Turns out, the prospects are quite good. Barring any disasters, the league should get three and possibly as many as five teams into this year's NCAA tournament. Which means, of course, that it'll likely get just three, since the AAC has had the selection committee's two biggest snubs (SMU in '14, Temple last year) the past two seasons.
Mick Cronin returns to Cincinnati's sidelines this season
Anyway, the league looks good this year. Its player of the year (Nic Moore) is back. So are five other all-league players: Tulsa's James Woodard and Shaq Harrison, Cincinnati's Octavius Ellis, SMU's Markus Kennedy and Tulane's Louis Dabney. So is Mick Cronin, after missing most of last season with a vascular condition.
There are some tough losses -- Ryan Boatright, Austin Nichols, Will Cummings, Yanick Moreira, Corey Allen, Jr.. But there are also numerous high-level transfers (both graduates and otherwise) who will make immediate impacts: UConn's Sterling Gibbs and Shonn Miller; SMU's Jordan Tolbert and Semi Ojeleye; Memphis's Ricky Tarrant, Jr. And there are some talented, impact freshmen, too: Memphis' McDonald's All-American brothers Dedric and K.J. Lawson, UConn's Jalen Adams, SMU's Malik "Shake" Milton.
It says here that UConn, SMU and Cincy will be the top three -- pick your order, but we'll give the Huskies the edge on overall depth and talent -- with Tulsa and Memphis battling for tourney bids. One of those two will probably get in. Maybe both.
Temple lost a lot of talent but has a lot coming back, and it has Fran Dunphy. Owls may be borderline, but we know how that usually turns out. And Houston's been getting a little national love lately, but I just don't see it ... yet.
Daniel Hamilton may be UConn's (and AAC's) best player
Best player: Daniel Hamilton; Top returning scorer: Rodney Purvis; Biggest loss: Ryan Boatright; Best addition: Sterling Gibbs (Seton Hall transfer); Best freshman: Jalen Adams; Biggest positive: Talent, depth at every position; Biggest negative: Team may take a while to jell.
Best player: Nic Moore; Top returning scorer: Moore; Biggest loss: Yanick Moreira; Best addition: Jordan Tolbert (Texas Tech transfer); Best freshman: Malik “Shake” Milton; Biggest positive: Defense! Defense!; Biggest negative: NCAA investigation looms over program (and Larry Brown seems to have lost a little of his fastball).
Best player: Gary Clark; Top returning scorer: Octavius Ellis; Biggest loss: Jermaine Sanders; Best addition: Head coach Mick Cronin (after missing most of last season due to health); Best freshman: Jacob Evans; Biggest positive: One of the stingiest defensive teams in the land; Biggest negative: No real go-to scorer.
Best player: James Woodard; Top returning scorer: Woodard; Biggest loss: None; Best addition: Pat Birt (JUCO transfer); Best freshman: Sterling Taplin; Biggest positive: Everyone’s back from a 15-3, second-place team; Biggest negative: Golden Hurricane will sneak up on no one this season.
Best player: Shaq Goodwin; Top returning scorer: Goodwin; Biggest loss: Austin Nichols; Best addition: Dedric Lawson; Best freshman: Lawson; Biggest positive: Lawson brothers, transfer Ricky Tarrant ease loss of Nichols; Biggest negative: Nichols is gone, and Josh Pastner still coaches this team.
Best player: Quenton DeCosey; Top returning scorer: DeCosey; Biggest loss: Will Cummings; Best addition: Shawn Alston; Best freshman: Alston; Biggest positive: DeCosey, AAC top rebounder Jaylen Bond are back; Biggest negative: Two of top three scorers (Cummings, Jesse Morgan) graduated.
Best player: Devonta Pollard; Top returning scorer: Pollard; Biggest loss: Jherrod Stiggers; Best addition: Ronnie Johnson (Purdue transfer); Best freshman: Galen Robinson, Jr.; Biggest positive: Johnson, Damyean Dotson good transfer additions; Biggest negative: One of worst shooting teams in country last season.
8. CENTRAL FLORIDA
Best player: B.J. Taylor; Top returning scorer: Taylor; Biggest loss: Brandon Goodwin; Best addition: A.J. Davis (Tennessee transfer); Best freshman: Tacko Fall; Biggest positive: We could watch 700 pounds of big men (Fall, Justin McBride) playing together; Biggest negative: UCF was one of the worst defensive teams in nation a year ago.
Best player: Louis Dabney; Top returning scorer: Dabney; Biggest loss: Jay Hook; Best addition: Malik Morgan (LSU transfer); Best freshman: Melvin Frazier; Biggest positive: Deepest recruiting class in 15 years; Biggest negative: Three players who started all 31 games last year now gone.
