Friday, October 28, 2011

Observations from UConn Practice

The big news in practice today was Andre Drummond, who suffered a broken nose and mild concussion after a collision with new walk-on Brendan Allen. He'll be fitted for a mask on Monday and wear it for 6-8 weeks.

Drummond checked into the school infirmary on Friday and will stay overnight as a precaution. Seems highly doubtful he'll play in Wednesday's exhibition with AIC.

“We will not rush to have Andre for Wednesday or any target date,” said Jim Calhoun. “We want him ready for the whole year, that's what's important. To rush him back for an exhibition makes no sense if it sets him back. We need him long term more than just Wednesday.”

*** Meanwhile, with Michael Bradley sidelined until at least December with a fractured ankle, and Enosch Wolf now out at least a week with a strained right groin, UConn is woefully thin at the big man position.

But that's the least of their problems right now, according to Calhoun.

“I’m really concerned with our offense," Calhoun said. "We’re turning the ball over, not shooting well. The past few days we’ve shot 39 percent, we’re not making 3’s. Defensively, I actually think we look pretty good … (but) we don’t have an offensive leader.”

He said Jeremy Lamb, Drummond and Alex Oriakhi have been assertive offensively. Beyond that, not so much.

Calhoun seems particularly peeved at Shabazz Napier, who's "not playing particularly well, either emotionally or otherwise," and was replaced in the starting lineup on Friday by frosh Ryan Boatright.

Oriakhi agreed that Napier could be playing better right now.

“I think it’s kind of hard to ask so much from a sophomore, but that’s the role that’s been given to him," Oriakhi said. "They wouldn’t have asked that of him if he wasn’t able to do it. I just think he needs to slow down a little bit. He’s definitely been hitting shots and playing great defense, but he needs to slow down, take his time and be a little patient – especially with the big men, because his passes are hard to catch, and my hands aren’t the best. I tell him he’s got to be patient with me sometimes.”

*** Oh, and don't be mad at Allen, the Windsor resident who played at Windsor High and Bridgeton Academy. He looks athletic and impressive and has seen some time at point guard in practice, even though, "he's not a point guard, but we try to get him into that in case we have injuries," according to Calhoun. "By nature, he’s a very fun, explosive athlete to watch. But he’s not necessarily a structured guy. He probably came to the right place, as opposed to a Princeton-type offense. I don’t think he’d fit in a Princeton-type offense, suffice to say.”

*** My own personal observation from today's practice: frosh DeAndre Daniels boasts a feather-soft shooting touch.

“Every night I’m here around 9 p.m. to try to make my shot better," Daniels said. "I work on it every day.”

He figures he'll be playing the 2 and 3 this year, though with all the frontcourt injuries, expect him to see time at the 4, as well.

Daniels, a southern California native who went to school in Florida last year, frollicked in Thursday night's snow, making snowballs and thoroughly enjoying the experience.

“Enjoy it now," his teammates told him, "because you’re going to hate it in January.”

*** Calhoun referenced West Virginia's move to the Big 12 on Friday.

“Who won that wrestling contest today?" he asked.

"West Virginia," he was told.

“OK, good. I thought they might be able to pin (Louisville) in the third round.”

*** As for the APR stuff, we'll just go to the videotape. It's Jim Calhoun at either his best or, depending on your vantage point, his worst. I might side with the latter:

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UConn Picked Fourth in AP Poll

UConn ranked No. 4 in preseason AP Top 25 poll. Here's the rankings:

1. North Carolina (62)
2. Kentucky
3. Ohio State (1)
4. Connecticut (2)
5. Syracuse
6. Duke
7. Vanderbilt
8. Florida
9. Louisville
10. Pittsburgh
11. Memphis
12. Baylor
13. Kansas
14. Xavier
15. Wisconsin
16. Arizona
17. UCLA
18. Michigan
19. Alabama
20. Texas A&M
21. Cincinnati
22. Marquette
23. Gonzaga
24. California
25. Missouri

The top 8 jibe exactly with my own ballot (no, I wasn't one of the two writers who ranked UConn No. 1). In fact, the only discrepancy in terms of teams between my poll and the final product is that I had Michigan State and they have Gonzaga. That's it.

Marinatto on West Virginia's Departure

Here's what the Big East commish said about West Virginia's move to the SEC:

"This move by West Virginia does not come as a surprise. League officials, members of our conference and the candidate schools to whom we have been talking were aware of this possibility. We have taken West Virginia’s possible departure into account as we have moved forward with our own realignment plans. West Virginia is fully aware that the Big East Conference is committed to enforcing the 27-month notification period for members who choose to leave the conference. We are confident that in the coming weeks we will complete our own realignment program, adding a number of high-quality members to remain among the top conferences in both football and basketball.”


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Statement from Susan Herbst

A statement from UConn's president on today's news:

"As I have said many times previously, the University of Connecticut is committed to academic excellence for all student-athletes and fully supports the NCAA’s academic reform initiatives.

"UConn endorses all of the measures that were passed today by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors. However, we believe that punishments should be applied as soon as possible after violations are found and not two years later. Students who have enjoyed academic success should not suffer because of the shortcomings of individuals who played in prior seasons.

"It is my understanding that the NCAA has already begun examining the fairest method for implementing the new rules and I encourage them to make the time frame between a violation and a punishment as short as possible. Again, we are pleased with the outcome of today's NCAA decisions and they certainly fit where I want to take this university. Our newly implemented academic plan has already produced an extraordinarily high APR score for our men's basketball team in 2010-11."


NCAA Changes Could Keep UConn out of '13 NCAA tourney

The NCAA has instituted changes in its academic standards and student-athlete support, and it appears they could keep UConn out of the 2012-13 NCAA tournament.

For the 2012-13 tournament, teams must have a rolling four-year APR average of 900, or a two-year average of 930 to be eligible. The two years to be used for the '13 tourney are the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. UConn had an APR of 826 in 09-10 and is expected to have about a 975 APR for 10-11. That's not going to add up to the necessary 930.

