The National Championship has come and gone, and the endless analysis has begun. Many journalists, and fans alike, have provided recaps of their favorite team’s previous season on this site and others. However, I’m willing to bet that no program had quite the same season as the UConn Huskies.
UConn faced a number of challenges and unique obstacles this year, and in my opinion, handled them masterfully. For one, UConn was banned from the postseason due to academic issues that had absolutely nothing to do with the current roster. Recognizing the lack of justice for the current UConn players, the NCAA was nice enough to allow all of our players to transfer without being forced to sit out a year with their new team. Gee, thanks guys.
The result was the transferring of our would-be junior big man, Alex Oriakhi, and the early NBA Draft declaration by Andre Drummond. The other obvious downside to the post-season ban was a clear lack of motivation going into the 2012-2013 season. What were the players fighting for this year?
In my opinion, that answer became very clear when Jim Calhoun announced he would be retiring, and Kevin Ollie would fill in as the interim head coach. What many viewed as another challenge, the Huskies viewed as an inspiration. The players unified behind the former Husky and fought for a contract extension for Coach Ollie.
UConn was counted out by many but believed in themselves. This is arguably the most likable team in UConn history, because each and every one of the players chose to stay. It seemed almost silly not to leave, and this team chose to stick it out and show the world what it means to be a Husky. That loyalty will bleed over into the 2013-2014 season, as there is no sign of anyone leaving early. Kevin Ollie seems to be piecing together a decent first-year recruiting class, as well. I’m excited to see how it all pans out. For now, please check out my way too early preview of the 2013-2014 UConn Huskies.
R.J. Evans, Guard, Graduation
Career stats: 3.1 PPG, 0.7 APG, 1.7 RPG, 0.2 BPG, 0.9 SPG
While R.J. may not have added a lot to the team in the way of production, he served as an emotional leader and a calming presence for the other players. He was a hustle guy, who had the unique ability to get the team pumped up with an emotional play or firy speech. It won’t be a huge blow to the Huskies by any stretch of the imagination, but he will be missed.
Key returning players
Shabazz Napier, Guard
2012-13 stats: 17.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, 4.4 RPG, 0.1 BPG, 2.0 SPG
The biggest problem with the 2011-2012 Huskies was leadership. After the departure of Kemba Walker, UConn was left with a void as to who would lead the team. Napier and Oriakhi struggled to gain the respect of their teammates and the squad basically imploded. However, last year brought with it a whole new Shabazz. He was hitting late game shots, providing the Huskies with a sure and reliable ball handler, and spreading the ball around to his teammates. His leadership skills should only increase further next year, and I’m excited to see him grow.
Ryan Boatright, Guard
2012-13 stats: 15.4 PPG, 4.4 APG, 2.9 RPG, 0.1 BPG, 1.5 SPG
Boatright is a freak talent. Standing at a generous 5-foot-10, Boatright can dunk with the best of them. He also has the ability to pick the tightest of pockets and break the sturdiest of ankles. My only knock on Boatright is his tendency to get a little out of control. This is to be expected from a talented underclassman, however, and just like the turnaround we saw from Kemba between his sophomore and junior year, I expect we’ll see something similar from Boat. If Ryan can learn how to harness his natural athleticism and use it to its full potential, he could very well be the best player in the country one day.
DeAndre Daniels, Forward
2012-13 stats: 12.1 PPG, 0.7 APG, 5.5 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 0.8 SPG
Daniels’ stats are somewhat misleading. While the numbers are pretty good for a sophomore, they are stunted a bit by the circumstance. The void of talent in the front-court, caused by the NCAA Violations, forced DeAndre to play out of position for much of the ’12-’13 season. While he stands at 6’8″, his skill set better serves as a swing player, rather than a true big man. He has decent handles, he can shoot deep jumpers, and he has the speed and agility to compete with the faster defenders. Assuming our front-court problems are resolved to some extent, DeAndre should really shine next year, playing in his true position as a G/F. Can you say “matchup nightmare”?
Phillip Nolan, Forward
2012-13 stats: 1.4 PPG, 0.3 APG, 2.1 RPG, 0.5 BPG, 0.3 SPG
Phillip who? This is the one guy who you’re not going to pick out on a box score or stat sheet. Phillip Nolan rode the bench for most of the season. After Enosch Wolf got in some legal trouble, however, Nolan was forced to take on a bigger role, and he showed some real promise. In the last three games of the season, his averages jumped to 6.3 RPG and 1.3 BPG. He averaged 28 minutes in those three games, as well. These numbers might not blow anybody away, but considering he’s only 6-foot-9 and 210 pounds, the show of defensive power was pleasantly surprising. He doesn’t have any real speed working in his favor, so there’s no reason he shouldn’t be putting on weight this off season, ready to muscle some big men around next year.
Kentan Facey, Forward
Player notables: Four star, ESPN top 100 recruit
Kentan Facey moved to the United States from Jamaica just two years ago. Interestingly enough, one of his first college basketball experiences involved watching Kemba Walker and the 2011 Huskies win the National Title. According to Facey in an interview with SNY, “The first year I came here, UConn happened to win the Championship that year, so I started to pay attention to them. From then on, I started developing that dream that I wanted to play there.” Coach Kevin Ollie described Facey as having a “relentless motor” and called him a “great person.” He should be a welcomed addition to the team.
Amida Brimah, Center
Player notables: Three star, 6’11″ recruit
With UConn in desperate need of a presence down low, Brimah may just be the perfect fit. After averaging 15.7 PPG, 11.6 RPG, and 7.2 BPG this season, the 6’11″ Ghana native is hoping to add a defensive presence to a desolate Huskies’ front-court. According to an interview with GhanaWeb, Amida believes he’ll make a difference on the Huskies roster, adding “I know I’ll have a chance. I work hard, and I’ll be ready.” Could Brimah be the answer to the Huskies’ rebounding woes? Let’s hope so.
Terrence Samuel, Guard
Player notables: Three star recruit; MVP in the Big Apple Basketball Invitational
Kemba may be doing his thing in Charlotte, but he seems to be our number 1 recruiter. Much like Kentan Facey, Terrence Samuel decided to come to UConn, in large part, due to Kemba Walker, whose UConn career he followed very closely. Samuel likens his style to Shabazz Napier, although he admits he needs to work on his jump shot a bit more. He met Shabazz in August. Samuel told The Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore that “(Shabazz) shook my hand and said, ‘UConn is the greatest school in the world,’ but I already knew that.” It’s nice to see a true Huskies fan wearing the uniform. Can he be the next Kemba or Shabazz?
As I mentioned earlier, every player on this team is here to stay. The could have left, like the others, avoiding any sort of transfer penalty and nobody would have blamed them. However, they chose to stay. In my opinion, that limits next year’s objectives to just one: win a national championship.
With senior leadership from Shabazz Napier and role player Niels Giffey, who have already won a national title in the college careers, to talented upperclassman like Daniels and Boatright, this team is fully capable of taking it all next year.
In a battle of pure heart, I’d put this UConn squad against the best of them. This team has gone through more obstacles than any other team in the country, and I think the bond they share is all the stronger as a result.
Given the new conference, which will feature a drop off in talent compared to the former Big East, UConn should expect to finish in first place and no less. This is not automatic, however, as Memphis and Temple should seriously challenge the Huskies for the top spot.