10. SOUTH FLORIDA
Best player: Chris Perry; Top returning scorer: Nehemias Morillo; Biggest loss: Corey Allen, Jr.; Best addition: Roddy Peters (Maryland transfer); Best freshman: Luis Santos; Biggest positive: Perry’s back after missing last 13 games with heart ailment; Biggest negative: Troy Holston, Jr. suffered ACL tear in June.
11. EAST CAROLINA
Best player: B.J. Tyson; Top returning scorer: Tyson; Biggest loss: Terry Whisnant; Best addition: Clarence Williams (JUCO transfer); Best freshman: Deng Riak; Biggest positive: Tyson; Biggest negative: Pirates were badly outrebounded last season.
SMU's Nic Moore is the reigning AAC player of the year
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Nic Moore, SMU. It's his until he surrenders it ... which he might.
BEST PLAYER: Daniel Hamilton, UConn. Or at least the best NBA prospect.
BEST SHAQ: Shaq Harrison, Tulsa. Edges out Memphis's Shaq Goodwin, with Cincy's Shaq Thomas getting some love, too. Lotta Shaqs in this league.
BEST B.J.: B.J. Taylor, UCF. Edges out ECU's B.J. Tyson. Shut up.
BEST SCANDAL: SMU. NCAA looking into possible academic improprieties involving a former assistant coach, former player Justin Martin and current Mustang Keith Frazier. (Runner-up: Memphis, though a report about a tutor providing improper academic help to players apparently was much ado about nothing).
BEST BOOK ABOUT UCONN'S 2014 NATIONAL TITLE RUN: He he. Couldn't resist a little self-promotion.
We'll start with this disclaimer: It's the pro-am.
That means defense is largely optional, no lead is safe, and the intensity of a regular-season, Division 1 college basketball game is nowhere to be found.
That said, we had a look at Shonn Miller at the Greater Hartford Pro-Am on Sunday afternoon, and he certainly looked pretty good.
Miller had a nice lefty drive to the basket. He had an even sweeter one later on as he swooped through the lane for a lefty reverse layup, kissing the ball off the glass at a tough angle for the chance for a three-point play. That was perhaps his best basket of the night -- until he rammed home a long alley-oop pass for a two-handed dunk late in the game.
He had this transition hoop:
Miller also blocked a few shots and grabbed a few rebounds. He's long and athletic. He wasn't overly engaged on defense (or offense), often floating around. He also (justly) seemed quite miffed at the refereeing. But, like we said: it's the pro-am.
Shonn Miller certainly looks like a good one. Can't imagine he won't be in that 8 ppg, 7 rpg area this season for the Huskies.
'A move Daniel might make on Terry, Terry will come back and make the same move on him'
Sterling Gibbs and Terry Larrier both played in the Greater Hartford Pro-Am on Wednesday night. Daniel Hamilton was there to cheer them on.
Gibbs and Larrier both looked good. Real good.
Gibbs, who poured in 45 points in a GHPA game the other night, can distribute and shoot. And he just oozes 'winner.'
Larrier is silky smooth, a long, 6-foot-7 athlete who can shoot from all over the floor:
Larrier draws obvious comparisons to Jeremy Lamb -- but also to Hamilton. In fact, the two have formed a unique bond this summer. They're best friends off the court, but when they go against each other in pick-up games on the court this summer, some intriguing battles have taken place.
“It’s actually fun, because of the fact that they’re so similar. They’re tall, they’re able to score the ball in multiple ways -- shoot, dribble, everything. A move that Daniel might make on Terry, Terry will come back and make the same move on him. It’s real competitive, and they really like each other and they’re really good friends.”
Don't expect to see much more of Hamilton or Larrier at the GHPA this summer, however. Both are heading home next week, and will resume their off-court friendship/on-court rivalry in the fall. No doubt, Larrier's presence as a "practice player" will greatly benefit Hamilton -- and the entire UConn team -- this season.
"I couldn't be more proud of my close friend and former UConn teammate Scott Burrell as he takes charge of the outstanding basketball program at Southern Connecticut State University.
"I know that what Scott learned about the game from Coach (Jim) Calhoun and throughout his own playing career in college and the NBA, plus the coaching experience he gained under Coach (Tom) Moore at Quinnipiac will serve him well as he takes on this new basketball challenge.
"But, even more important, the kind of person Scott is makes him a tremendous asset to the entire community at Southern Connecticut as he prepares his student-athletes for life following college.
"I congratulate both Scott and Southern Connecticut on this special day."
"I think it's ideal, the fact that he was maybe the greatest athlete in the history of the New Haven-area school system."
