When UConn kicks off its 2015-16 season on Friday night at Gampel against Maine, there will be a somewhat familiar face on the opposing sidelines.
Bob Walsh is in his second season as head coach of the Black Bears. The name may not ring a bell, but Walsh was an assistant coach at Providence for seven seasons in the early-to-mid 2000's -- which means he was on the sidelines for those years when the Friars were a real thorn in the sides of the Huskies.
"The battles that we had ... obviously, they were an elite program," Walsh said of the Huskies. "It was a huge game for us, I know that. In that league, they were one of the elites. The passion of their fans, the program they've been able to build over there ... when people talk about what Storrs, Connecticut was 25, 30 years ago compared to what is is now ..."
Walsh, of course, was Tim Welsh's assistant for those seven seasons with the Friars. And here's some irony: Welsh will be SNY's analyst for Friday night's game. Awkward? Nah. Walsh is looking forward to it.
"It's really cool," said Walsh. "It is interesting, because I owe him so much. He hired me when I was 26, made me a Big East assistant and probably had more influence over my growth as a coach than anyone I’ve worked with."
Walsh added that Welsh's father, Jerry (a legendary coach in upstate New York), calls him at the beginning of each season wishing him good luck.
"It's cool to think I've got a chance to coach against UConn, and (Tim Welsh) will be there," Walsh noted.
*** Friday night's game came about fairly late in the schedule-making process. Maine was slated to begin its season against URI, but Rhody backed out unexpectedly, leaving the Black Bears looking for an opening-night foe. Walsh knows Glen Miller from when Miller coached at Brown, and knows Karl Hobbs from when Hobbs was Jim Calhoun's assistant the first time around. The Huskies needed an opening-night opponent, and, voila.
"I just got done watching them against New Haven, and I was saying, 'Man, are they long and athletic,'" said Walsh. "I think they're really talented. My first question was, 'How did they struggle last year, by their standards?'"
"Jalen Adams is a monster," Walsh continued. "I'm watching it, (saying), 'Who's that? Oh, that's Jalen Adams.' I think their talent is remarkable. I think they're absolutely a Top 20 team."
*** The Black Bears have a local connection, as well: Bunnell High product Isaac Vann is a freshman forward for Maine who could very well start on Friday night. Vann, a 6-foot-5, athletic wing, had 22 points and 16 rebounds in an exhibition game against Division 3 Husson.
"We saw him play over the summer (of 2014) ... and thought he was real good, and there was no way we could get him," Walsh said. "Monmouth and some MAAC schools were all over him in the fall, but he said he wanted to take his time. We stayed in contact, and in the middle of the year, my assistant told me, 'I think we can get Isaac Vann.' My response was, 'Get outta here.' But we had him on campus with his mom, and he enjoyed it.
"We felt really good about getting a 6-5, athletic wing. He needs to put on weight. He's kind of 'UConn Lite,' For our level, he's kind of like the players UConn's had success with, a wing who can really score."
It's also worth noting that Vann is a cousin of former UConn guard Oliver Macklin.
Labels: Bob Walsh, Glen Miller, Isaac Vann, Jalen Adams, Jim Calhoun, Karl Hobbs, Tim Welsh