UConn would fall short of the necessary 900 four-year rolling average, too.

Here's my story on the situation.

They may be able to file a waiver, and it's possible the NCAA could reconsider and use UConn's 2011-12 APR (which could be strong) for the '13 tourney.

Determining two-year APR isn't quite as simple as adding the two scores and dividing by two. Rather, the NCAA takes into account all the points student-athletes could earn during that two-year time period and calculates accordingly. Teams can have differing amounts of scholarship athletes on a year-to-year basis.

Still, it's virtually impossible UConn's two-year average would equal 930.

After that, it gets tougher. In 2014-15, teams that don’t achieve the 930 benchmark for their four-year APR or at least a 940 average for the most recent two years will be ineligible for post-season competition.

In 2015-16, the 930 benchmark for post-season competition participation – and additional penalties – will be implemented fully. The APR requirement for post-season competition participation would be waived only in extraordinary circumstances.

Oh, for the good ol' days when being a sportswriter meant calculating PPG and ERA, not APR.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

UConn's APR Plan is Working

Upon taking over as school president in June, Susan Herbst created a President’s Athletic Advisory Committee, comprised by some of the university’s most well-respected faculty members. The committee implemented a plan aimed to improve UConn’s APR in men’s basketball – and, indeed, for all sports – moving forward.

While it's obviously still very early to see the fruits of this plan, all signs point to UConn being on the right track. Nothing will be official until the spring, but we're told that the Huskies' APR for the 2010-11 team should be 975. Donnell Beverly and Charles Okwandu have both graduated, and while Kemba Walker hasn’t earned his degree yet, he left the program in good academic standing.

The only point UConn will likely loss will be for Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, who didn’t have a high enough grade-point average before transferring to Hofstra, according to a source.

(UConn in the clear for this season's NCAA tourney)

Even with this improved APR, however, it won’t be enough to lift the Huskies’ four-year rolling average above 900. Don't forget: while adding the 975 score, UConn will lose a decent 946 APR from the 2006-07 team.

Here are the five aims of UConn's APR plan, and what UConn has already done (or not done) to make strides on each point:

* Ensure that student-athletes who leave to pursue professionally opportunities are academically eligible as they depart the University. (Kemba Walker left in good academic standing)

* Actively encourage former student-athletes who have exhausted their eligibility to return to the Institution to complete their degree programs by utilizing the National Consortium for Academic and Sport Degree Completion program. (It doesn't appear any recent players have come back to complete their degree. That Scott Burrell finally earned his diploma a few years ago and Ray Allen has apparently talked about doing the same is something the university is happy about and wholeheartedly encourages -- and may even earn them some "bonus points" -- but doesn't have much if any effect on the APR)

* In order to make significant progress toward graduation, continuing student-athletes will be required to enroll in a minimum of nine credit hours during summer school.

* Provide enhanced academic support services (Study Skill techniques, Freshman Year Experience classes, etc.) in the summer prior to initial full-time enrollment and the fall semester of the student-athletes freshman year.

* Decrease the number of student-athletes who transfer from the institution with eligibility remaining. (Coombs-McDaniel still earned the program three out of four points)

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UConn Can Play in '12 Tourney; '13 Still a Question

Countering a report by USA Today, NCAA president Mark Emmert assured that teams with substandard Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores will not be ineligible to compete in the 2012 NCAA tournament.

Emmert said there was a “miscommunication” in his speech to the Knight Commission on Interscholastic Athletics on Monday in Washington, D.C., in which he was quoted as saying that teams that have fallen short of the 900 APR threshold could be banned from this season’s Big Dance, depending on a vote by the NCAA board of directors on Friday. That, of course, would have included UConn, whose four-year rolling average – released in May – is 893.

However, UConn isn’t out of the woods yet. Emmert stated that the postseason penalty would likely take effect for the 2013 tournament. Although UConn’s APR number is expected to be vastly improved for the 2010-11 season – in the 950-970 range, according to a source – it won’t be enough to lift the Huskies’ four-year rolling average above 900.

That would mean UConn wouldn’t be able to compete in the 2013 NCAA tournament, unless it successfully applied for a waiver.

Currently, teams can be granted waivers if considerable progress has been shown in improving its academic situation. However, Walt Harrison, chairman of the committee on academic performance and president of the University of Hartford, said in August that waivers may not be granted so freely anymore.

“The direction I'm getting from the board is not too much leverage there,” Harrison said two months ago. “If there is any appeal at all, it is going to be tightly defined and there may not be any.”

UConn president Susan Herbst, however, hopes that the recent steps the school has taken to improve the academics of all of its athletic programs – under her leadership – would be taken into account.

“Probably the most important thing is that the president is involved,” she said. “I think that’s happening more and more around the country, (presidents) getting involved with faculty and coaches, getting student-athletes the right time and place to study, support from faculty to travel and myriad of other things.”

Upon taking over as school president in June, Herbst created a President’s Athletic Advisory Committee, comprised by some of the university’s most well-respected faculty members. The committee has implemented a plan aimed to improve UConn’s APR in men’s basketball – and, indeed, for all sports – moving forward.

The five-point plan looks to make sure players who leave to turn pro are academically eligible when they depart; encourage former players who have exhausted their eligibility to return to complete their degrees through the National Consortium for Academic and Sport Degree Completion program; require all players to enroll in a minimum of nine credit hours during summer school; provide enhanced academic support services in the summer prior to and the fall semester of a player’s freshman year; and, decrease the number of players who transfer with eligibility remaining.

While it’s obviously too early for these new guidelines to have had much of an effect on UConn’s current APR situation, there have already been some tangible signs of progress. UConn’s APR for the 2010-11 hasn’t been completely calculated yet due to a couple of working points, but it should wind up in the 950-970 range.

“One of the things I bring is a strong interest in faculty monitoring success in the athletic department, a very good, devoted faculty who has high standards and also love sports,” Herbst said. “That’s the kind of faculty member I was.”

