Thursday, July 16, 2009

UCONN Summer Report

KEY LOSSES: A.J. Price, 6-2 Guard: On a team stacked with big bodies and even bigger names, no presence was bigger or louder than Price's. Simply put, the innate floor leader was the straw that stirred the Huskies' drink. The Huskies' hand bones connected to Price's knee bones, and when his anterior cruciate ligament was all good, the Huskies went simply as Price went. The freshly-minted Indiana Pacer averaged 14.7 points and 4.7 assists as a fifth-year senior. The Price was good money from beyond the arc, averaging a thread over two treys per game...Price was also the answer during crucial, high-pressure junctures, canning threes and creating his own shot. He hung 36 points on the strength of eight three-pointers at Marquette on 2/25...Price also shouldered a never-say-die attitude, with his timely treys and big buckets helping the Huskies claw their way back from a deficit. When the Huskies needed to rip-off of a head-spinning run, Price was the culprit. The Amityville, N.Y. product was an essential ingredient in a backcourt. He created open looks for players and also took matters into his own hands, hitting clutch shots. Though Price will be sorely missed by the program, gazelle-quick guard Kemba Walker seems to have the floor general position locked up. While the scoring void can be filled, the leadership, signal calling duties, clutch characteristics and perimeter presence will be hard to replenish.


Jeff Adrien, 6-foot-7 Forward: The brute from Brookline (Mass.) was a key cog in the Huskies' hallmark, seal the basket shut defense. Adrien, who played a significant role in all four years as a Husky, saved the best for last. Adrien established himself as the sixth player in UConn history to reach the 1,000-point, 1,000-rebound milestone. The physical specimen knocked people around the paint and swallowed rebounds with ease. He shot the rock at a 50 percent clip, albeit his free throw shooting woes were detrimental to success. Part of a beefed-up frontcourt with 7-foot-3 beanstalk Hasheem Thabeet, Adrien averaged 13.3 points and 10 rebounds. He blocked over a shot a game, manipulating a laundry-list of others. Adrien opened up his jumpshot, adding a mid-range game to his offensive arsenal. High-adrenaline Adrien's workman-like persistence, along with a heart that pumped lion's blood always seemed to charge up the hostile home crowd.


Hasheem Thabeet, 7-3 Center: He arrived on campus a sushi-raw neophyte that pundits described in three words: Work in progress. In the end, however, this towering 7-foot-3 Tanzania native left the rims locked, staking his claim as the nation's top defender his sophomore and junior years. Thabeet's ability to poke, pluck, manipulate, influence, and change the trajectory of shots kept players out of the paint. His defensive prowess vaulted him into another zip code. Thabeet became the first UConn player in recent memory to cop a triple-double while evolving into a walking double-double, averaging 13.2 points and 11 boards. Though Thabeet did his best Houdini impression in some crucial losses (the behemoth looked as if he inhaled some zanax pills against Georgetown and was absolutely obliterated by DuJuan Blair in the home loss to Pitt), his 4.6 blocks, towering presence, and Shaq-size shoes will be hard to fill. Both Thabeet and bruising buddy Adrien injected fear into opponents, keeping explosive scorers at bay. While the no.2 pick in the 2009 NBA draft enters the Memphis Grizzlies a ready-made defender, he never developed any post or back to the basket moves at UConn.

Craig Austrie, 6-3 Guard: Though inconsistent, Austrie hit a number of crucial shots in his career. He led by example, through his poise, composure, clutch free throw and outside shooting. When his shooting tailed off, he turned up the volts on his defensive package. He focused on delivering pinpoint passes and made his teammates beneficiaries of his presence. Austrie, who averaged 7.2 points and 2.3 assists his senior year, was often pegged by Calhoun as the team closer. Austrie's 17-point showing against Purdue in the sweet 16 was perhaps the prized piece of his career. The kid from Stamford, Conn. started half of his freshman year--filling in for the then-suspended Marcus Williams--and immediately found his niche as a quiet leader.

