Saturday, October 30, 2010

Boatright Seems Right

Spoke with Ryan Boatright today prior to UConn's practice. Seems like a nice, grounded kid -- despite all the recruiting controversy he's been through. Also sounds like he's ready to make a decision -- which is good news for UConn.

Boatright has two visits left -- UNLV next week, and Oklahoma at a later date. It's possible he won't take either.

"If I'm feeling this, and I commit, I'm not going to take them," Boatright said. "I don't know yet. Me and my mom are going to sit down and talk about it."

Boatright, of course, de-committed from West Virginia last week only a few days after giving Bob Huggins a verbal commitment. The reason: Jabarie Hinds, another point guard (and UConn target) committed just two days later, creating a logjam at the position in Morgantown.

It's not the first time that Boatright seemed poised to attend a school but wound up not doing so. Remember when then-USC coach Tim Floyd created a stir when he recruited a 13-year-old kid out of Aurora, Ill.? That kid was Boatright.

However, Ryan's mother, Tanesha, stresses that her son never actually de-committed from USC. Rather, when Floyd resigned amid USC's recruiting scandal, Ryan decided to re-open his recruiting (though some say USC had stopped recruiting him by that time, anyway).

"It's been hard as a mom to watch him go through the USC thing early," Tanesha said on Saturday. "I wouldn't change it. I think it made him who he is today. People kept saying he de-committed again. He didn't de-commit from USC, he was in eighth grade. We didn't leave USC, Tim Floyd left. It wasn't a de-commitment. Then, going through the West Virginia thing was hard. He was excited, I was excited. We didn't think it would end up that way."

But it did, and now Boatright is in Storrs on an official visit. He went to the football game last night (where, ironically, UConn beat West Virginia in overtime), and watched the Huskies' practice today.

"It's going real well," Boatright said. "I'm enjoying the practices, (hanging with) players, stuff like that."

He said UConn was "always on the radar," and that there's plenty to like about the program.

"It's UConn. Coach Calhoun, all the pros, the program, period. It's my style of play, up-and-down, he plays two guards all the time. It's a good fit."

Boatright feels there will be playing time available next season when Kemba Walker likely leaves for the NBA.

"He's a great player, he will be leaving," Boatright predicted. "Calhoun says we need another guard, and I feel like I can fit in."

His strengths?

"I'm quick, I've always been able to dribble, I'm a decent shooter, and I'm a good finisher around the rim. I'm real athletic."

Tanesha Boatright noted that her son has "always had an interest in UConn."

"I kind of had a 'mommy' moment yesterday on the plane, like, 'We're going to UConn!' We have a different expectation now, coming out of the first situation. Our eyes are a little open, and he's kind of a little different."

"As a mom, I want him to go somewhere where he's going to be challenged, to be the best he can be, somewhere where he's going to be surrounded by people who are going to push him to be excellent on the court and off the court. And I’m pushing for the education. A lot of kids got it, but a lot of kids don't go to the pros. I want to go somewhere where he's got the best of both worlds.

As for the West Virginia situation, Tanesha said: "We knew that they were recruiting (Jabarie), but we didn't think they would take both of them. Since we committed first … he just looked at it like, 'When I committed, it wasn't what it was.' When he committed, there was no him, (Jabarie) and the other two point guards. The situation changed when they took that other commitment. I told him, 'analyze it, think about it.' He came back and said, 'Mom, I don't think it's going to work for me.'"

UConn, however, might work out just fine.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Might as Well Jump (Shoot)

First, a few personal observations from today's UConn practice, virtually all of which was open to the media:

***The Huskies will shoot the ball better this season. Or at least they have better shooters. Whether some of the freshmen will be able to get their shot off and make it when the lights are on is a different story, but they've got the ability.

Jeremy Lamb has a feather-soft touch, though he's apparently been struggling in practice lately. Niels Giffey knocked down a couple of impressive 3's from the top of the key today, too. Kemba Walker's jumper looked a bit erratic at times, but as practice progressed, he started knocking down shots. Tyler Olander boasts a pretty mid-range jumper, but he'll likely step back for some treys this year, too.

"I think we're much more of a jump-shooting team," said Jim Calhoun. "We took 10 3's per game last year, the lowest in at least 10 years, probably more. And, we shot 30 percent … I think we have good 3-point shooters. If we shoot 18 3-pointers a game, the guy who it will get to the most will be me."

(Actually, the Huskies averaged about 12 3-pointers per game last year and shot at a 31 percent rate overall and 29 percent in conference play. But then, numbers were never Calhoun's strong suit).

Clearly, Calhoun would prefer a more physical team that gets inside hoops, stickbacks and garbage buckets like in years past. But this year's personnel dictates a different style of play, and he will adjust -- albeit somewhat grudgingly.

Said Walker: "Being that we have so many good penetrators – me, 'Bazz and Donnell are going to be penetrating and getting guys open shots. I think there's going to be a lot more jump shots, a lot more 3's."