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UConn's GSR Isn't Pretty

The NCAA announced on Tuesday that more Division 1 student-athletes are earning their college degrees within six years -- the highest marks ever for graduation.

The single year Graduation Success Rate (GSR) for student-athletes who began college in 2004 is 82 percent, a new high for the NCAA, three points higher than last year and eight points higher than when GSR collection began a decade ago.

UConn's men's basketball GSR hasn't been so impressive, however. In fact, it's been the worst of all Big East teams. By far.

UConn's GSR for athletes entering the school for the 2004-05 school year is 25. That's the second-worst of any Big East school over the seven years (1998-2004) during which GSR has been tracked. The worst? UConn's 2000-01 beginning class, which notched a 22.

Here are the ugly numbers, if you're a UConn fan. (Just enter University of Connecticut in the "School" box).

Yes, this is essentially old news. Not a single player who entered UConn in 2004 is still with the program. Still, with so much attention on UConn's APR woes lately, and with president Mark Emmert touting the NCAA's improvements in GSR today, it's more than a little embarassing for the program.


Monday, October 24, 2011

APR Could Burn UConn This Year

A lot of stir has been made over a USA Today story today which reported that the NCAA Division 1 board of directors could vote Friday to keep programs with an APR below 900 out of this year's NCAA tournament. Yes, this year's NCAA tournament.

That, of course, would include defending champ UConn, which posted a four-year rolling average APR of 893 last May.

It's hard to believe the board could implement something so quickly, particularly since Walt Harrison, chairman of the committe on academic performance and president of the University of Hartford, said in August that he expected the penalty structure to be phased in during a three to five-year period.

But it certainly could happen, which obviously would be a huge blow to UConn. And the Huskies wouldn't be out of the woods yet. Far from it.

UConn would almost certainly fall short of the necessary four-year average of 900 next year, too. While all signs point to the program showing improvement in its APR last season (the number won't be revealed until May), it likely won't be enough to lift the four-year average above 900.

And while current rules allow teams to be granted waivers if a team score improves significantly, Harrison said two months ago that may come to a quick end.

"The direction I'm getting from the board is not too much leverage there," he said at the time. "If there is any appeal at all, it is going to be tightly defined and there may not be any."

UConn lost two scholarships for this season for having a score below 925 and at least one student-athlete who both failed academically and left school. As a first-time violator, it also received a public warning letter for poor performance.

"We're well aware of our APR status, and we've done a lot to address it," said men's basketball spokesman Kyle Muncy.

Perhaps not enough, however -- if not for this year, then for next. Oh, and possibly for a couple of years after that, too. The APR standard will raise to 930 in two years, according to Emmert.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My Preseason Top 25, All-America picks

Here's my preseason Top 25 and All-America team I just submitted to the Associated Press. First AP poll will move this Friday:

1. North Carolina
2. Kentucky
3. Ohio State
4. UConn
5. Syracuse
6. Duke
7. Vanderbilt
8. Florida
9. Memphis
10. Pittsburgh
11. Louisville
12. Baylor
13. Wisconsin
14. Kansas
15. Xavier
16. Arizona
17. Alabama
18. Marquette
19. UCLA
20. Michigan
21. Cincinnati
22. California
23. Texas A&M
24. Michigan State
25. Missouri


Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
Jeremy Lamb, UConn
Perry Jones, Baylor
Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin

Carolina obviously has the most overall talent and deserves to be a near-consensus No. 1. Doesn’t mean the Heels will win it all, but it’s hard to believe they won’t at least reach New Orleans.

I like UConn at No. 4 right now. I completely agree with Jim Calhoun’s assessment that the Huskies are more talented than last year’s national champs (which, of course, finished 9-9 and in ninth place in the Big East). And I also completely subscribe to the notion that Kemba Walker is irreplaceable. Who’ll provide all that leadership, make all the big plays in crunch time, hit all those buzzer-beaters? Well, maybe no one will have to. Maybe, with a far more balanced attack, UConn won’t have to constantly lean on one great player to bail them out, time and time again.


*** I’m going along with the general notion that Vandy is for real this year. Yes, they’ve been popped from the NCAA tourney in the first round three years running, but there is a lot of talent here. It won’t take much for me to change my mind on the Commodores, however – and get more angry e-mails from Vandy fans.

*** I don’t like the Big 10, don’t like Bo Ryan and can’t stand Wisconsin’s style of play. But with Jordan Taylor at the point and some good talent around him, it’s hard not to rate the Badgers pretty high.

*** I’m not as high on Marquette and Cincy as some others seem to be, but I’ll always err on the side of the Big East until the conference proves me wrong. It’s time for Yancy Gates to live up to his talent and physical presence.

*** As far as the All-America team, I picked Harrison Barnes as preseason first team last year and regretted it the minute I hit “Send.” I’ll never again vote a freshman as preseason All-American, so that’s why I’m not going for potentially legit candidates like Kentucky’s Anthony Davis or Duke’s Austin Rivers.

And yes, I expect a huge season from Jeremy Lamb this year. He’s added confidence to his already impressive feather-soft jumper, smooth drives to the hoop and impressive athleticism.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Amile Jefferson Enjoyed UConn's First Night

Spoke briefly the other day with Jason Polykoff, who coaches Amile Jefferson at Friends Central in Philadelphia. Jefferson, of course, is the 6-foot-8, 195-pound forward who made an official visit to UConn for First Night last week.

Jefferson is coveted by some of the biggest programs in the country, and Polykoff believes it goes beyond the fact that he can “pretty much score whenever he wants.”

“I would say the biggest reason I have coaches tell me he’s such an attractive recruit, besides his skill, is he’s such a good kid,” Polykoff said. “He’s great in the classroom, well-liked in the community. He’s a very personable, funny kid, outgoing. The younger kids at school all like him.”

“It’s pretty rare,” Polykoff continued, “to see if somebody with such a great personality but also have so much talent.”

