a backcourt with Kemba Walker.

“He’s a great player. He’s fast, I’m fast. We’ve played against each other, it’s hard. I think it’s going to be good, because he can teach me some certain things, and I guess I can teach him how to shoot better.”

Gotta love that.

Napier is in the process of re-classifying from a Class of 2011 recruit to 2010. The process won’t likely be complete until May, but he’s confident it will get squared away.

“I decided I’d rather go to college and be a better person, than stay in high school and be the same person I am,” he said. “Competitive-wise, (high school’s) not good anymore.”

Napier will take his SAT’s again in May. He hopes to be in Storrs over the summer to start working out and getting ready for the season. Napier was offered scholarships by schools like West Virginia, Florida, Miami and Memphis.

“But it really came down to Connecticut,” he said. “I felt like that was a special place. I think I can learn there, academically and on the court. Tough coach, (Jim) Calhoun, he’ll be screaming and yelling at me.”

Oh, and don't say he's only 5-foot-10 or 5-11.

"I’m going to clear that up. I’m not 5-11. I’m 6-feet and 170. I’m not 160, I’m 170. About to be 175 in a few minutes," Napier said, apparently on his way to an early dinner.

Standing next to him, I'm on board with him being 6 feet tall.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Napier Press Conference To Sign LOI Tomorrow

Shabazz Napier will hold a press conference tomorrow (Friday) at 3 p.m. in Roxbury, Mass. to sign his national letter of intent to attend UConn.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Tagliabue to Help Big East

I'm assuming he'll help the conference try to stay intact as much as possible (i.e. stave off potential raids from the Big 10, etc.). Here's the press release sent out by the Big East.

Paul Tagliabue, the Commissioner of the NFL from 1989 until 2006, will serve as a Special Advisor to the BIG EAST Conference to provide strategic advice on future television arrangements and other priority matters, BIG EAST Commissioner John Marinatto announced. Tagliabue, who currently chairs the Board of Directors of BIG EAST member Georgetown University, will serve the BIG EAST on a volunteer basis.

“Few individuals have had as broad and deep experiences in sports as Paul Tagliabue,” stated Commissioner Marinatto. “Paul’s understanding of collegiate athletics and academics and his extensive experience and leadership of the NFL for 17years will certainly be invaluable to the BIG EAST Conference and its 16 member institutions.”

The BIG EAST’s strategic planning will assess the Conference’s collective strengths and opportunities, as well as the evolving landscape of broadcast television, cable and other subscriber-supported networks – national, regional or conference-based -- and other new media opportunities.

Tagliabue served with distinction as NFL Commissioner and presided over an extended period of labor peace, industry-leading television and new media arrangements, league expansion and revenue growth in professional football. For his leadership in sports, Tagliabue has been recognized by the NCAA and the American Football Coaches Association as well as by many youth football and sports organizations. Before becoming the NFL’s CEO, Tagliabue served as counsel to the NFL, professional soccer and tennis, and other clients for two decades, and he recently chaired an independent committee that reported on the governance of the United States Olympic Committee.

Tagliabue is a 1962 graduate of Georgetown. He was a standout basketball player for the Hoyas and served as the team’s captain during his senior season.

For the BIG EAST, the upcoming 2010-2011 academic year will be the fourth of six-year television agreements with ESPN and CBS Sports and the fourth of a six-year agreement with marketing rights holder ISP Sports. These agreements were signed just one year after the league reconfigured and expanded its membership to 16 teams.

“When we expanded our membership to 16 schools in 2005-06, it also enhanced our media markets to represent approximately 25 percent of the country, thereby creating the groundwork for significant long-term revenue growth and security for our membership,” added Marinatto. “Now going into our sixth year under this configuration, we will strategically re-evaluate ways to build upon that foundation.”

Since the reconfiguration, the BIG EAST Conference has had unparalleled success in the sports of football and men’s and women’s basketball.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Blue Knight

So the wife and I are staying in Aventura, Fla. (about 15 minutes out of Fort Lauderdale) for the next couple of days to visit my in-laws. (My wife is Jewish. Believe it or not, she has relatives in the Miami area).

Anyway, decided to shoot up I-95 to cover Brandon Knight's press conference at the Pine Crest School. Nice campus. Crowd of about 850 people packed inside the auditorium for Knight's announcement.

About 45 minutes before his announcement, Knight was sitting on a bench in the middle of campus, talking on a cell phone, sporting a backpack and otherwise looking like any other student at the school – not one who could be signing a multi-million dollar contract a little more than a year from now.

Here's Knight shortly after announcing he's going to Kentucky. At bottom left is David Beckerman, Knight's coach at Pine Crest School and a New Haven native who still lives in Connecticut half the year. (Believe me, he tried).