"Like a lot of young guys, he probably needed to get a head job. I think at Southern Connecticut, his mom and dad graduated from there, so that makes it more special. I think he's ready. He and I talked a great deal about this over the years. There was a point where he wanted to get into coaching. Tommy (Moore) and I talked about hiring him, and he's moved on. He's done a good job there. I've watched him practice probably three or four practices a year at Quinnipiac, he does a great job at practice. I think he'll do a good job recruiting-wise, he's smart. A head coaching job is a head coaching job."
(did he see this day coming when Burrell played for him at UConn?)
"I never thought Scott Burrell would ever coach. Because then someone else would have to coach Scott Burrell. That was my joke to him. He was a typical 'boys of summer' -- he just wanted to play. He loved practices for the scrimmages. The drills, not so much. Watching him in the dugout when he wasn't pitching one day, he couldn't sit still ... Just a great kid, one of the best kids you're gonna find. He's kind of a throwback in many ways."
(does he have what it takes -- work ethic, etc. -- to be a head coach?)
"This isn't something that just came about. He started thinking about this four or five years ago ... Scott Burrell is ready for this job, he'll do a great job. We talked yesterday. We talked about this for the past few months, we've talked about a couple of things the past year or two."
"Taliek Brown is the next guy I'd love to see get into college coaching, because he's done a good job in high school ... He's trying to. We've talked a lot. He's been up to camp working. He's a great teacher. I always say the best (leaders) I ever had were 1. Kemba Walker and maybe 1a. or 2., would have to be Taliek. They played with great joy."
Calhoun also noted that he'll be back with ESPN this season and is talking about doing a lot more games -- and a lot of big-time games -- with Rece Davis and the gang.
Greater Hartford Pro-Am returns to Hartford on Wednesday night
After a couple of years at Waterbury's Crosby High, the Greater Hartford Pro-Am officially returns to ... well ... Hartford on Wednesday night. Games will be played at the Sport & Medical Sciences Academy at 208 Huyshope Ave. in Hartford.
The GHPA's 2015 season kicks off at 6:30 p.m., with Attorney Deron Freeman (led by Tobin Carberry and a host of players from Central Connecticut) facing Pauly Chute Slamm (which will be led by a pair of terrific New Haven guards past and present -- Bobby Moore and Tremont Waters. Waters, a UConn target, won't be at Wednesday night's game. Stanley Robinson is also on the team).
At 8:15 p.m., New York's Hot 93.7 (last year's scoring champ Doug Herring, Anthony Cox) will face two-time defending champion BJM Law Firm (Ryan Gomes, Keith Cothran, Lamonte Ulmer, Kelvin Davis).
Other top players expected to compete in the 11-team league include Jerome Dyson, Doug Wiggins and A.J. Price. The league could get some special guest appearances: on Aug. 1-2, Nate Robinson is expected to play. Other possible players throughout the summer could include Andre Drummond, Rudy Gay, Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb and Wes Matthews.
And, as always, several current UConn players are expected to play throughout the summer.
Sam Cassell, Jr. cleared for action, anxious to get going again
UConn announced that Sam Cassell, Jr. has been cleared for basketball activities on Wednesday, completing his long road back from a stress fracture injury in his right leg back in January.
If it seems like a long time for Cassell to recover, particularly since there was hope in Husky camp that he could return for the postseason in March, remember that doctors told Cassell it would be a 3-6 month recovery.
"I knew it might be a long process," Cassell said late last week. "I was hoping (to return last March), but the doctor was telling me not to rush it. Because at the time, when the AAC tournament was going on, it was healing, but it wasn't all the way healed."
Cassell has been on campus, bonding with his new teammates, working out, trying to get his legs back under him this summer and doing everything except playing in pick-up games. Now, he can.
"I'm anxious," he said. "I've been waiting for a long time to get back out there."
Count me as one who believes Cassell will be a nice help for the Huskies this season. He shot the ball very well in some early games last season (albeit in exhibition games and/or against weaker competition). He's also a guy who averaged 18.4 points per game for a strong Chipola Junior College team the year before.
Obviously, his shot suffered a lot in the weeks before his injury, and he wound up shooting just 27.6 percent from the floor and 26.5 percent from 3-point land. But I wouldn't give up on him yet. Can you envision Cassell as a zone-breaking shooter off the Huskies' bench this season?
The stress fracture may have ultimately been a bit of a blessing in disguise.
“This injury helped me get my confidence back," he explained. "Working out, I see my shot going in much more, so it’s building my confidence back up.”
Still, last year was tough for the junior guard.
“It hurt me. It felt like me in JUCO sitting out all over
again. But my health was much more important. Even though I struggled, I know
sitting out hurt me even more.”
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).