Thursday, July 7, 2016

Ladies and gentlemen, UConn's 'Top Five'

Been a while since I've blogged, so here's a mega-post off today's "Meet the Freshmen" at the Werth Center. This group of frosh is calling themselves "The Top Five," and they certainly could be one of the program's better classes when it's all said and done.
'The Top Five' (l. to r.), Vance Jackson, Juwan Durham, Christian Vital, Mamadou Diarra, Alterique Gilbert.

Here's some sights and sounds from this afternoon:


(on how good this freshman class can be)

“I believe that it’s the best in the country right now. We have guys that can do everything. We have scorers, decent defensive players, we have vocal leaders in Alterique and Christian, a shooter like Vance, a nice big like Mamadou, and versatility in myself, I believe. Coach K.O. told us that we have a chance to start. You know he doesn’t keep the same starting lineup, so whoever’s out there working the hardest and doing the best that they can do, they’ll be able to start.”

(on getting adjusted to life on UConn's campus)

“I like the area, because there’s not much in Storrs to do, other than play basketball and go to class. That’s what I really liked about it. I liked the campus, I liked the coaching staff and I liked the team. I knew the incoming freshmen class that we already have, with Mamadou and Alterique, I knew I’d be in good hands with those guys. We have good leaders in Kentan Facey and Jalen Adams and Rodney Purvis and Amida (Brimah).”

“I grew up in the city. Tampa, Florida … is really a fast-paced city, a lot of big buildings and stuff like that, interstates. Out here, there’s nothing but giant bugs. I saw an ant probably the size of my big toe. It’s crazy stuff that I’ve never seen before. It’s something new. I can go back and tell my family back at home. I took a video of a bee, I think it was. It was like that big (stretches fingers out). I was really confused about that.”




“You see Vance, he’s a 6-8 shooter, scorer, versatile. Alterique and I have no problem playing together – obviously he’s not playing yet, his shoulder’s still recovering, but we talk about (things like) I don’t mind if he brings up the ball, I don’t need to bring up the ball every time, he doesn’t need to bring the ball up all the time, he’s a selfless person – you see Mamadou, he’s a beast on the boards and starting to work on his mid-range shot, and Juwan, he’s still recovering, but he’s 6-11 and we were shooting around and he made, like, 10 3’s in a row. So, this class is really, really talented and versatile. I believe we’re one of the best recruiting classes in 2016. We need to prove it during the season.”

“Obviously, we want to win a national championship. That’s what everyone wants to do. We just talk about getting better as a group, pushing each other, making sure that no one person is slacking. Because if one person is slacking out of the five of us, we’re all slacking. We’re a team, we’re close with our other teammates, as well, but there’s something about that freshman group. Your class you come in with, you’re just a little bit tighter with, because you’re experiencing something new at the same time. We just talk about sticking together and keep getting each other better.”

(on whether he's a 'Kevin Ollie-type player,' as his prep coach called him)

“I think that’s one of the pictures coach K.O. was telling me when he was recruiting me, that you’re extremely hard-working. He spent 13 years in the NBA and he was never the best player on his team, he never averaged multiple points a game, he was just a hard-worker. He says I can shoot better than him, but those intangibles of working hard and wanting it more than other people, that I can achieve my dreams, too. And he can help me to that. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to play for Coach K.O.”

(on how his best friend, Steve Enoch, helped persuade him to come to UConn)

“I kind of spoke to him before it went public and told him what my five were gonna be. From then, he was texting me, ‘Listen, bro, what are you doing? Just commit now. Just commit now.’ So he definitely had an impact on me coming here.”

(on his friendship with Enoch)

“We just became such close friends (at St. Thomas More). We have the same interests off the court. We like to work out. We go to the gym at 6:30 a.m., preseason and during the season. We’d hang out in each other’s rooms, play video games when there was nothing much else to do on a prep school campus. It’s not like we could leave, so we just really bonded together. That’s my best friend.”

(on Enoch playing for Team Armenia this summer)

“I spoke to him yesterday. I was like, ‘Good luck out there, do your thing.’ I spoke to him the other night to work hard out there. You’re not there for no reason. He’s new to basketball. He wasn’t really on varsity from his freshman year like a lot of other players. So I told him, you’re out there for a reason, work hard, do your thing, and enjoy your experience out there.”


“I think this group is gonna be really special. We’re already half the team this year, so we’re gonna all play major roles with the team. We’re with each other all day, so we’re jelling, and that’s gonna help us out a lot. Everybody brings their own uniqueness.”

(defense and rebounding)

“That’s gonna be my niche to get on the floor. And I know I’ve got to develop offensively. But I figure once I get in the gym all the time and put in that work, that’s gonna come eventually. But I’m gonna deal with my strengths at first, and then grow from there.”

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