Strange scene: At 4 p.m., everything fell silent – and stayed that way for about five minutes. Finally, questions from Bristol came into Knight's earpiece, and he'd answer them for the crowd to hear.

Then came the moment we were all waiting for: "The place where I plan to play my college basketball is (Knight reached down to pull out blue cap with UK on it) … at the University of Kentucky."

That was followed by a loud ovation from the crowd, including what seemed at least a couple of dozen blue-decked Kentucky boosters/fans.

Afterwards, I caught up with Knight.

"I made the decision this week," he said. "That's when I finally knew where I was going to go. The other schools were close. A lot of them had been recruiting them all through high school, so I had close bonds to a lot of the coaches. I don't talk much on the phone, but just seeing them at the events, I developed relationships with the other coaches."

Was there a second-place finisher?

"It was pretty close between all of them. I liked Kansas a lot, and I also liked UConn and Florida a whole lot. Those schools, with the exception of Kansas, have pretty much been on me since I started high school."

So why not UConn? Were Jim Calhoun's health issues an issue?

"No, not at all. I know he missed some games this year, but Coach Calhoun assured me he'd be there. Everyone has health problems some time. It's a great program, great history, a lot of NBA players. But my heart was with Kentucky."

Did he simply feel he'd have a better chance of making a run to the Final Four with whoever is at Kentucky next year, as opposed to UConn

"Not really, not so much. UConn has a lot of great players also. I just felt I'd probably fit in more at Kentucky."

How about the fact that five UK players from this year have already declared for the NBA draft. Was that a worry?

"I'm 100-percent confident in Coach Cal and his ability to recruit players and get players, and his ability to take teams from not being so great and inexperienced to winning games. That's what he did with this year's team. I felt whoever I'm fortunate enough to play with this year, he'll have the ability to do the same thing."

So there you have it: Brandon Knight is a Wildcat.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Knight Call

Brandon Knight, arguably the No. 1 recruit in the nation, will announce his collegiate decision Wednesday at 4 p.m. It will be televised on ESPNU. After that, the rest of the dominos (Josh Selby, Cory Joseph, C.J. Leslie, Doron Lamb, etc.) will fall.

For UConn fans crossing their fingers for Knight to come to Storrs, here's a bit of news: there has been contact between Knight and the UConn staff within the last day or two. That may not mean anything, but it's all we've got right now.

Stay tuned ...

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sailin' Away to Key Largo ...

... Well, not actually sailing, but that's where we're heading to for the week. With this week being the start of national signing period, and with UConn hopeful (but doubtful) Brandon Knight announcing his collegiate choice on Wednesday on ESPNU, it would seem to be a bad time for me to take a vacation. But, we like to escape the (sorta) cold weather at least once each year, and I can't exactly do that from November to March (although this year ... never mind). Plus, it's the wife and my last chance to get away before we welcome our newest addition, a boy, some time in early July.

But enough about me. Here's some links on another pair of UConn recruits, recent commit Shabazz Napier, who had himself a night the other night, and undecided Corey Joseph, courtesy of FOB (Friend of Blog) Chris O.

Make sure to check in on the Register website next week, as Dave Solomon and other writers will keep tabs on who commits to UConn, etc. I'll be back next Saturday.

We had it all/Just like Bogey and Bacall ...

Labels: , ,

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ratings Game

I've never liked the whole TV ratings game. If an event doesn't get good ratings, is it any less important to the players and fans who invested in it. We're always told how the 2008 World Series was the lowest-rated in history. Tell that to the 3 million fans who lined the streets of Philly after the Phillies won the city its first major sports championship in 25 years. (Take that, Eagles fans).

That said, I found it interesting that, according to CBS, its Final Four ratings from Saturday were higher than last year's. I figured non-glamorous teams like Butler and West Virginia might not garner big numbers, but they did better than last year's, which featured marquee names like North Carolina, Michigan State, Villanova and (of course) UConn.

Here's CBS' press release:

CBS Sports’ coverage of the Final Four on Saturday earned an average overnight household rating/share of 9.7/19, up +8% from a 9.0/18 last year. The 9.7/19 is the highest average rating for the Final Four since a 10.9/19 in 2005.

The first game (6:00-8:30 PM, ET), with Butler beating Michigan State, earned an average overnight household rating/share of 9.4/20, up +8% versus an 8.7/18 in 2009 (Michigan St.-Connecticut). This 9.4/20 is the highest rating in the window since a 9.5/19 in 2006 (Florida-George Mason).

The second game (9:00-11:15 PM, ET), featuring Duke’s victory over West Virginia delivered a 10.0/18, up +8% from 9.3/17 last year (North Carolina-Villanova). This 10.0/18 is the best rating in the window since an 11.4/19 in 2005 (North Carolina-Michigan State).