Polykoff said he hasn’t hear too much about Jefferson’s visit to Storrs last weekend, other than that he was told he enjoyed the visit and that First Night was “great.”

According to the coach, Jefferson will visit Kentucky this weekend and plans to visit Stanford next weekend. He’s already made officials to Ohio State and UConn, and has been on numerous unofficial to Villanova and Temple (as well as one to NC State).

Jefferson has been very deliberate in his decision-making, but may make his college choice within the next few weeks.

“I can tell you that he’s been strongly encouraged to make his decision in the fall,” Polykoff said.

Jefferson is strong in the classroom and has already notched a qualifying SAT score, but may take them again “just because he wasn’t happy with the scores the first time around. He wants to improve them,” Polykoff said.

Jefferson’s father is Malcolm Musgrove, who once played basketball at Delaware State.


UConn's Andre Drummond has been named one of 12 players honored as preseason candidates for the Wayman Tisdale Award, which will be given to the nation's top freshman.

The candidates are:

Bradley Beal, Florida (G, 6-3, 207, Fr., St. Louis, Mo.)
Chane Behanan, Louisville (F, 6-6, 245, Fr., Cincinnati, Ohio)
Khem Birch, Pittsburgh (F, 6-9, 220, Fr., Montreal, Quebec)
Anthony Davis, Kentucky (F, 6-10, 220, Fr., Chicago, Ill.)
Andre Drummond, Connecticut (C, 6-10, 270, Fr., Middletown, Conn.)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky (F, 6-7, 232, Fr., Somerdale, N.J.)
Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State (G/F, 6-7, 230, Fr., Dallas, Texas)
Austin Rivers, Duke (G, 6-4, 200, Fr., Winter Park, Fla.)
Marquis Teague, Kentucky (G, 6-2, 189, Fr., Indianapolis, Ind.)
Adonis Thomas, Memphis (F/G, 6-6, 222, Fr., Memphis, Tenn.)
Josiah Turner, Arizona (G, 6-3, 192, Fr., Sacramento, Calif.)
Cody Zeller, Indiana (F, 6-11, 230, Fr., Washington, Ind.)

The USBWA has chosen a national freshman of the year since the 1988-89 season when LSU's Chris Jackson was the recipient. Other previous winners of the award include Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd and Chris Webber. Last season, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger won the inaugural Wayman Tisdale Award.

The Tisdale Award winner will receive a statuette designed by nationally-recognized sculptor Shan Gray. A permanent Wayman Tisdale Award is on display at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.

The late Wayman Tisdale was a three-time USBWA All-American at the University of Oklahoma. Following a stint on the 1984 U.S. Olympic basketball team, he played 12 seasons in the NBA before retiring in 1997 to focus on a blossoming jazz music career. In March 2007, he was diagnosed with cancer and, following a courageous and difficult battle that included the amputation of his right leg in 2008, he passed away in May 2009.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

UConn Video from Media Day

Shabazz Napier talks about how he must help Jeremy Lamb continue to improve; Lamb talks about what preseason accolades mean to him and the team; and Jim Calhoun talks about his conversation with Jim Boeheim, just a couple of days before Syracuse and Pitt announced they'd be leaving for the ACC.

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Media Day Maelstrom

Hectic day at Big East Media Day. On the short walk over from the subway station to the New York Athletic Club, my Big East umbrella (a gift from last year’s media day) practically ripped apart from the rain and strong winds. Symbolic, I’d say, given the Big East’s current uncertain state.

Got there at 10 a.m., just as the event was getting underway. I made out better than Jim Calhoun, who didn’t arrive until about 11 a.m. after getting stuck in traffic on his drive from Storrs. He said he left Storrs at about 6:30 a.m.

Calhoun is always a bit fashionably late for his availability to the media throng at this event, but never 45 minutes tardy like today.

“A new record,” he boasted.

Obviously, he was the subject of lots of interest from the assembled media. Calhoun mostly repeated what he’s been saying all along: that he wants to stay in the Big East, but will look out for what’s best for UConn.

“We’re in the best basketball conference in America, and that’s where we want to play,” he said. “The Big East made so many things possible for Connecticut, for me and my players. We’d love to be in the Big East.”

He did note, however, that he has been and will continue to be reaching out to his connections in the ACC and Big 12.

Here are some of the more interesting quotes I gathered throughout the day:


(on UConn’s strong frontcourt)

“The good thing with our big men, we’re not a black hole. If you throw it into us and we see an open man, we’re willing to pass. I think our wings know that.”

(on Andre Drummond)

“He’s just a crazy athlete, man. The thing about his, with all the hype around him, you’d think he’d be arrogant. But he’s not. He listens. I try to coach him out there and tell him what he’s doing wrong, and he just takes it in like sponge. That’s the greatest part about him. When you have a kid with that much talent and is willing to listen and get better … the sky’s the limit.”

(on what Drummond needs to do to improve)

“He’s definitely still raw. He has to get a better understanding of actually playing the game. He’s so athletic, he does everything off pure athleticism. But once he’s able to get a face-up jump shot or a jump-hook, he can really be unstoppable. I think he has to work on his overall skill set. Once he does that, he’s going to be real scary.”


(on what Drummond needs to get better at)

“He needs to improve on a lot, like we all do. The one thing he’s been working on is his post moves. That’s one thing, coming in, he wasn’t really good at. I can tell you now he’s improved a lot. His ability to get to the glass and post his man up underneath the basket is one of the best I’ve seen. He just wants to get better, and that’s one thing about the guy I like. He wants to be the best player he can be.


(on whether he’s thought if this will be his last year in college)

“I haven’t been thinking about that. I’m in college right now, I’m on the team right now.”

(on his own confidence level)

“I definitely have more confidence. Just the fact that I’m going to be a sophomore this year and I know how the Big East is.”

But …

“I don’t think my confidence is where it should be right now. My shot’s been falling, but I’ve been missing too many little shots that I probably should make.”


(on freshmen Drummond, DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright)

“Our three freshmen are really, really good players. All three are terrific.”