Said Olander: "We have a lot of guys on this team who can shoot. Everybody can hit a mid-range shot, and we've got a lot of guys who can step back and hit 3's, too. We're just a good offensive team all-around."

***The foul shooting was better. After the team failed to hit the required 7 of 10 freebies the first time around, they knocked down 18 in a row the next time before Roscoe Smith finally missed, ending practice.

***Donnell Beverly didn't practice today and hasn't for the past five days. Calhoun hopes to have him back out on the floor soon.

***The Huskies have been working on playing zone defense lately. Again, not one of Calhoun's favorite styles of play, but probably necessary for a team not as tall or as athletic as past UConn squads.

Here's some of what Calhoun had to day:

"We will not be the best team we can be in November, nor December. We're going to have be the best team we can be somewhere in January, February."

***(on Olander): "He's had a really good stretch. He's been, arguably, all-around our best offensive big guy. He sets great screens, he shoots the ball, he's done a terrific job."

***(on Niels Giffey) "He's like a 'glue' player ... He's a great guy to have at the end of the game, because you're not going to steal it from him, he'll make foul shots. We probably need him to be a little more offensive-minded. I told him he played like John Havlicek, in the sense that he runs on every single play, and he didn't know who John Havlicek was, which is a bit of a problem."

Said Giffey: "I think it's a very good thing. He's saying that I've got ability to keep the team together: passing the ball, doing everything that needs to be (done) to play team basketball. But that doesn't mean I can't score."

***Calhoun went out of his way to praise Jamal Coombs-McDaniel's recent play.

"He's a guy I've really ridden, probably from day eight or nine of last year. He's really, really improved and is trying to do the right things. Does he always do it? No. But he's trying to do the right things, and I think that's important."

***The Huskies are apparently recruiting another player in Germany. I can confirm this, as I called Andre LaFleur the other day and he had to call back, since he was on the Autobahn at the time.

***According to Calhoun, Jerome Dyson will be going to the 'D' League, having been encouraged to do so by Oklahoma City. He's not sure about what Stanley Robinson's plans are, though the coach says Sticks doesn't want to play in the 'D' League.

***Enosch Wolf has attended a few practices over the past couple of weeks.

"It's nice to know we'll have a nice, big addition to the program. If he's anywhere near as productive as Niels, it would be more than helpful."

***Calhoun was asked about UConn's Graduation Success Rate (GSR), which is 31 for players who entered school between 2000 and 2006.

"We've had more kids leave early than anybody over the past 10 years. That's a problem, and it's going to be a problem. Are you going to call Ray (Allen) in and say, 'if you had stayed here, you would have made a lot more money?'"

"I believe in the APR, I believe in the graduation rates. But I don't believe that the coach, who is not an advisor, not an admissions director, doesn't design the courses, I don't tutor … and yet, it's our responsibility to get the graduation rate (up)."

"I don't feel, in my heart and soul, that we've let that many kids down."

***While acknowledging that we are in a 'what have you done for me lately' sports world, Calhoun managed to give some props to UConn football coach Randy Edsall.

"I love coaching (these kids). I love their potential. But, I think potential is not the way we run our program. It's not the way sport is thought of. When I say, 'two years ago we were in the Final Four.' Quite frankly, nobody gives a (bleep) … One of our coaches has done a fabulous job in football, three or four bowl games in a row, etc., he's brought a lot of enthusiasm. But people want 'today.' But that's every sport, it's not just here."

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Friday, October 22, 2010

My Preseason Top 25

Sadly, I won’t be exercising my Constitutional right to vote this year. Simply haven’t registered, meaning Linda McMahon will have one less vote against her.

For the second straight year, however, I will be Connecticut’s AP Top 25 men’s college basketball voter. At least I’ve prioritized the important things to vote for in this world.

Will I have a chance to vote for UConn at some point this season? Doesn’t look too likely, but you never know. In fact, I’m not too sure how many Big East teams I’ll be voting for throughout the winter. I normally give the Big East a lot of love, because I firmly believe that, year-in and year-out, it is the best conference in the country. This year, I’m not so sure.

Conversely, I’m usually pretty tepid on the Big 10. Other than Michigan State, it seems the conference disappoints more often than not. However, it’s impossible to ignore how stacked the Big 10 is this season. Michigan State, Ohio State and Illinois all have legit Final Four aspirations. Purdue would have, too, if not for Robbie Hummel’s injury. The Boilermakers should still be pretty strong, however.

Anyway, here’s the preseason Top 25 ballot I’ll be submitting later today. First regular season ballot will be submitted on Nov. 15.

