Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Register's UConn basketball blog has moved

The Register's UConn basketball blog has moved.
Please read all the latest Huskies' news here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Male Bonding

Here's a feature from today's Register on the friendship Ater Majok and Charles Okwandu have formed over the past year. They share plenty in common: both are big men with lots of raw potential; both had to sit out the final two months of last season (Majok after getting cleared to enroll at UConn by the NCAA, Okwandu after being declared academically ineligible by the school); both wound up such defensive presences on the practice squad that only one was allowed on the court at the same time while the Huskies were practicing their offense; and, of course, both share African heritage (Majok from Sudan, Okwandu from Nigeria).

Actually, the latter doesn't mean as much as I thought it might.

"Even if (Okwandu) was Chinese or anything ... brothers can be from anywhere," Majok said.

The two are also on the same Greater Hartford Pro-Am summer league team, the Springfield Slamm. Big Chuck has been sidelined for about a week after having his ankle stepped on in a game. It's just precautionary, and he's expected to return to the court for the Slamm's next game, on Friday at 8:15 p.m. against Ryan Gomes and Harte Nissan at the Sport & Medical Sciences Academy in Hartford. Should be a good test for both Majok and Okwandu.

One other thing: I was reminded while chatting with a UConn fan that Majok has similarities with Charlie Villanueva. Certainly, his propensity to shoot 3's (at least in the pro-am) remind some of a young Villanueva, who also apparently was in love with the 3 at first. Well, UConn's coaching staff recognizes this similarity. They don't mind Majok hoisting up an occasional trey, but they want to start their game inside. Remember, last year the Huskies made more free throws than their opponents attempted!

Majok should get a chance to showcase his perimeter skills from time to time. On the Huskies' secondary fast break, the four-man trails. So, Majok will have the chance to spot up and pop some 3's.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

So Nice He's Named Trice

Here's a mini-feature from today's Register on Jamaal Trice, who could be a pleasant surprise for the Huskies over the next few years. Some say Trice is a defensive specialist, some a shooter. Trice believes he's a slashing-type player. UConn assistant coach Patrick Sellers calls him a "bigger Jerome (Dyson)."

No doubt, the Huskies are glad to have him. And Trice is glad to be here. He spurned visits to other programs after his Dec. 29 visit to Storrs "because nothing gets better than (UConn)."

Then he committed on New Year's Eve.

"I had to start the New Year off good," Trice said.


Friday, July 24, 2009

A Strange, Sad Story

Growing up a college basketball fan in Rhode Island, and eventually attending URI, one of my favorite players was Kenny Green. A 6-9 shot-blocking fool, Green (a Waterbury native) was a freshman sensation on the Rams' surprise Sweet 16 team in 1988. After the Rams advanced past the first two rounds and the team plane arrived at T.F. Greene Airport, a banner with the name "Kenny" was placed over the T.F., temporarily changing the name of the airport to "Kenny Greene Airport."

Anyway, I loved me some Kenny Green. Reading this story on Green from a Middle Eastern newspaper's website is both shocking and sad. Never mind the strange grammar, which seems to be a result of some poor translation (i.e., it reports that Green's "mum" had "prostrate" cancer). The fact that Green has fallen on terrible times, a result of trying to help out his ailing (and now deceased) mother, is sad to read about.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Darius Smith Can Play

Took in the lone game at the Greater Hartford Pro-Am this evening and watched the Springfield Slamm (featuring UConn freshmen Darius Smith and Ater Majok) defeat the Mizner All-Stars, 104-88.

Majok and Smith didn't get to leave campus until about 15 minutes before the game was supposed to start and didn't arrive at Hartford's Sport & Medical Sciences Academy until about five minutes were left in the first quarter. They didn't enter the game until the second quarter and both looked a bit rusty early on after the long drive. In fact, neither scored a point in the first half.

The latter half was a different story.

Majok looked pretty good, knocking down a few long-range jumpers, making a few nice passes and displaying some impressive athleticism for a 6-foot-10 player. He committed five fouls and made a few poor decisions (at one point dribbling the ball behind his back deftly at midcourt, only to throw away a long pass) but overall was fine. He scored eight points.

Smith was simply magnificent. He scored 15 points on a variety of drives to the lane, a couple of jumpers, even a putback of a Majok missed fallaway jumper:

Smith is quick, intense and energetic. He's non-stop on defense and pushes the ball well on offense. He's an excellent ballhandler and just looks fundamentally sound at everything he does. Smith could stand to get a little stronger, but otherwise, there's a lot to like here.

Here's a couple more clips of Smith (No. 31) and Majok (No. 32) in action:

Smith finished with 15 points to spearhead the win.