(on Drummond)

“You go out on the street and find me a 6-11, 277-pound kid that can touch the top of the backboard, I’ll find a place to fit him in.

“The biggest surprise is just how athletic he is, and how he can do so many effective things right now, instinctively. I’m not gonna tell him, but he’s really talented. He doesn’t know how talented he is yet, so we’re going to keep it a secret between us.

“Now, the thing is to take this athletic, wonderful kid who listens all the time, and turn it into a terrific basketball player. He’s not that yet, he really isn’t. But he’s got some things you just can’t teach.”


(on Andre LaFleur, who left UConn to become Cooley’s associate head coach)

“Andre’s been tremendous. He thought it was a different opportunity. To this day, he tells me he misses Connecticut. He loves Jim Calhoun, he’s a father figure to him … but he also thought it was a chance to spread his wings and do something different. He’s added a great element to our program, given us a good profile. We’re really, really fortunate to have Andre.”

“I didn’t ask him why he left … maybe it just was a change. I’ve never asked him that, because I really don’t care.”

(on another Andre … you guessed it – Drummond)

“Great player. I’ve watched him for two years in the summertime, obviously watched him a lot this summer with the young men we recruited who were on his team. Jim’s going to do a great job with him. He’s a tremendous talent.”

A few other tidbits:

*** In the national preseason polls for Blue Ribbon Yearbook, Athlon Sports, Sporting News, Lindy’s, and Yahoo ! Sports, UConn is ranked, respectively: No. 5, 4, 4, 8, 6 and 7. First AP poll of the season will be released on Friday, Oct. 28.

*** Calhoun said that Rudy Gay and Ben Gordon may be practicing with the team this weekend. Kemba Walker and Hasheem Thabeet apparently have already done so.

*** This is the ninth time that UConn has been picked to finish first in the preseason coaches’ poll.

*** Napier and Lamb are on the cover of this year’s Big East media guide, embracing after last year’s national championship victory.

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UConn Does Well in Preseason Poll

UConn and Syracuse are picked to finish tied atop the Big East by the conference coaches' poll. UConn got seven first-place votes, Syracuse five. Louisville finished third (three first-place votes) and Pitt fourth (one vote).

Andre Drummond is preseason rookie of the year.

Jeremy Lamb made first team all-Big East, Alex Oriakhi second team, Drummond and Shabazz Napier honorable mention.

Plenty more to come later. Follow me on Twitter @DaveBorges

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Big East Scribes Pick Orange over UConn ... Barely

The Orange edge UConn by one point, according to a panel of Big East writers. Jeremy Lamb an all-Big East pick, and Andre Drummond a near-unanimous rookie of the year.

Tomorrow's coaches' polls should look rather similar.

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Big East Ups Exit Fee, Set for 12 Football Schools

Big East commish John Marinatto held a conference call this afternoon to explain the Big East's current realignment situation. Here's my story.

He noted that the 14 current members have voted unanimously to double the conference's current $5 million exit fee to $10 million once any "targeted" school joins the Big East. He also said everyone's on board with a 12-team football model.

Oh, and Pitt and Syracuse aren't going anywhere soon.

Marinatto held the call today so that tomorrow's Big East men's basketball media day won't be dominated by realignment questions, and that we beat reporters can concentrate more on the upcoming seasons for the teams we cover. There still promises to be plenty of realignment questions tomorrow anyway, of course.

For UConn, Jim Calhoun, Alex Oriakhi, Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier will be in the house (which, this year, is at the New York Athletic Club, thanks to the ongoing renovations at Madison Square Garden).

Oh, one more thing: happy to announce that I'll be Connecticut's AP Top 25 voter for a third straight year. I'll be submitting my first ballot on Sunday night. Any suggestions?

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Bad News for Bradley, Good for Hathaway

Michael Bradley's injured right ankle is worse than it at first appeared.

Bradley, a redshirt freshman, has a fractured right ankle that will require surgery later this week. He is expected to have to go through six weeks of rehab and should be able to return to action in early December.

Bradley's injury was originally thought to be a severely sprained ankle, and Jim Calhoun said at practice on Saturday that he hoped Bradley would return to action by mid-week. He suffered the injury about three weeks ago and hasn't been participating much in practice, save for stationery bike work. He did, however, participate in the Husky Run on Oct. 12, though he walked most of the course.


Former UConn AD Jeff Hathaway has landed on his feet. He's been hired by the Big East and named consultant to the commissioner for men’s basketball, commissioner John Marinatto announced.

Hathaway will advise the conference on men’s basketball matters.

Hathaway is a four-year member of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee and will serve as chair for the 2011-12 basketball season.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Survive and Advance: UConn's First Practice

Survive and advance may not just be an apt slogan for March Madness. It could also describe getting through UConn’s first official practice of the year.

Here’s what some players thought of Saturday’s practice, which began at Guyer Gym and ended nearly 3 ½ hours later in Gampel:

Shabazz Napier: “Today was one of the hardest practices I’ve been a part of. I hate it when I’m out there, but I love it right now.”

(Here's my story from today's practice. What a difference a year makes, eh?)

Andre Drummond: “It was good. It was longer than I expected. I saw the practice schedule and was like, ‘This doesn’t look too bad.’ But looks are deceiving. There was more running than I thought there’d be.”

Ryan Boatright wasn't used to getting manhandled the way he did during the infamous box-out drill: "In high school, nobody really bullied me like that. Here, it’s crazy. But it’s for the best, you just work through it ... Now I know I’m not in high school, I can’t do what I want, just coast in practice. I have to give 110 percent, full-speed all day."

Alex Oriakhi: “I thought it was good for the freshmen to get used to the speed. I’m definitely used to it, it’s just tiring … Overall, I think (the freshmen) did a pretty good job. I tried to give them a heads-up on how it would be. They gave effort, that’s all they can really ask.”