1. Duke Picking a repeat champion can be the easy way out, but not with this team. I really like Kyle Singler and the length and skills he brings to the table.
2. Michigan State Did you know that Tom Izzo and Jim Calhoun are “dear, dear friends” … at least according to Calhoun.
3. Ohio State My brother, an OSU alum who lives in Columbus, is getting married in two weeks. Maybe he’ll honeymoon in Houston in early April.
4. Kansas State Curtis Kelly keeps keepin’ on! More importantly for K-State, so does Jacob Pullen.
5. Pittsburgh A young UConn team will get thrown to the fire in its Big East opener on Dec. 27 at Pitt. Merry Christmas, Huskies!!!
6. Villanova Scottie Reynolds is gone – finally – but the two Coreys are still around. Stokes and Fisher, not Haim and Feldman.
7. Kansas Josh Selby hasn’t been cleared by the NCAA yet. If and when he is, Jayhawks will be a national title contender.
8. North Carolina Last year’s NIT runners-up will be back in their usual perch behind freshman stud Harrison Barnes.
9. Illinois Top scorer, rebounder, assist man and shot-blocker are all back for Illini.
10. Kentucky John Calipari will try to do it with a bunch of fab freshmen again – two of whom (Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb) he swiped from under UConn’s nose.
11. BYU With Jimmer Fredette back in tow, these will be the best Cougars this side of Demi Moore and Courtney Cox.

12. Florida Watch out for some Kenny Boynton this year.
13. Syracuse No Wes Johnson, but everyone else is back … and frosh Fab Melo may be Big East’s best big man.
14. Missouri It’s never fun playing Mike Anderson’s Tigers, who love to run and push the ball up the floor as much as any team.
15. Washington Here’s betting that point guard Isaiah Thomas is currently the most popular person by that name in the basketball world.
16. Purdue No Hummel, but with E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, Boilermakers will still be good.
17. Virginia Tech Hokies won’t be getting yet another disappointing NIT phone call on Selection Sunday this time around.
18. Gonzaga Led by forward Elias Harris, they’ll be strong again, as has become the norm.
19. Memphis Tigers hope to Will (Coleman, Witherspoon, Barton) their way to victory this season.
20. Butler Notice the surname “Howard” is big in sports these days – Dwight, Ryan, Tim … and now Bulldogs’ forward Matt.
21. Baylor If not for scandal surrounding program, I might have them quite a bit higher.
22. Tennessee So Bruce Pearl lied to NCAA investigators? So did Patrick Sellers and Beau Archibald, and they're both out of jobs. Someone remind me why Pearl is still employed?
23. Georgetown He’s a nice player, don’t get me wrong, but if Austin Freeman is the Big East preseason player of the year, the conference is a bit down.
24. Temple Make it a point some time to check out Juan Fernandez, who’s a slightly taller version of former Owl star Pepe Sanchez.
25. San Diego State Let’s see if Tony Gwynn can coach Stephen Strasburg & Co. to the tournament. Oops, wrong sport.

And here's the preseason All-America team I'll be submitting. Normally, I don't like to vote for a freshman on a preseason team, but I'll make an exception in the case of North Carolina's Harrison Barnes.

Kyle Singler, Duke
Kalin Lucas, Michigan State
Jacob Pullen, Kansas State
Jimmer Fredette, BYU
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Calhoun, Oriakhi at Media Day

Here's some video footage from today's Big East media day.

Jim Calhoun talks about the newcomers on this year's team:

And Alex Oriakhi talks about how key he will be to the Huskies' fortunes this season.

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The 'Sensational' 6 (Soon to be 7)?

Here's Jim Calhoun's review of most of the newcomers on this year's team. As usual, there is undoubtedly some hyperbole here. But it's also clear that Calhoun really likes this bunch.

***Jeremy Lamb is "in the mold of Ray and Rip when they came. He could lead us in scoring."

***Shabazz Napier and junior captain Kemba Walker could share the backcourt a lot this winter, despite their relative lack of height.

"They're just so good, we can't keep them off the floor," Calhoun said. "(Napier is) quick and fast. Those two don't always go together, but he is quick and fast."

***Tyler Olander could "make a real big splash for us. In four days of practice, he's been our best shooter and second-leading rebounder. He's far and away the biggest surprise … absolutely sensational."

Calhoun isn't the only one singing Olander's praises.

"He might be the leading scorer out of all our freshmen," said Walker, "just because he's such a match-up problem and he shoots the ball so well."

***Roscoe Smith "can get to the rim," and may be the key player of this frosh group.

***Niels Giffey is "much more athletic than you think," and will play both the two and the three.

***Michael Bradley "may take a little bit of time," according to Calhoun.

***And 7-foot-1 German import Enosch Wolf is eligible to play this fall at Wilbraham & Monson and will be eligible to join the Huskies on Dec. 17.

***Austin Freeman may be a somewhat surprising choice as Big East preseason player of the year, but not to UConn fans.

Who could forget last January at Georgetown, when Freeman scored 28 of his career-high 33 points in the latter half to help the Hoyas bounce back from a 17-point halftime deficit and beat the Huskies.

Was that the breakout game of Freeman's career?

"I think it was," Freeman said, "because we were down, and just me taking the initiative to try to take over a game also helped me out. Just doing whatever I had to do to help my team win a game. It's probably one of my better games."

