UConn ’09-10 Preview
Huskies still got plenty of bite.
On paper, the squad lost a lot of its luster with the departure of Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, two behemoths who pounded the glass and kept the rims locked.
The additional loss of A.J. Price, who’s stop-and-pop, clutch characteristics helped steer the big UConn boat into uncharted waters for this core, is also a tough pill to swallow.
On the other side of the coin, it seems to be Kemba Walker’s team this season. A lynchpin in UConn’s souped-up, go-go offense, the flashy NYC-bred guard has developed solid chemistry with returning cornerstones such as Jerome Dyson and Staney “Sticks” Robinson.
We like their chances.
Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun and company encountered a sideshow toward the end of last season when Yahoo! Sports dropped bombshell allegations that the coaching staff bent the rules in the recruitment of highly sought after prospect Nate Miles. The report also explained how the Huskies circumenvented the rulebook in their recruitment of Ater Majok.
Miles was expelled from UConn barely a month into his time on campus for violating a restraining order just minutes after it was issued. Miles had allegations of abusing a female student.
At the same time, the NCAA Clearninghouse was evaluating the academics of Majok, an immensely talented 6-9 forward who entertained thoughts of bolting to the League. The NCAA cleared Majok’s way to enroll at UConn in December, but they ruled he would not be eligible until December of 2009 to play for the Huskies.
Will Calhoun, who’s ailing health sidelined him a few times last season, manage to coach this season without stress avalanching on him and while essentially ducking the long arm of NCAA?
Jerome Dyson | 6-4 | G | Senior
Athletically and skill-wise, Dyson could be as good as any guard/swingman in the Big East. Slicin’ Dyson, the product of Rockville, MD who made waves as a freshman on a callow squad, is a major presence in the transition game.
Dyson has the essential tools to be the cornerstone of UConn’s uptempo, go-go style. A solid finisher, Dyson has otherworldy hops, and loves to throw down violent rim-rattlers, which spark crowds at Gampel and the XL Center.
While scoring may be his calling card, Dyson will put other team’s best player in a straightcoat now and thing. 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, ‘Rome 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 ‘07-08 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 February 11. 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 | F | Senior
Feast or famine is the expression commonly linked with the ultra-athletic Robinson, he of the NBA talent and skill. The kid they call “Sticks” showed flashes of brilliance and NBA talent during multiple games this season. CT state and UConn campus police, however, were often forced to issue a search warrant out for his game. A mammoth manhunt was finally called off after he broke out of a slump with an 18-point game (in which he converted several Kemba Walker lobs to two-handed bangers) against Route 6 rival Providence.
Sticks went off for 28 points (including a timely trifecta) and 14 caroms in the six-overtime marathon against Syracuse in the Big East Tournament. But the Alabama native averaged a meager 5 ppg during a five-game conference stretch.
He played possessed against Marquette, dropping 19 points on the full nine yards of shallow jumpers, stickbacks, and fast break finishes. He’s the kid who’ll light your team up one day, then put up a donut (like he did in a pivotal win over Notre Dame) the next . 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 utilize these gifts every night, as opposed to turning in occasional flashes. Next year, the junior has the challenge of leading UConn (in a Big East oversaturated with talent) cooking on his front stove. If anyone can light a fire under his ass, it’s longtime head coach Jim Calhoun, he of the penchant for four-letter words in press conferences and no-nonsense attitude. Is Sticks up for the task?
Kemba Walker | 6-0 | G | Sophomore
An orchestrator of the souped-up offense, Walker has a flair for the game which allows him to create easy baskets for scorers Dyson and Robinson. He can also take matters into his own hands, as he proved during his 23-point outburst against Missouri in the Elite Eight. He left his fingerprints on that one.
Walker showed a vicious streak for attacking the basket that game, something the jet-quick, pitbull guard needs to do more of next season. Just a sophomore, the Rice HS (Harlem, NY) product will be in position to lead and fuel the Huskies’ hallmark transition game this season.
Gavin Edwards | 6-9 | F | Senior
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.
Ater Majok | 6-10 | F/C | Freshman
A Sudan refugee, Majok flirted with the idea of testing the NBA waters. He’s got the size and athleticism to pick up where Thabeet, who loved feasting on smaller opponents, left off. A 22-year-old freshman, signs point to Majok being the real deal. A squad returning plenty height but no skill-set (see Chuck Okwandu and Jonathan Mandeldove on that one), UConn will need every ounce of Majok’s post presence. The man amongst youngins’ skill-set remains to be weighed. Majok must develop a dependable jump shot if he’s to truly emerge as a one-and-done this season.
Alex Oriakhi | 6-8 | F/C | Freshman
A freshman via the Tilton School, AO is an immense interior presence with a bruising Big East body. A rock-solid defensive rebounder, Oriakhi could develop into a considerable shot-blocker at the next level.
Darius Smith | 6-2 | G | Freshman
Freshman by way of legendary Marshall HS in Chicago (where Hoop Dreams star Arthur Agee played), Smith can create offense and score buckets by the bundles. Albeit he needs to better his passing game, Smith can emerge into a more reliable outside shooter than UConn has to work with. He can cushion some of the three-point shooting void left by guards A.J. Price and Craig Austrie.
Jamaal Trice | 6-6 | G | Freshman
A superb outside shooter, this off guard should pay immediate dividends and also help fill the perimeter void left by Price and Austrie. Trice asveraged 26.2 points at the prestigious Mount Zion Christian Academy in North Carolina last year.
Jamal Coombs-McDaniel | 6-6 | G | Freshman
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.
Obviously, the loss of 7-3 behemoth Hasheem Thabeet to the League, is the toughest pill to swallow. Thabeet, who punched, plucked, changed and altered the trajectory of shots every time he stepped on the hardwood, will be missed. Jeff Adrien’s manpower and ability to patrol the paint also leaves a void.
Huskies will equally miss facilitating point guard A.J. Price, a gamer who stirred the drink. An innate leader, Price spurred runs and rarely wilted under pressure.
When the Huskies needed to rip-off of a head-spinning run, Price was the culprit. The Amityville, NY product 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. In possibly Calhoun’s last season, can this young squad get it done?
Zach Smart has written for Big East Basketball Report, Hoops Addict and The East Coast Bias. Read more on his blog.