Towards the very end of practice, the Huskies had to complete a suicide sprint in 28 seconds. They failed (that is, a couple of players failed) once. Then again. By this time, many players were clearly winded, and Jim Calhoun started to get a bit irked.

“You’ve had six months to get in shape,” he shouted. “There’s no damn reason why you shouldn’t be in shape.”

They ran it again, and this time everybody finished inside of 28 seconds (barely). Practice was over.

“We were in a little too much in a survival mode as opposed to ‘go’ mode,” Calhoun noted. “We’re trying to get them where they’re ready to fight and get through a tough practice.”

He pointed out some bright spots: “Niels Giffe … Shabazz led us very well. DeAndre Daniels had a good day, Andre Drummond did some good things.”

Michael Bradley didn’t participate. He suffered a severely sprained ankle about three weeks ago and was limited to just shooting around at a side basket and riding a stationary bike – a lot.

“I think he was about in Sturbridge,” Calhoun said of Bradley’s pedaling. “He might have reached Boston somewhere by the end of practice.”

The Huskies hope Bradley is able to get back out on the court by mid-week.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

This Boat Can Fly

Here's my story from First Night, focusing on how much excitement Ryan Boatright can bring not only to a slam dunk contest but to the Huskies this season.

Here's Boatright's most incredible dunk of the night, as he leaps over a seated Shabazz Napier, catches a pass off the glass from Napier and jams it home. Props to Napier for assisting on a bunch of terrific dunks tonight, too:

And one more from Andre Drummond. The power and athleticism is truly awe-inspiring (and, again, so is Napier's pass):

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Boatright, Drummond Dunk Contest

Told you all to watch out for Ryan Boatright in tonight's First Night dunk contest. Here's some video of Boatright and Andre Drummond throwing down. We'll have more later:

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'Boat's Gonna Steal the Show'

While NBA owners continue to lock out their players to the general disinterest of much of the country, the college basketball season kicks off tonight with great fanfare.

UConn is one of hundreds of schools to kick off its season with First Night festivities this evening. It all starts on Fairfield Way outside of Gampel Pavilion with a Fan Fest. Doors to Gampel open at 6 p.m. and there will be an autograph session with the players from both the men's and women's teams.

After that comes player introductions, etc., as well as 3-point and dunk contests. Alex Oriakhi, Andre Drummond, Jeremy Lamb and Roscoe Smith are all said to be competing in the dunk contest. Hasheem Thabeet says he'll be a judge and may serve as a "prop" of some kind. But the early favorite to win the dunk competition will be 6-foot freshman Ryan Boatright.

"I think Boat's gonna steal the show," Oriakhi said.

Boatright boasts some boundless athleticism (I witnessed a small sampling of it this summer in Greater Hartford Pro-Am action). He should be a fun player to watch tonight, and all season, for that matter.

The Huskies will also have some recruits on hand. Omar Calhoun, a Class of 2012 commit, will be there (he was on campus on an unofficial visit last week, as well), and we're told that Amile Jefferson, a 6-foot-7, 190-pound Class of 2012 power forward out of Philadelphia will also be in the house, among others.

Admission to the event is free.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Wane Named Assistant At UMass-Lowell

Souleymane Wane and Wallingford's Michael Papale have been named assistant coaches on the UMass-Lowell men's basketball team.

Papale will assist in all facets of the program, including recruiting, film exchange, weight training and academic support. Wane will also take part in all facets of the game, specifically academic support and working exclusively with UMass Lowell’s post players.

Wane played at UConn from 1997-2001.

“I am very excited to be part of the UMass Lowell coaching staff,” Wane said. “Over the past few months, I’ve spent time with coach Herenda and his staff. I consider this a wonderful opportunity for me to learn from one of the great college basketball coaches.”

"Soul is a terrific teacher and communicator of the game,” said Herenda. “You cannot put a price tag on having a national champion on your staff. Soul is just an awesome addition to our entire program.

"He brings with him great presence and experience that I hope all of our players will tap into,” Herenda added. “He will be a great resource for our big men. He has played at the highest collegiate level and I am sure we will all benefit from his history.”

Following graduation, Wane was invited to the Los Angeles Clippers camp before playing professionally in Bosnia, Germany and Poland. He was also a member of the Senegalese national team in the 2005 FIBA Africa Championship.

Wane is a French teacher at Haverhill H.S. He and his wife Deborah live in Dracut, Mass. with their son Ismael (3).


Must-See TV?

Here's some appointment viewing for UConn fans (not):

Former Duke All-Americans Grant Hill and Christian Laettner are teaming up once again, this time with Turner Sports, to offer viewers an inside look at one of the most-storied college basketball programs in the history of the game. The new documentary Duke ’91 & ’92 will air on truTV in advance of Turner Sports’ and CBS Sports’ coverage of the 2012 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, which airs exclusively on TBS, CBS, TNT and truTV.

The documentary will revisit 1991 and 1992, when the Blue Devils became the first school to win back-to-back National Championships in nearly 20 years. The documentary will examine the key players, Hall of Fame coach and memorable moments from an era that helped set the stage for the school’s reign as college basketball’s most influential and successful program, on and off the court, of the last 20 years.

Duke ’91 & ’92 will capture the moments and conversations with members from these two championship squads as they returned to Durham, N.C., in September 2011, on the eve of the Duke Hall of Fame Induction of point guard Bobby Hurley, the Most Outstanding Player of the 1992 Final Four®, and Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The documentary will feature teammates and coaches revealing never-before-told stories about what drove their success and, simultaneously, what drove them apart. The documentary will highlight the team’s journey to back-to-back NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship titles, including the upset win over the undefeated UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in the 1991 Final Four®, Laettner’s buzzer-beating jump shot against Kentucky in the East Regional Final in 1992, the repeat national title win over the “Fab Five” of Michigan and the emotional and unforgettable 20-year reunion that took place where it all began – Cameron Indoor Stadium.

To be fair, I've never quite understood all the Duke hate, especially from UConn fans. OK, Laettner beat you with a last-second shot, but I'd say you've kinda gotten back at them since then, no?