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More Media Day Musings

Here's what we've got so far from this year's Big East media day at the Madison Square Garden theater:

***As we're sure you know by now, UConn was picked by the league's coaches to finish 10th out of 16 teams. Their reactions:


"First time in a long time I've got a chance to be coach of the year. That's the way you've got to do it. You've got to be No. 8 or below, otherwise it's not going to happen."

"We're probably where we belong. Seton Hall has more known answers than we do at this particular time. We could have been 11th or 12th … today.

"If we were 12th, that would have been OK. I wouldn't tell my players that. We are Connecticut, we have won a couple of games. But right now, the people beyond Kemba … you don't know.

"Not as much respect for the name as I would have liked. Conversely, if you made us 12th … whether I live with it or don't live with it, you picked us third last year, and we weren't third. We should have been fifth, and we screwed it up. We're a better team than what we played.

"We're the most unknown team in the league. I truly believe that.

"I like to be first, though. You guys aren't that smart, but you aren't that dumb, either. You've got a pretty good idea that you have some talent up there and you're going to win some games. Right now, you're saying we're not going to make the NCAA tournament – they're not going to take 10 teams. You're saying that maybe we can qualify for the NIT. I think we can do more than that."

(Umm, coach … when you say "you guys," you do realize that this it the coaches' poll, not the media poll. But I digress)


"It's going to make us work harder, just give us the will to win.

(Is 10th place fair?) "Yeah, I think so, just because we have a lot of freshmen who aren't ranked as high as a lot of other freshmen. I think it's fair enough. I expected us to be 12th or something. I'll take 10th, and hope we have the chance to win some games."


"We've got a lot of young players, a lot of guys that people don't really know. To me, we have a lot of guys that can play. I think we might surprise a lot of people this year."


"I love it. We use that as motivation at the gym. We just have to play with a chip on our shoulder every night."

***Calhoun had a few poignant moments regarding the NCAA investigation and all it's entailed.

He was asked what the worst part of the entire ordeal has been, and he said there was only one thing that truly bothered him.

"At Ford Field in Detroit (at the 2009 Final Four), 72,000 people and hearing a chant of 'Cheater' by the whole Michigan State section. My grandchildren were in the crowd, not in that particular section, probably didn't hear a word. But I did. I was very sensitive to that. I may be a lot of things – profane, I can give you a lot of different things I am. But that word, I'm not. That was, to me, the worst thing."

But he insisted that the entire process has only emboldened him.

"The worst thing to do, at least my friends tell me, is to come after me. I'm usually better coming out of a corner than I am up on a pedestal. I'm a natural underdog, I guess – sometimes for no apparent reason. And if I can't be the underdog, I'll make myself the underdog, some way or another."

***Oh, there's another thing Calhoun isn't too pleased about: opening the Big East season on Dec. 27, at Pittsburgh.

"I don't like playing two days after Christmas, I don't care where it's at. And then playing New Year's Eve (at home vs. South Florida) … I don't like it. It puts us in a hole. No one designed it that way, but we're a young team.

"How do you eliminate that? I'll eliminate it: 16 games. I think we should have a preseason. We need to protect the properties of the terrific institutions throughout our league. I just don't think that Connecticut should be playing Pittsburgh – or anybody – on Dec. 27. For us, it happens to hurt more, but that's not malice. We've got to get those games in.

"I don't like New Year's Eve, anyway. I don't know what the fuss is all about."

***Due to some overcrowding at different tables, Calhoun met with the media at a table that had the West Virginia banner behind it (Bob Huggins would take the seat for the second half of the session).

This led to the "Oops!" moment of the day. A young female reporter, perhaps still in college, asked Calhoun: "Coach, despite the graduation of Da'Sean Butler, do you think you can get back to the Final Four like you did last year."

Obviously, she thought Calhoun was the West Virginia coach. Calhoun handled it with aplomb – and certainly a lot better than if someone like me had asked the question – pointing out that UConn had been to the Final Four two years ago and essentially ignoring the fact that Da'Sean Butler never played at UConn.

However, maybe this explains why Jabarie Hinds chose West Virginia over UConn. Maybe he thought he was committing to Calhoun, not Huggins! OK, maybe not.

More to come later ...

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They're No. 10

The UConn men's basketball team has been picked to finish 10th in the Big East conference this season, according to the league's 2010-11 preseason coaches' poll.

The Huskies garnered a total of 113 points, behind Louisville and Marquette (each tied for eighth with 121 points) and ahead of Seton Hall (104).

Pittsburgh is the choice to win the conference title, garnering 12 first-place votes. Villanova is picked to finish second, Syracuse third, Georgetown fourth and West Virginia fifth.

Better news for UConn: Kemba Walker has been selected to the preseason all-Big East first team. Joining Walker, a junior point guard, on the first team are Georgetown's Austin Freeman (the player of the year), Pitt's Ashton Gibbs, Seton Hall's Jeremy Hazell, Villanova's Corey Fisher and WVU's Kevin Jones.

Notre Dame's Tim Abromaitis, a Farmington native, was selected to the second team.
Syracuse's Fab Melo has been selected as the preseason rookie of the year.