Also, Charles Okwandu (normally on the Slamm team) didn't make the trip due to a sore ankle. Jonathan Mandeldove was in the house and said that he's waiting on a grade from summer school to see if he's OK academically. Jim Calhoun told me last week that Mandeldove's status for this upcoming season was "up in the air" due to academic issues.

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Some Pro-Am Chatter

Went over to the Greater Hartford Pro-Am last night at the Sport & Medical Sciences Academy in Hartford. As always, some good run on display, particularly last night's nightcap between Ryan Gomes' Harte Nissan against All Axxess Entertainment.

Gomes was terrific, as one would expect from a double-figures NBA scorer. What most impressed me, however, was his competitiveness. He hit a terrific driving layup while being fouled with less than 30 seconds left, and went to the free throw line. After knocking down the foul shot to give his team a fairly insurmountable five-point lead, Gomes pumped his fist in joy.

Here's the top scorer in Providence College basketball history (and, of course, subject of one of Jim Calhoun's greatest rants), who averaged about 13 ppg. for the Minnesota Timberwolves last year, and he's pumped and excited about winning a summer league basketball game.

"Every time you step on the floor, you want to win," Gomes said. "It's about competitiveness. I missed a lot of free throws, too, so when I made one, I was excited."

Gomes, a Waterbury native, has been playing in this league for every year but one since about his sophomore year at PC. He loves coming back every summer.

"It's nice, and it's great competition, that's why I like to come back and play," said Gomes, who has homes in both Minnesota and Waterbury. "I play here and I play in a league in New York City, so every day I've got a game to play. I like coming back here so some of my family members who don't travel to Minnesota get to see me play. And I like playing against these guys ... it's good coming back and playing with those guys, give them motivation and work on my game, also. I get a little conditioning."

Gomes has another year on his contract with the T'wolves, after which the team could exercise an option, or he could become a free agent. Will he evere be a teammate of Ricky Rubio?

"I don't know. Our general manager went over there (Tuesday), I think, to try to work on a deal to see if he can come over this year. If not, the good thing about it is, we'll still have his rights when he does decide to come over. But the buyout is such a large number. Do you wait another year and it becomes lower?"

Can Rubio play?

"I think he can. He has a lot of flash and flair to his game. I think he can help us because he's a great passer. You can't teach that kind of stuff. Shooting, yeah, but when you can see the court, he'll help us out getting a lot of guys get shots. Especially guys like me, so I'd love to have him."

***Yes, I know, this is a UConn blog. There's one pro-am game tonight at 8:15 p.m. between the Springfield Slamm and the Mizner All-Stars. UConn's Ater Majok and Charles Okwandu play for the Slamm (though Okwandu has been slowed recently by an ankle injury).

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Huskies-Vols Start in 2010-11

UConn and Tennessee will begin a two-game series starting in the 2010-11 season. The Huskies and Vols will meet in Connecticut that season, then meet in Knoxville in 2011-12.

"This is a great intersectional series for us to add to our future schedules," said UConn head coach Jim Calhoun. "It will be an exciting match-up of styles and players, something fans of both teams can look forward to. For us, it continues our tradition of trying to schedule some of the best teams in the country, such as this year, where we will play at Michigan (Jan. 17) and Texas at home (Jan. 23), as well as Kentucky (Dec. 9) in New York and also the Pre-Season NIT."

The remainder of UConn's 2009-10 non-conference schedule will be released within the next few weeks and the complete 2009-10 schedule is expected to be released in late August or early September.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Majok Could Have Major Impact

Brought the family up to Toronto this weekend to catch the Sox-Blue Jays on Sunday (Roy Halladay's last game in a Jays uniform?), and just got the good news for UConn fans that Ater Majok will play for the Huskies this season.

Obviously, this is good news for the Huskies. Majok may not have overly impressed NBA scouts, but they all agree on his potential and upside. He has talent, he's 6-foot-10 with about a 7-2 wingspan, and he's a bright kid with the capacity to learn under Jim Calhoun & staff -- who have done a pretty good job developing big men over the years.

With Majok in the fold, UConn boasts a talented -- if inexperienced -- front line. As it stands now, vastly improved 7-footer Charles Okwandu would be the Huskies' starting center and 6-9 senior Gavin Edwards the power forward. But both could be pushed by Alex Oriakhi, the 6-9, 245-pound freshman who's been favorably compared, physically, to ex-Providence reboundin' fool Michael Smith, and now Majok. (We're not counting 7-foot senior Jonathan Mandeldove right now because he played a grand total of 16 minutes last year and may not even play this season due to academic issues).

UConn's backcourt will be its strength next year. The questions will reside in the frontcourt. The Huskies will be young up front -- but there's little question they'll also be very talented.