Plus, with so many issues these days regarding college athletes (some of them all too familiar to UConn fans), it's incredibly ironic that a program like Duke that does stress education as much as any major program is so universally hated. I guess it's kind of similar to why so many people dislike Tim Tebow.

OK, end of rant.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Husky Run Story, Video

Here's my story on Andre Drummond, who's about to finally embark on his UConn career.

Here's a quick video presentation from the annual Husky Run:


Drummond the Talk of Storrs

A few notes and quotes from the annual Husky Run, held today at UConn:

Plenty of Andre Drummond talk, naturally. Plenty of praise thrown his way:

"He’s just athletically, physically much different than what you normally bring in," said Jim Calhoun. "He’s 277 pounds, he’s 6-foot-10, 6-10 1/2, quick as a cat, he might be as good a runner as we have on our team. He’s got to learn how to do some more things, but God has certainly gifted him with a great deal of athletic ability. He’ll block shots, he can rebound, he’s rebounding against some of our pros that have come back.”

Added Alex Oriakhi: “His athleticism, that alone really helps. I think he has a chance to be a defensive presence, rebound, block shots and give teams a lot of headaches ... When we play pick-up on the same team, he’s a great passer."

With so much talent around him, Drummond isn't worried about feeling too much pressure on his shoulders.

"It’s a team game," he said. "I know I have my guys behind me and I’m behind them 100 percent. There’s not one person who can’t do anything better than another person. We’re going to be a great team, and we’re going to have a great year this year.”

And, of course, it can't be forgotten that Drummond wouldn't even be at UConn right now had teammate Michael Bradley not given up his scholarship for this season.

“I’m thankful for everything that he did," said Drummond. "Me and Mike have had a great relationship, I’ve known him since I was a sophomore, so, I’m really thankful for what he did.”

Added Calhoun: “We’ll later talk about that in a more structured form. Michael did a lot for the team. Michael stepped up when he didn’t have to and did a great job, utilizing his disadvantage into an advantage for us.”

(Check the post below for times and some other info about the actual 3.4-mile race)

*** Calhoun went several minutes on the Big East/ACC/conference realignment, etc. We'll condense it in one paragraph:

“I have never, ever and never will be anti-Big East. I’m pro-Big East. I would hope things would be worked out in the Big East. But, if they can’t be, and we can find a better place for ourselves, then we would do that.”

*** Like Kemba Walker last year, Shabazz Napier (along with fellow co-captain Alex Oriakhi) hopped up on a stump and addressed the crowd before the start of the race.

“Last year Kemba talked. It was my idea to go up there, say what I had to say," Napier said. "I feel great that a bunch of people who watch basketball are also here to run with us. Before I came here, I never saw that. I never realized how much love they have for us. We’re all Connecticut Huskies. It’s just tremendous how are fans are. We really have the best fans in the country.”

*** UConn commit Omar Calhoun is expected at First Night on Friday. Chris Obepka is a possibility, along with one or two others.

There will be a dunk contest, featuring Oriakhi, Drummond, Roscoe Smith, Ryan Boatright and Jeremy Lamb. Hasheem Thabeet says he might be a "prop" at the contest, but refused to offer any details.

(We'll have some video posted up here later. Stay tuned ...)

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Husky Run Times

Here are the times of UConn players for this year's Husky Run:

1. DeAndre Daniels – 19:32
2. Niels Giffey- 19:45
3. Ethan Waite- 20:01
4. Tyler Olander- 22:24
5. Ryan Boatright- 23:13
6. Jeremy Lamb- 23:54
7. Enosch Wolf- 24:05
8. P.J. Cochrane- 25:31
9. Ben Stewart- 25:32
10. Roscoe Smith- 27:05
11. Alex Oriakhi- 29:32
12. Shabazz Napier- 29:56
13. Andre Drummond- 29:59

Southington's Jim Rosenberger, a senior, won the race for the third straight year. His time was 17:20.

Said Daniels on his running ability: “In practice, when we run cemetery hill on Saturday, and when we’re playing pick-up, I’m always running and beating everybody down the floor.”

Jim Calhoun noted that past players have been known to take some ... ahem ... shortcuts around the 3.4-mile course.

"Khalid El-Amin had his own unique method. I think there was a bus going around campus that Khalid took, and then got dropped off here at the front."

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Husky Run Today

The annual Husky Run, a 3.4-mile run around campus with all the members of this year's UConn team, will be held today, rain or shine. Runners should meet at Gampel Pavilion's East entrance at 2 p.m.

All participants will get refreshments and a t-shirt afterwards. The run is slated to go on, even with this afternoon's predicted rainstorms.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

First Night on Friday

UConn's First Night festivities will be held on Friday at Gampel. Admission is free and open to the public.

A FanFest will be located outside the North entrance of Gampel and on Fairfield Way for inflatable games, food, music and fun. Gampel's doors will open at 6 p.m., with an autograph session by both the men's and women's teams, followed by performances from the band, cheer and dance squads, introductions of the players and coaches, a dunk and 3-point contest and ultimate prize giveaways.

The show will end at approximately at 8 p.m. with a performance by Simon Sez.

So, the schedule:

5 p.m. - FanFest on Fairfield Way

6 p.m. - Doors Open and Autograph Session

7 p.m. - Show Begins

Oh, and dont' forget on Wednesday it's the annual Husky Run, starting at 2 p.m. outsdie the East entrance of Gampel.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Omar Calhoun Update

Omar Calhoun isn’t sure whether or not he’ll be at UConn’s First Night festivities on Friday.

“We have to work that out with Coach (Kevin) Ollie,” said Calhoun’s father, Omar, Sr.

But don’t worry, Calhoun’s not having second thoughts about committing to UConn back in June. In fact, he was on campus this past weekend, spending some time with Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier and the rest of the team, as well as Jim Calhoun.

“He had a good time up there this weekend,” Omar, Sr. said.