More to come from MSG ...


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

UConn Misses Another Jabari(e)

Jim Calhoun seemed a bit weary and a bit grumpier than normal at UConn's first practice of the season on Saturday. No doubt, part of it had to do with his long, long day of meeting with the NCAA the day before in Indianapolis, followed by a late-night flight home and an early arrival at Gampel Pavilion that morning.

But part of it may also have to do with what he sees -- or doesn't see -- in his program right now. The Huskies are extremely young and inexperienced this season and will be forced to rely heavily on players who have either never played or played very little at this level.

Then there's the lingering recruiting issues with the program. The Huskies swung and missed at a half-dozen top recruits over the past six months. Yes, they landed Roscoe Smith, a highly-touted forward out of Baltimore. But today -- not long after losing out on Jabari Brown to Oregon -- they missed on another recruit who looked like a pretty good bet to be a Husky.

Jabarie Hinds, a product of Mount Vernon (N.Y.) High, chose West Virginia over the Huskies. Hinds is said to be one of the top two players to play under Bob Cimmino at Mount Vernon. The other? Ben Gordon. But apparently, Gordon's influence couldn't sway Hinds to Storrs. Kevin Jones, a sophomore forward at WVU who also went to Mount Vernon, apparently wielded more influence.

So, the Huskies strike out on the recruiting trail once again. A lot of this can be remedied if they're able to land Andre Drummond, the 6-foot-11 stud out of Middletown. While Drummond seemingly spends more time on the UConn campus than some professors, it's no sure shot that he'll ever even attend college. Some believe Drummond may turn pro after a year at prep school.

Anyway, it's my belief that Jim Calhoun is gearing up for one more run at a Final Four, with Drummond being the centerpiece. If UConn doesn't land Drummond, I'm not sure how much longer he's prepared to coach this team. But that is 100-percent my opinion and not based on any inside knowledge.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Practice Video

Ever wonder what it's like watching a UConn basketball practice? Well, here's a small sampling.

Here, freshman Niels Giffey gets a somewhat rude introduction to the Huskies' rebounding/box-out drill. Giffey struggles a bit against bigger players like Alex Oriakhi and Tyler Olander. It's an exhausting drill; players must box out and nab a certain amount of rebounds. Until they reach that number, they must stay in and continue to box out and fight for boards. Quite an eye-opener for freshmen like Giffey.

One interesting thing to note here: at the end, when Giffey and Olander both fall to the ground, the entire team rushes to help them up. I noticed this a few times during practice today. Speaks a bit about the team's cohesiveness.

And here's Jim Calhoun, addressing the media after practice:

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Indianapolis ... .500?

Here's what Jim Calhoun had to say (or not say) when asked about meeting with the NCAA committee on infractions on Friday:

"I'm here to coach basketball, and that's what I'm doing right now – and will continue to do that."

And that's about it. When pressed for more details, or if his nearly 14 hours of meetings with the NCAA took longer than expected, he pretty much just repeated the "happy to be here" routine.

The deepest Calhoun got into anything about Friday in Indy was when he veered off-topic a bit while talking about new coaches Kevin Ollie and Glen Miller.

"I saw guys yesterday who I miss, certainly, guys who were here before who I miss as people," he said, referring, of course, to Patrick Sellers and Beau Archibald. "They were great for the program. But, like a lot of things, the changes that occurred – how they occurred is not important – I think both guys have brought in a different kind of perspective, which is always good. The enthusiasm of Kevin, and the mind of Glen, you can't duplicate that."

Ah yes, Ollie definitely brings enthusiasm. That was evident at one point in practice as he preached defensive positioning. Quite frankly, he was as vocal as I've ever seen a UConn assistant coach in my four years on the beat.

"We've kind of put him in charge of that a little more, because he was such a good defender, at the highest level," Calhoun said of Ollie.

Some more notes 'n quotes from today's first practice:

***Calhoun said he arrived back from Indy around 2:30 a.m. and was at Gampel by 6:30for the 10:30 practice.

"I've looked forward to this day, because I think there are some interesting things that could happen. They didn't happen today, so I'm not going to make any kind of proclamation. But, I saw some things today. George (Blaney) keeps preaching patience. If George and I live another 10 years, I think in that 10th year, he'll still be preaching patience to me. I just want it all at once, obviously. That's who we are, and the way I'm built."

Did any particular player surprise Calhoun?

"No. I can't say anybody shocked me, one way or another … You don't know if a kid is just trying to please you when you get on him. Anytime somebody plays to please you, it never works out. They've got to play within what you're trying to do, as opposed to pleasing you personally."

"Kevin's a little impatient, too," the coach added, "which I kind of like about him. There are a lot of things I like about Kevin Ollie, and I like the impatience."

***The Huskies will be back at practice today at 9 a.m. Wednesday is the annual Big East media day at Madison Square Garden. Kemba Walker, Donnell Beverly and Alex Oriakhi are expected to join Calhoun for the trip.

