Is UConn trying to build a recruiting pipeline through Vermont?
UConn has bagged a few big-time recruits since Kevin Ollie took over the head coaching reins.
Daniel Hamilton was a national Top 25 recruit, as is Jalen Adams. Amida Brimah has proven to be a bit of a diamond-in-the-rough (his late-season play notwithstanding), and Steve Enoch appears to be better than some originally thought.
Still, the Huskies haven't exactly burned up the recruiting trails since their national title. They've lost out on numerous recruits, and while they're in on many of them and obviously can't get them all, it's a bit surprising that they haven't landed more.
It appears one of UConn's new recruiting pastures sits up in southern Vermont. Three of the Huskies' top targets play for Alex Popp up at Vermont Academy: Bruce Brown, a Class of 2016 (for now) combo guard; Tyrique Jones, a Class of 2016 power forward who hails from Bloomfield; and Samuel Mathias, 6-11 1/2 center from the Class of 2017.
UConn has offered all three players -- two of them (Jones and Mathias) in the same day. In fact, Kevin Ollie extended his offer to Mathias on the same day that Mathias went up against Enoch and St. Thomas More back in January.
It'll be interesting to see if UConn and Vermont Academy can establish a recruiting relationship. Popp was recruited as a player by Glen Miller when Miller coached at Brown, and he has known Miller and Karl Hobbs for several years and got to know Ollie out on the recruiting trails while he was an assistant at Holy Cross and thinks "very highly" of the Huskies' head coach.
"The opportunity to cultivate a great relationship with Vermont Academy makes a lot of sense," Popp said of UConn. "Say they miss on two of these three, or even three of three. We're gonna have a lot of great players coming forward. You're gonna go out and get other guys that can play at that level. Both parties are hoping the relationship can grow."
Here's a look at the three current VA players that UConn is recruiting:
"He's a leader, a guy who doesn't take days off," Popp said. "That translates to basketball."
Popp added that Brown, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound guard, is a multi-dimensional talent.
"We try to emphasize versatility in our program. We put him on the ball, off the ball. Defensively, ini a league where every team has rosters full of Division 1 players, he would guard four different positions in the span of a game. If LeBron James doesn't have a position, why do our guys have a position. He's somebody who really thrives at that."
Popp noted that Brown is very athletic, as well.
"He's explosive, both laterally and vertically," the coach said. "Combine that with his strength. He's a football player, with a football players' mentality. A lot of people compare him to Russell Westbrook. He just kind of overpowers the opposition."
Unprompted, Popp said that Brown would make a great backcourt mate with Jalen Adams.
"He's a power guard, he really is," the coach continued. "Looking at Jalen Adams, it's hard to ignore that. Put the two of them in the same backcourt, it would be special."
Popp said that Indiana, Iowa State, Michigan, Arizona State, UMass, VCU and UConn are working the hardest on him right now. IU's Tom Crean has been the most present of all the coaches.
Brown hails from Boston, though his mom recently moved to Georgia. There has been lots of talk that Brown will re-classify to the Class of 2015, but Popp had no comment on that and, as of now, Brown is still '16.
"The best way I could describe Bruce Brown is he's a winner," Popp summed up. "If you're a college basketball coach, that's what puts food on your table. He's a winner. He's constant with it. It's not, 'I'm gonna mail it in today, coach, because we don't play in four days.' It doesn't matter if it's a simple drill, he wants to win every single drill in practice. It's remarkable how contagious that is when you have a guy who's as talented as Bruce Brown, because everyone in your program falls in line."
Jones is a 6-8, 240-pound jumping jack from Bloomfield.
"He grew up a big-time UConn fan," said Popp, "so they have that going for them, no doubt about it. That was his squad growing up."
Popp added that noted recruiting analyst Adam Finklestein recently named Jones the best rebounder of the Class of 2016.
"I spent time as a D-1 coach," Popp said. "For me, if you're not emphasizing rebounding in your recruiting, you're doing it wrong. Rebounding not only wins games, it wins championships at this level. He's very much a target."
Popp added that Jones has a "nose for the ball. He does a great job of winning all those 50-50's. He rebounds out of his area, above the rim. He's an underrated passer."
At 6-11 1/2, 290 pounds, Mathias is a raw 16-year-old who has excellent hands and feet.
"He's a little bit of a dying breed," said Popp. "You don't have a lot of those positional, back-to-the-basket guys anymore. He knows what to do with it when the ball gets on the block."
Mathias was born in Nigeria and grew up in London. Ollie and Hobbs saw him play in some preseason open gyms and offered a scholarship after he went for 16 points and nine rebounds against St. Thomas More.
"In that game, he showed off an array of skills," said Popp. "He scored the ball on the block, pick and popped, scored with both hands, got a tip dunk. It was pretty obvious he could help UConn right away."
Of course, the Huskies would have to wait a couple of years, as the big kid is Class of 2017.
Whether UConn winds up with any of these players remains to be seen. But Popp is confident that any team that could get all three would be in very good shape.'
"You get those three guys," the coach said, "you're gonna win some national championships."
Started as UConn men's basketball beat writer for the New Haven Register in August, 2007. Before that, was traveling Boston Red Sox beat writer from 2004-06 for the Journal Register Co. (which included the Register).