CBS Sports’ overall average overnight household rating/share for the tournament-to-date is a 6.2/13, up +2% compared to last year’s 6.1/13.

Guess Nielsen families like underdogs like Butler.

Friday, April 2, 2010

What Napier's Coach Thinks

Just spoke with Lawrence Academy coach Kevin Wiercinski about new UConn commit Shabazz Napier. Here's some of what he had to say:

"He’s a good kid and an exciting player, that’s for sure. He's probably one of the more dynamic point guards around. He's exciting athletically: as quick as they come, handles the ball real well, right hand/left hand, and he's a very good shooter with excellent range. He makes all the open ones and the tough ones, too. He's got a real ability to warm up in a hurry. And he's such a great penetrator ... He's really dynamic on the offensive end, and you add that to how instinctual he is, his anticipation is off the charts, and he's a real gamer. When the chips are down, he doesn't shy away from that stuff at all."

Wiercinski said Nabazz averaged 21 points, just under six assists, just under four rebounds and 4.5 steals per game this season. I've seen him listed anywhere from 5-foot-10 to 6-1, and the official word from Wiercinski is he's "approaching 6 feet. He's all of 5-11, at least ... he's slight, about 160, 165 pounds."

At that size, can he step in right away and contribute for the Huskies?

"I think so, the way he can shoot it. At worst, he's a guy who can handle ball, get you into your offense, push the tempo, those type of things. Whether he's going to be able to score on penetration at that level remains to be seen. In the halfcourt, it's going to be more difficult for him with all the trees in the middle at the Big East level."

Shabazz is a Boston kid who attended Charlestown High for three years and Lawrence Academy for two. He's listed as a junior, but Lawrence is going through the process of reclassifying him so that he can graduate in June. It looks like all but a sure thing.

"We've still got some things to work thorugh on our end," Wiercinski said. "Coming out of Charlestown, being as young as he was anyway, he was needing a lot of attention at that point and we backed him up. He's a very capable student. He struggled at Charlestown for a variety of reasons, he came to us and seemed to do well."

Shabazz is fine with his core courses as it stands now, but a potential change in the NCAA clearinghouse standards that could come within the next week or two might change that. With that in mind, the school is trying to graduate Shabazz this June while he's still eligible under the current standards.

"We need to make a formal proposal to the department chair's committee," Wiercinski said. "Knowing this may be something that was going to be on the horizon, we're going to our internal academic people to get the stamp of approval so he can graduate in June. It's really just the formality of it all."

UConn's scholarship offer would stand for next year, too, but Wiercinzki is all but positive that Shabazz will be in Storrs this fall.

Shabazz, who made an unofficial visit to UConn on Feb. 28 to see the Louisville game, was also courted by several other "New England schools," per Wiercinski. But UConn was the only one he truly considered.

"When he looks at Coach Calhoun, the school, the league, the guys on the roster they’ve got, their tradition, all of it – he looks at it like anyone would, 'What an oppotunity, I'm excited.' Given the year UConn had, he's tickled by the fact that he thinks, coach thinks he’s a guy that can come in (and help the team) go from struggling, to being a guy to help them get back to where UConn is so used to being."

Labels: , ,

Napier is Class of 2010

Just got word that Shabazz Napier is a Class of 2010 recruit.


Napier Commits to UConn

Shabazz Napier, a 5-foot-10, 155-pound Class of 2011 point guard out of Lawrence Academy in Groton, Mass., has committed to UConn.

Napier visited Storrs on Feb. 28 for the Louisville game. At the time, there was thought he might be able to enroll at UConn next fall. Not sure if that's still the case, but I'll look into it.

More to come ...


Thursday, April 1, 2010

No Sticks

Sitting here watching the NCAA Final Four dunk contest on ESPN and it just doesn't seem right that Stanley Robinson isn't participating.

Well, Sticks was asked, I'm told, but declined the invitation, apparently for logistical reasons (plane flight, etc.) as much as anything else.

By the way: maybe I'm getting old, but are dunk contests just plain boring these days? I mean, there's really not much more that can be done. To me, the NBA slam dunk contest is like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue: it was great and exciting when I was 14, but now there's a certain sameness to it all, as impressive as both may look.

There's an analogy for ya, eh?


Selby, Lamb on UConn

Intrepid Register reporter Jim Fuller was out in Dayton, Ohio covering the women's team earlier this week, then took a drive down to Columbus to cover the boys and girls McDonald's All-American games.

Here's what some of the UConn men's prospective recruits -- Josh Selby and Doron Lamb, in particular -- had to say about the UConn program.

Labels: ,