Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Fresh" thoughts

Looking into the case of Johnson v. Robinson, c. 2006

Just five days into practice, every single player on the UConn roster remains confident (along with every student in Gampel Pavilion who practices with the scholarship players. Some days, you can find more players in Gampel than you can outside at Randy Edsall’s football practice. After this week, that will change. Just the coaching cliche of needing bodies.).

Obviously, the most intriguing competition has been between sophomore Marcus Johnson and freshman Stanley Robinson, which I wrote about in today’s Register. Both are confident. Both are talented. And most likely, only one will earn significant minutes this year and take on the spot vacated by Rudy Gay. Or, as I pointed out, they can play on either wing and pose some match-up problems with certain Big East teams.

That’s a big bonus when you bring in eight freshmen. All can play. Certain players fit certain situations better. And we will see a lot of this.

On a few conditions.

Johnson spoke about how he left to return home to Los Angeles in May and the UConn coaching staff told him to return to Storrs with some confidence. As I wrote about last week, Johnson played well during the Huskies’ non-conference portion of their schedule. Then they traveled to Marquette. Johnson went missing and was never heard from again the rest of the season.

Sitting after practice at Gampel on Wednesday, Johnson sounded very confident when speaking about his role on this team. Yes, UConn has only practiced five days. Yes, even as Johnson pointed out, he does have one year of experience on three-quarters of this team.

And yes, this is the first week of practice. The Huskies first exhibition is only 11 days away but their first big game is still almost three weeks away. Jim Calhoun has given the team today off, but when they return, expect much of the same for the next week.

Then there is Robinson.

No, not this Stanley Robinson.

This Stanley Robinson.

Why shouldn’t he be confident? Alabama Mr. Basketball. A member of the U.S. U18 team. A 2,000-point scorer in high school. He accepts the competition. According to Calhoun, when the staff took Johnson off Robinson in practice the last few days, Robinson had his way offensively. Once again, it is only the first week of practice, but Robinson seems to be the type of player who will only improve and perhaps flourish in this system. Johnson has the same potential.

The last thing Robinson said Wednesday after practice was this.

“I was recruited to replace Rudy Gay. That’s what I want to do.”

Right now, it’s the most interesting aspect of practice, aside from Hasheem Thabeet’s eligibility question, Jeff Adrien’s relentless physical presence, and Doug Wiggins’ “Fresh” tattoo on his right arm.

I told Wiggins that he wasn’t even alive when Doug E. Fresh became big. He laughed but then I checked Wiggins’ bio and his middle name is Edwards, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Keep Risin' to the Top.

I digress.

Let’s look at a few possible lineups if Robinson and Johnson are in the mix.

Go Big: Thabeet (if eligible), Adrien, Robinson, Johnson, Price (or any other guard here)
Go Small: Adrien, Price, Austrie, Wiggins, Dyson (a la Villanova from a year ago. This may happen against Marquette, which buys into the small-lineup theory.)
Go regular: Thabeet or Kelly, Adrien, Johnson or Robinson, Price or Wiggins or Austrie or Dyson.

OK, I’ll save myself and everyone some time here and point out that there are 169 lineup combinations Calhoun can use this season (note: Adrien will probably appear in almost all those combinations so that number may shrink.).

Within the first three weeks, you could see at least half of those. By December, maybe all of those.

But by Dec. 30, UConn’s first Big East game at West Virginia, that number will shrink.

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