***Oh, Calhoun did add this to reporters about missing First Night on Friday for the first time in his career: "I know you missed me last night, but I have to tell you, I can't reciprocate that feeling."

***Walker didn't think Calhoun was any feistier today than normal.

"He was intense, though," Walker said. "He was very intense today. I don't think it was more than any other time. He was just Coach."

Alex Oriakhi saw a little bit of a difference -- through the eyes of the team's six freshmen.

"I wanted to see how the freshmen react, because now they're getting to see the real coach," Oriakhi said. "He's not the nice guy they saw in the summer and preseason. Now, he's yelling a lot at the freshmen for making little mistakes. Hopefully, they'll learn from that, don't take it personal and just try to get you better."

***Walker on how the freshmen reacted to first practice.

"It's kind of what I expected. First day, a lot of guys were 'The Man' on their high school teams, did whatever they want, just like any other guy coming into college. It's different coming into college."

Freshman Tyler Olander definitely seemed a bit gassed by the end of practice.

"I'm not in high school anymore," he noted. "This is college, you've got to step up and be a man now."

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Calhoun Glad to be Back

Jim Calhoun wouldn't comment on his long day in Indianapolis at practice today.

He said he got back home at about 2:30 a.m., was at Gampel at 6:30 a.m. and was simply happy to be back coaching the team. Practice started at 10:30 a.m. and ended just after 2 p.m., extended due to some poor free throw shooting. Today, he said, was a day he's been looking forward to for a long while.

We'll have some quotes from Calhoun up on the blog shortly. Overall, the coach said he saw lots of positive glimpses today – but never really expounded on what he liked. He also realized the team needs a lot of work.

I thought Calhoun was a bit peppier than normal. Seemed to raise his voice a little more, drop a few more "F" bombs. In all seriousness, he hasn't done that a whole lot in practice over the last couple of years, at least from what I've seen. Today, he seemed to be setting a real no-nonsense tone for the season.

He certainly couldn't have liked what he saw from the team at the foul line. To end practice, all 11 scholarship players have to combine to make eight free throws. Fall short, run suicides. Well, the Huskies fell short six times, making for a bunch of suicides and extending practice a good 25 minutes. Twice, Kemba Walker stepped to the line as the final shooter to hit the eighth freebie. Both times, he missed.

"Fourteen more practices until our first game, and we can't make eight free throws!" Calhoun bellowed. "If the fifteen teams in the Big East could see this, they'll foul us like hell!"

We'll have some video footage of practice, as well as of Calhoun, in a couple of hours.

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Friday, October 15, 2010

Walker ... Texas Rangers

Kemba Walker is introduced to the crowd of about 7,000 at First Night festivities on Friday at Gampel Pavilion. He definitely drew the biggest ovation of the night.

And as I post this video, the Texas Rangers are squandering their lead to the Yankees.


Late Show

No surprise appearance by Jim Calhoun tonight. Instead, we get rapper Ricky Blaze. Great.

We're told that Calhoun is still meeting with the NCAA as we speak out in Indianapolis. It's been a long day for the UConn coach, though details are few at this hour. George Blaney said he spoke with Calhoun earlier today "just to say 'hello'," but offered no other details.

Geno Auriemma on if the NCAA investigation would affect UConn's reputation.

"If you can put a good product on the floor, do it the right way and when
blips come or bumps in the road come and you handle them like we're handling it
now, I think people appreciate that," Auriemma said.

We'll be back a little later with more details.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Take Me to Your Leader

If we're extolling Kemba Walker's vocal leadership virtues in March as the Huskies head to the NCAA tournament, we can look back on today at the Husky Run as perhaps the first example that this is very much Walker's team.

Prior to the start of the Husky Run, Walker stepped up on to a stump and addressed the crowd of about 50 fans/runners.

"On behalf of the team, I want to thank you for coming out and doing the Husky Run with us," he said.

A small gesture of gratitude, to be sure, but still unique. George Blaney can't recall any great UConn player from years past -- not Ray Allen, not Caron Butler, not Khalid El-Amin, not A.J. Price, certainly not Jerome Dyson -- ever doing something similar.

"It's nice that your best player is also a great person," director of basketball administration Glen Miller said.

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Here's Niels ...

Here's a quick interview with Niels Giffey at today's Husky Run. Giffey talks about his personal expectations for the upcoming season, and marvels at how well this year's group gets along. His parents, Frank and Christina, are here from Germany for a couple of weeks while on vacation.

Giffey finished tied for last among scholarship players at the Husky Run with a time of 23:44. That surprised some people, including George Blaney, who figured maybe Giffey got lost on the course. Alas, he didn't get lost -- seems some of his teammates may have taken a short cut or two on their respective runs.


Run Like Hell

Couple of quick tidbits from today's Husky Run ...