KEY RETURNERS:

Jerome Dyson, 6-4 Guard: Athletically and skill-wise, Dyson could be as good as any guard/swingman in the Big East. A major presence in the transition game, Dyson has the essential tools to be the feature piece in UConn's uptempo, go-go style. He's a great finisher, has otherworldy hops, and can put the other team's best player in a straightcoat. The only thing holding him back is his attitude and pysche. The games get bigger and bigger, and Dyson--who loves to feast on the also-rans--tends to get smaller and smaller. Too often, the kid from Rockville, Md. has sold the store. His performances during a four-point win the Huskies eked out over Buffalo and a double-digit loss to Georgetown are indicative of this. There's a lot of lost basketball time Dyson will likely make up during his last year in a Husky jersey. Dyson missed the meat of the 2007-08 schedule, serving a suspension for a failed drug test. When he returned, Dyson never really caught the chemistry and failed to recover his swag. This past year, Dyson suffered a season-ending knee injury after locking knees with Syracuse's Kristof Ongenaet on 2/11... Dyson can dial in from downtown, though he must develop a quicker release. The kid who looked like the next great one midway through his freshman campaign will shift his gaze towards streamlining a three-year rollercoaster and re-write the script this year. Many felt Dyson was the missing link to a UConn national championship last year, and that his jersey-for-suit swap robbed the Huskies' framework of its swagger.

Stanley Robinson, 6-4 Forward: Feast or famine is the expression commonly associated with the ultra-athletic Robinson, he of the NBA talent and skill set. The kid they call "Sticks" showed flashes of brilliance during multiple games this season, though campus police often were often forced to issue a search warrant for his game. He went off for 28 points (including a timely trifecta) and 14 caroms in the 6-overtime marathon v.s. Syracuse in the Big East Tournament. Sticks also averaged a meager 5.0 ppg during a five-game conference stretch. He played possessed against Marquette, dropping 19 points on the full nine yards of shallow jumpers, stickbacks, fast break finishes and vicious dunks. He's the kid who scored 18 in a drubbing of a snakebitten Providence team but put up a donut in a pivotal win over Notre Dame. Sticks recorded a double-double in a crushing Final Four loss, perhaps a harbinger of things to come. The wiry kid has God-given athleticism which few on this side of Rudy Gay can simulate. He needs to execute them every night, as opposed to turning in the occasional flash of greatness. Next year, the junior has the challenge of leading UConn (in a Big East that's oversaturated with talent) cooking on his front burner. Is Sticks up for the task?

Kemba Walker, 6-0 Guard: An orchestrator of the souped-up offense, Walker has a flair for the game and can create easy baskets for scorers Dyson and Robinson. He can also leave his fingerprints on games, as he proved during his 23-point outburst against Missouri in the Elite Eight. Walker showed a vicious streak for attacking the basket that game, something the lightning-quick, pitbull guard needs to do more of next season. Just a sophomore, the New York product will be in position to lead and fuel the trademark transition game this season.

Gavin Edwards, 6-9 Forward: While he's more of a finesse player, Edwards must handle the chore of playing out of his nature. As a senior who's gone up against the national defensive player of the year in practice the past three years, Edwards could be battle-tested. He must show the grit and will to win he displayed during a 17-point eruption against Delaware State and a 14-point, 12-board performance against Gonzaga. Having gotten stronger each summer, expect Edwards--the son of former NFL player Earl Edwards--to return dieseled-up for his senior year. The Huskies will need him to emerge into more of a physical presence in the paint.

KEY NEWCOMERS:

Ater Majok, 6-10, F/C: Sudan refugee who flirted with testing the NBA waters has the size and athleticism to make an immediate impact. A 22-year-old freshman, Majok is supposedly the real deal. A squad returning plenty height but no skill (see Chuck Okwandu and Jonathan Mandeldove on that one), UConn will need every ounce of Majok's post presence. His skill-set remains to be weighed. Majok must develop a dependable jump shot if he's to truly be a one-and-done this season.

Alex Oriakhi, 6-8, F/C: Freshman via the Tilton School is an immense interior presence with a bruising Big East body. Rock-solid defensive rebounder who could develop into a considerable shot-blocker at the next level.

Darius Smith 6-2, G: Freshman from legendary Marshall HS in Chicago (where Hoop Dreams star Arthur Agee played) can create offense and score buckets by the bundles. Needs to better his passing game, emerge into a more reliable outside shooter.

Jamaal Trice 6-6, G: A superb outside shooter, this off guard should pay immediate dividends and fill the perimeter void left by Price and Austrie. Averaged 26.2 points at the prestigious Mount Zion Christian Academy in North Carolina last year.

Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, 6-6, G: Another rangy shooter. Coombs-McDaniel is one step ahead athletically, versatile and can make an immediate impact. High basketball IQ should also work in JCM's favor.