Went to check out Zach Brown in his debut with Putnam Science Academy. There's a lot to like here, but certainly room to improve, as well.
Brown didn't start (he did just enroll at the school less than two weeks ago) but came off the bench 4 minutes, 43 seconds into the game and made his presence felt. He wound up with 14 points on 7-for-11 shooting, with four rebounds and three blocks. He also had his shot blocked twice in a row by a smaller player early on, when some rust was evident.
There's no doubt, he's skilled -- more so than other recent UConn big men (Hasheem Thabeet, Amida Brimah, maybe Steve Enoch). He's a little ungainly, maybe needs to get a little stronger, but has some impressive low-post moves, keeps the ball high and has a nice lefty jump hook that's got to be hard to guard -- especially from a 7-footer.
Brown helped PSA crush a Lee Academy team that has some talent and size but is a middle-of-the-pack team in the league.
Meanwhile, Mamadou Diarra struggled a bit, with 13 points on 4-for-9 shooting from both the field and the foul line. He did hit a 3-pointer and grabbed 10 boards to go with four blocks, some of them rafter-shaking.
And Hamidou Diallo? Wow, he's special. Finished with 20 points, five boards and five assists, as well as an incredible dunk through the lane, in traffic. Incredible talent, though a bit yappy with the refs and the opposing team.
Unfortunately, I missed his dunk on video, but did get this stickback late in the game:
Former UConn player Boo Willingham, who was Brown's AAU coach and mentor down in Miami, was at the game (he still lives in Hartford) and had some nice things to say about the big man. We'll have that and more in a feature story on Monday.
For now, here's what Brown and Putnam coach Tom Espinosa had to say about his debut:
"I was nervous at first, but I got it together. An elite player should never be nervous to play any competition."
"It's a lot better. It's competitive. I can't just go out and get easy dunks, I have to work hard for it. Down in Miami, I'm not trying to talk bad, but it was a little easy. Up here, it's really competitive. I was really working and stepping my game up."
(on Putnam Science Academy)
"At first, I was like, 'Oh my God, why am I here? They sent me away just for this?' But now, I like it. My teammates love me, I love my teammates, I love my coach. I just love it here. It just feels right."
(on what parts of his game are his strengths, and what he needs to work on)
"Playing defense, blocking shots rebounding, my left-hand jump hook, layups. But I have to work on my right hand. I've been working on it a little bit so I can get that up-and-under ready."
"I wanted to get out of Miami, because I had a lot of distractions with suspensions and crazy stuff. Miami is like a party city, so I wasn't focused mentally, so I had to come up here if I wanted to be successful. So, that's what I did."
"It depends on the schoolwork. If I can get it down pat and get these grades up, it'll happen. If not, I have to stay one more year. So, we'll have to see."
Would he prefer to move up to the Class of 2016?
PUTNAM COACH TOM ESPINOSA:
"We have a pretty good relationship with UConn, we have Mamadou here. The bottom line is, UConn's staff wanted to get Zach out of Miami and get him into a prep school. It wasn't just us, it was other prep schools. It just worked out with us."
"I think UConn's pretty happy he's here. We're 30 minutes away from UConn."
"He's extremely quick for a 7-footer. He moves extremely well. Defensively, he's got to work on. He closes, no space, and he fouls constantly. He blocked maybe one or two shots, but he's gotta be a better shot-blocker. Defensively, he's kind of way behind, I believe. But offensively, he's very quick, he keeps the ball high, he's got great up-and-under moves. The last two days of practice, he's dominated."
(could he be ready to play at UConn next season)
"This fall, at UConn? I think he could, but I think he would benefit a lot more coming back. He's got a lot of work to do. In Miami, he put up big numbers, but he wasn't playing against the highest competition that he's gonna play here, at a prep school in New England."
"He would love to go next year. He's a true junior, he's right on track. His plan is to maybe take some summer classes, graduate early and get to UConn in the fall. But, it's a very slim chance. I don't think it's gonna happen. I think he'll be back here next year."
Because Brown transferred to PSA past deadline, he won't be able to play in the national prep tournament.
Labels: Amida Brimah, Boo Willingham, Hamidou Diallo, Hasheem Thabeet, Mamadou Diarra, Steve Enoch, tom Espinosa, Zach Brown