Here's how they finished:

1. Kyle Bailey, 21:12
2. Tyler Olander, 21:15
3. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, 21:22
4. Shabazz Napier, 21:58
5. Alex Oriakhi, 22:10
6. Michael Bradley, 22:22
7. Charles Okwandu, 22:28
7. Roscoe Smith, 22:28
9. Kemba Walker, 23:44
10. Niels Giffey, 23:44
10. Jeremy Lamb, 23:44

The overall winner was a fella named Jim Rosenberger, who checked in at 17:22.

(We're hearing a few players may have cut a few corners, however)


***Jim Calhoun is not here today and isn't likely to be at Late Night Madness on Friday. He's hoping to return home late Friday night and be there for Saturday's first full practice.

***As of right now, the Huskies aren't expecting any recruits in the house on Friday night.

***We'll make too big a deal out of this, but it was impressive to see Kemba Walker stand on a stump just before the Husky Run began, get everyone's attention and thank all the fans and runners for coming out for the event. That's not something associate head coach George Blaney or anyone who's been around the program remembers any other player doing before. It does speak to his vocal leadership skills.

***Is this Walker's last season at UConn?

"Hopefully," he said, with a smile.

He doesn't mean that in a bad way, it's just that if his stock is impressive enough at the end of the season, he plans on doing the best thing for himself and his family and entering the NBA draft. But that's still a way's off.

***Donnell Beverly (hip surgery) didn't run on Friday, but he's been cleared to practice and has already been playing in pick-up games.

***Niels Giffey's parents, Frank and Christina, are here for a couple of weeks on vacation as their son adjusts to college life.

Check out the blog in a few hours for more, including video of Giffey and Walker talking about the upcoming season.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Run Runaway

The annual Husky Run will be held Wednesday, beginning and ending at Gampel Pavilion. We'll get a chance to see which members of this year's UConn team are in the best shape.

The run begins at 2 p.m, which is about an hour earlier than normal. Another difference this year: Jim Calhoun will not be in attendance. We were told a few days ago that Calhoun may head out to Indianapolis as early as Wednedsday.


Friday, October 8, 2010


UConn's response to the NCAA's allegations of recruiting violations was released today. It is available in complete form here.

The school and the NCAA enforcement staff have agreed that the time period for which the institution has been charged for failing to monitor its men's basketball program be reduced from four years to two years (2007-2009). The agreement came during UConn's pre-hearing conference with the enforcement staff on Sept. 21.

The enforcement staff also removed all references to impermissible calls placed by associate head coach George Blaney.

As for self-imposed penalties, the school has put its athletics programm on a two-year period of probation and docked the men's basketball one scholarship (from 13 to 12) for the this season and next.

In addition, reductions to the permissible number of coaches allowed to make telephone contacts with prospective student-athletes and "recruiting person days" have also been self-imposed.

UConn details in its response that the available evidence does not support the enforcement staff's charge that head men's basketball coach Jim Calhoun "failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance".

The university has also provided its conclusions to the unethical conduct charges that were brought against former members of the men's basketball staff.

More to come ...


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Brown to Decide Tomorrow

Jabari Brown, the 6-foot-5 shooting guard out of Oakland who made an official visit to UConn a couple of weeks ago, will make his college decision tomorrow on ESPNU. Brown will choose between Oregon, Arizona State, UConn, Washington and Georgia Tech.

We're hearing Arizona State is the leader in the clubhouse.


Out of My Brain at 5:15

Good morning, y’all. Yes, that time stamp is correct. It’s about 5:15 a.m. as I’m posting this blog entry. Been battling a bad cold (maybe a little bronchitis) for the past few days, and just can’t get to sleep. So, figured I’d turn on the computer and blog some thoughts on UConn. It’s fast approaching that time of the season, after all.

A week from today, the annual Husky Run will be held at Storrs. Two nights after that, Late Night Madness will unfold at Gampel Pavilion, with ESPN in the house, apparently focusing on the women’s team (and Jim Calhoun likely hundreds of miles away facing the NCAA committee on infractions in Indianapolis).

The following Wednesday is the annual Big East media day at Madison Square Garden. When the conference coaches poll is released that day, it’s likely UConn will find itself somewhere in the middle of the pack. Maybe seventh or eighth. Maybe a little higher … or a little lower.

It’s understandable, as after likely first-team preseason all-Big East point guard Kemba Walker, the Huskies will be filled with one question mark after another. Everyone else on the team will either be a veteran who hasn’t really done a whole lot, or a freshman – six, at least to start the season, with 7-foot German Enosch Wolf a possible mid-season addition as well.

Something tells me being picked in the middle of the pack this season will suit Calhoun just fine. Last year, after all, the Huskies were picked to finish third in the conference, even garnering a first-place vote. At Big East media day, Calhoun –half-jokingly, half-seriously, as only he can – said: "My fellow coaches have made a vow going back 12 years of making sure I never got coach of the year by making us third or better preseason. There seems to be a pact. New coaches come in and are told that, I think."

The Huskies, of course, wound up stumbling to a 7-11 league record, finishing 12th in the Big East. If Calhoun can get this team into the upper echelon of the conference this season, he’ll certainly be in line for coach of the year honors. And here’s the deal: I think he can.