When Calhoun does officially arrive in Storrs next fall, he could be somewhat of a package deal. Calhoun’s sister, Sierra, is a sophomore at Christ the King High School (where Omar is a senior this year). A 6-foot guard, she’s one of the top female players in the country and is being recruited heavily by all the major powers: UConn, Tennessee, Maryland, etc.

Obviously, she wouldn’t be a freshman at UConn until Omar’s junior year. But there’s certainly a strong possibility that the two will be in Storrs together someday.

“Absolutely. That’s the goal,” said Omar, Sr.

In fact, she was up in Storrs with her brother this past weekend, as well, though she didn’t get a chance to see Geno Auriemma, who was off in Europe with Team USA. But both Auriemma and assistant coach Chris Dailey have seen plenty of Sierra, ever since she was in eighth grade.

Omar, Sr. said his son isn’t worried about all the recent conference realignment talk and the chance that UConn could be left out on the lurch.

“We wish Syracuse and Pitt were still around, but if UConn is going to go, I think this would be a great opportunity to follow suit,” he said. “Hopefully, for one year they’re still there, and hopefully UConn follows suit. Then we’ll have played in the Big East and ACC and have had the best of both worlds.”

Omar, Sr. believes his son, a 6-5 combo guard, could be an instant contributor next season.

“Hopefully, Jeremy Lamb does what he has to do and get out of the way by the time we get up there,” dad said, jokingly.

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Marinatto on TCU

Big East commissioner John Marinatto on TCU's official decision to join the Big 12:

“Although never having competed as a member of the BIG EAST Conference, we are disappointed with the news that TCU is joining the Big 12. As noted earlier today, our presidents met via teleconference this morning to focus on the future and have authorized us to engage in formal expansion discussions with additional institutions. We anticipate taking action in the near future.”


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Turf War

Probably a little late to the game here, but a fascinating piece by Mark Blaudschun of the Boston Globe on the ACC's expansion. In it, Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo essentially acknowledges his school blocked UConn's chances of joining the ACC last month.

"We didn't want them in," DeFilippo said. "It was a matter of turf. We wanted to be the New England team."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

UConn Gets its National Championship Bling

Here's my story from Thursday night's national championship dinner, where UConn received its championship rings.

Here's some video from the event at the Connecticut Convention Center, including some words from Jim Calhoun:

And here's the bling:

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dyson on Pan Am Games roster

Former UConn guard Jerome Dyson is on the U.S. men's Pan American Games roster. He's joined by former St. John's standout Anthony Mason, Jr., ex-Villanovan Curtis Sumpter, former Notre Dame center Luke Zeller and 17 others, as of now.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Revised UConn Schedule

Here's an updated UConn schedule, with starting times for all Big East games and just about all non-conference games. Still a few to be announced.

Lamb, Oriakhi on Wooden List; Drummond in the Clear

Jeremy Lamb and Alex Oriakhi have been named to the Wooden Award’s Top 50 list. The Wooden Award is presented annually to the nation’s top college basketball player.

UConn was one of eight schools to have multiple players on the list. North Carolina had four players (Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Tyler Zeller), Ohio State and Vanderbilt both had three and Cal, UConn, Memphis, SyrACCuse and UCLA all had two.

Transfers, medical redshirts and freshmen are not eligible for the list.

Speaking of Andre Drummond: UConn has officially concluded that no violation has occurred and that Drummond will suffer no eligibility consequence relative to the report last week about his appearance in an online video.

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Kemba: 'It's Gonna Be a Fun Year for Basketball in Connecticut'

The vaunted Connecticut media "Horde" had nothing on the kids at the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven on Sunday during Kemba Walker's visit for a clinic.

"Who'd win 1-on-1, you or Jeremy Lamb?" one kid asked. (Lamb's beaten him twice, Walker noted. "This stays between us, right?" he asked the 200 or so people in the audience).

"Were you laughing at (Gary McGhee) in your head when he hit the floor?" asked another. ("I didn't see him fall until I watched it after the game," Walker replied.)

"Who was the most inspiring coach you've ever had?" asked another. (All of them, Kemba said, not mentioning any specifically.)

OK, they weren't all hard-hitting. "What's your favorite color?", "What's your favorite food?", "What's your shoe size?", "Who was your favorite team to play against?" and "What's your middle name?" were some others. (Answers: Red, pizza, 11 1/2, Pitt and "I can't answer that, sorry.").

It was all good fun as Walker held about a 45-minute Q&A inside the Vine Family Auditorium, then signed autographs, chatted with kids and did a little individual instruction inside the Beckerman Gymnasium afterwards.

Beforehand, I had a chance to ask Kemba a few questions of my own.

Q: Do you enjoy doing things like this?

KW: "All the time. This is my opportunity to give back to the community. Not every kid gets to be around me or other pros.”

Q: Do you try to give kids a specific message at these clinics?

KW: “I just tell them to work hard, that’s all you can do. Not everybody’s going to make it in basketball, so just work hard in whatever you do.”

Q: How tough is it to finally realize your dream of being drafted by an NBA team, only to be locked out by the league's owners?

KW: “It sucks, but it happens. I understand. At the same time, I’ve got to stay positive, just trust … the Players Association to make the best deal possible for us, so my future can be good.”

Q: Who at UConn can step up and fill the leadership void left by your early departure?

KW: “A lot of guys. Jeremy (Lamb), Shabazz (Napier) definitely. He’s a guy who’s going to take on that role. Alex (Oriakhi), he’s matured a lot. There’s a few guys that are going to step up. Those freshmen are now sophomores. They’ve been through a crazy, unbelievable season. They know what to expect. They’ve got the young guys working hard right now. It’s going to be a fun year for basketball in Connecticut.”

Q: Will there be an NBA season this year?

KW: “Me, personally, I’m staying positive. So I’m saying, ‘Yeah.’ I think we’re going to be able to put together a good deal. I hope so.”

Walker is currently living in Long Island and working out at a nearby gym with former Hofstra star Charles Jenkins.

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