I think UConn is going to be pretty good this season. Oh, there’ll be some growing pains. There may be a few ugly losses along the way. That season-opener against Steve Pikiell’s Stony Brook could be a real early-season test, with ‘embarrassing loss’ written all over it. It’ll take time for this team to gel.

But I think they will. Why? Well, it’s hardly a scientific reason, but here goes: I just don’t see a team with Jim Calhoun on the sidelines and Kemba Walker with the ball missing the NCAA tournament two years in a row. There, that’s it. Kinda simplistic, I know, but that’s my reasoning.

Calhoun hasn’t missed out on the Big Dance in consecutive seasons since 1988-89, when the Huskies backed up their NIT title with another trip to the NIT. Few, if any, coaches in America can will a team to victory better than him. Walker is on pace to graduate after this season, so there’s a huge chance this is his final season in Storrs. He’s a ferocious competitor who’ll want a better legacy than back-to-back NIT bids in his final two years.

Now, being a great competitor doesn’t exactly put the ball in the basket or control the boards. It means, however, finding a way to win. Last year, led by the talented-but-rudderless trio of Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards, UConn went 1-8 in games decided by five points or less. I don’t see a similar number being repeated this season. Really, can they get any worse?

Again, the Huskies will have to find answers. Someone will have to emerge as a 3-point threat. Walker is said to have improved his long-range shooting greatly, but UConn will need more than that. Perhaps freshmen Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and/or Roscoe Smith fit the bill. Maybe Jamal Coombs-McDaniel improves from last year’s 32-percent field-goal shooting.

UConn will have to rebound the ball, too, and that could be a problem. But I don’t see the somewhat odd departure of Ater Majok as being a huge loss. Yes, the Huskies could have used his 6-foot-11 length, but having a lot of size these days is a bit overrated. There are no dominant big men in the Big East this year. Still, Alex Oriakhi, Okwandu and, likely, at least one or two of the freshmen (Smith, Tyler Olander, Wolf?) will need step up.

I also think the Big East will be a little down this year. Certainly down from two years ago, and from a year ago, as well. Pittsburgh, Villanova and West Virginia appear to be the favorites right now, with Syracuse, Georgetown, Notre Dame, maybe even St. John's right in the mix. Count UConn among those teams, as well.

Bottom line, every returning UConn player will have to improve his game greatly – and that includes Walker. As terrific a player as he is, Walker has been prone to some inconsistency over the past two seasons. And the Huskies will need at least two or three – maybe more – of its freshmen to step up, big time. That’s a tough thing to ask for, but certainly not completely unreasonable.

With Jim Calhoun and Kemba Walker leading the way, I see it happening.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Opening the Vault

Big news out of Storrs today !!! ...

Ken Davis has written a coffee-table book -- not on coffee tables, but on the history of UConn men's basketball. Looks like a keeper. Here's the press release about the book, and a picture of the cover:

It took nearly a century for a tiny agricultural school in the hills to transform itself into the powerful state university that is UConn, and the Husky basketball program has been an integral part of the school’s rise.

But, “Connecticut basketball is really about the players and coaches who have brought the program though various eras, each dotted with superb stories and unforgettable memories,” says men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun in the foreword to the University of Connecticut Basketball Vault™: The History of the Huskies.

All of those players, coaches and unforgettable memories are here in this 144-page coffee-table book, designed to look like a treasured scrapbook. Opening the Vault is like getting a guided tour through your own personal Husky basketball museum, and who better to be your guide than veteran sportswriter Ken Davis, who has covered the University of Connecticut men’s basketball program since 1985. In the UConn Basketball Vault, Davis mixes great game coverage with behind-the-scenes anecdotes and personal stories to present a view of Husky hardwood history that you won’t find anywhere else.

Not only are all the great stories here, but you’ll also find “hands-on” replicas of unique memorabilia plucked from Connecticut’s extensive campus archives. Explore the book’s dozens of sleeves and pockets to discover a 1920-21 schedule booklet, a handwritten copy of the 1925 athletic budget, a 1948 telegram to the team from former captain Wally Luchuk, publicity questionnaires for stars like Art Quimby and Worthy Patterson, Ray Allen’s 1992 recruiting trip itinerary, program covers and tickets from both the Huskies’ national championships, and much more.

“This scrapbook of pictures and memorabilia, along with the UConn story written by Ken Davis, brings back lots of terrific memories,” says former star Ray Allen, who shares his thoughts in the afterword.

The University of Connecticut Basketball Vault™: The History of the Huskies is part of the Basketball Vault™ series of books from Whitman Publishing, LLC. The 144-page hardcover 12-inch by 10-inch book with slipcase is available for $49.95 in bookstores. The book can also be ordered online at

“All the games through all the seasons, and especially the championship seasons, are elements in a great story about a university and its basketball program,” says Calhoun. “Those games, and those championships, are what you’ll find in this journey through the years with the Connecticut basketball program. Enjoy the memories!!”

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