Saturday, November 18, 2006

Notes from Fairfield game


Flash back three and a half years ago when life was easier for A.J. Price and Fairfield guard Mike Van Schaick during their high school days.

The two played against one another before in the New York State Class B high school state championship game in Glens Falls, Van Schaick’s hometown. It was there in upstate New York that Price’s Amityville established itself as one of New York’s top public school programs, playing in the state final four for five straight years.

But in the 2003 final, the Long Island school was at a disadvantage against a partisan Glens Falls’ crowd. Amityville eventually won the game by 25 points when Price was a junior during Van Schaick’s senior season.

In the years that followed, both have taken different paths. This is Price’s first collegiate season after sitting out two years because of health and legal issues. As for Van Schaick, he has been a role player at Fairfield until this season, his senior collegiate campaign. He now starts for the Stags and remains the lone senior starter on the team.

On Saturday, save for a postseason match-up, they were linked for a third and final time: first in a state high school title game, then on an all-state list, and finally, in a game between their respective college teams, which was won by Price and UConn.

By 25 points.


Mississippi head coach Andy Kennedy realizes tonight’s game against UConn will be his team’s toughest assignment so far this season, even as the Rebels enter the game with a 4-0 record.

With wins over Mississippi Valley State and Louisiana-Lafayette before two victories this weekend at the Hispanic College Fund Classic, Kennedy said the Huskies are one of the main reasons why the Rebels agreed to play in this tournament.

Saturday was not easy, though, for Ole Miss. Central Arkansas trailed by just two points at halftime and closed the gap to four points with five minutes remaining before a convincing late Rebels’ run closed the game.

Now, Kennedy and Ole Miss prepare for UConn.

“We came up here to earn some respect,” Kennedy said after the win. “I assure you that won’t be easy, but we’ll have no problem with motivation.”


For the next two semesters, Michael Evanovich will dress in a Fairfield warm-up top and dress pants while the Stags finish this season.

Then, he will be able to resume his college career after a misguided year at Iowa State.

But what made his transfer noteworthy Saturday night was the fact that his older brother was across the floor on the UConn bench. For the past three seasons, Justin Evanovich has assumed the role of graduate student manager after spending two years as a walk-on for the Huskies. Now, his brother will wait one year at Fairfield because of NCAA transfer rules.

The younger Evanovich spent one season at South Kent Prep before moving on to Iowa State. He also attended E.O. Smith-Storrs across from the UConn campus before enrolling for one prep year. When Evanovich regains his eligibility he will fit in with a young Stags team which starts three freshmen and a sophomore.


UConn head coach Jim Calhoun shared some encouraging words for Fairfield, which fell to 0-5 on the season Saturday.

He took note of freshman Greg Nero, the versatile 6-foot-9 forward who scored all 12 of his points in the first half before finding foul trouble. Calhoun also said the play of Anthony Johnson and Jonathan Han should lead a young Stags team to a quality season in the MAAC.

But the one thing that Fairfield coach Ed Cooley has no control of is the Stags’ schedule, set up before the first-year coach arrived.

That fact, Calhoun said, is hard to overlook.

“They played St. Joe’s at St. Joe’s. I wouldn’t play St. Joe’s at St. Joe’s, especially with the team I have now,” Calhoun said. “It’s not an easy place to play.”

The Stags have also lost three of their five games by five points or less, two of which were in overtime.


As much as Calhoun was quick to praise Fairfield, Cooley said Huskies center Hasheem Thabeet has only developed over the past few weeks.

Not only did he praise him as a player, Cooley touted him as a prospect, something the six NBA scouts in attendance did not fail to notice during the freshman’s most complete effort this season.

Another aspect of the game Cooley said he noticed was the first-half flow that he felt was dictated by the officials.

First-half fouls – Fairfield (11); UConn (six).
Second-half fouls – Fairfield (nine); UConn (nine).
Fairfield’s field-goal percentage in the second half: 19.2 percent.

The Stags finish the Hispanic College Fund Classic today at 5:30 p.m. against Central Arkansas. Both teams are searching for their first win of the weekend.

Notes from Central Arkansas game


During the preseason, University of Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said a number of NBA scouts have started to make their way to Gampel Pavilion this winter to take a look at his young team. Calhoun said maybe the overwhelming presence was because the Huskies are so young and untested.

Then he realized Hasheem Thabeet is the most unknown quantity to arrive in Storrs in a long time.

The Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons sent scouts to Friday’s game against Central Arkansas while six more teams are scheduled to watch the Fairfield game tonight. Before the weekend is done, almost a third of the NBA will be represented at the Hartford Civic Center with 10 teams scheduled to evaluate through Sunday.

Calhoun said most of the attention has been focused on the 7-foot-3 Thabeet, a raw offensive talent with unlimited defensive potential, who is the most appealing professional prospect on UConn. There has been some inquiry into A.J. Price’s health and development along with freshman forward Stanley Robinson, but no player has garnered as much attention as Thabeet this early in the season.


Freshman guard Doug Wiggins played for short spurts against Central Arkansas, making his first appearance at 10:39 into the game while playing just three minutes in the first half.

Back spasms forced Wiggins to sit out Thursday’s practice at the Civic Center but the East Hartford native scored four points and played 10 minutes against the Bears. His sporadic appearances were a combination of health precautions as well as some erratic play.

Calhoun said he expects both to improve.

Meanwhile, Robinson still felt irritation in his right knee and played in spurts as well. He made the most of his court time, though, finishing with 13 points in just 15 minutes.


The initial swagger has been reduced to a walk as freshman forward Curtis Kelly has been slow to impress the UConn coaching staff this year.

Kelly played minimal minutes against Quinnipiac in the season opener and even saw limited time in the Huskies’ two exhibition games. Coaches said he has been slow to grasp the offense while his 6-foot-9, 217-pound frame still needs to develop.

His athleticism, though, has always been viewed as the reason UConn signed the forward who earned New York City player of the year honors from the New York Daily News and the New York Post.

The style he developed while playing for perennial city catholic school power Rice has been slow in acceptance in Storrs, but Friday night, Kelly made the most of his time on the court.

He ran the floor well, played with confidence on the defensive end and found gaps offensively. Kelly finished with eight points and six rebounds in 18 minutes, all career highs in this new season.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Random notes for the HCFC at the HCC

Even though this is a round-robin format (now a staple in college basketball unless you’re in Maui or Alaska), there are a few interesting tidbits with the four teams (UConn, Fairfield, Central Arkansas, Mississippi) playing in the Hispanic College Fund Classic at the Hartford Civic Center this weekend.

- UConn and Central Arkansas have never played one another in men’s college basketball. The Huskies have never played Ole Miss, either.

There is some history, though, a link from the not-so-distant past.

First-year Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy played for Alabama-Birmingham. The Blazers played UConn on March 22, 1989, in the quarterfinals of that year’s NIT. Kennedy’s final stats: 6-for-11 and 22 points. Final score: UAB 85, UConn 79.

The game was played at Greer Field House before the Huskies moved into Gampel Pavilion. Kennedy also took over for Bob Huggins at Cincinnati last season and coached the Bearcats against UConn at the Civic Center earlier this year on Jan. 9. The Huskies won, 70-59.

- Another trip in the way-back machine.

UConn is hosting an in-season tournament for the first time since Dec. 1992, the final year of the Connecticut Mutual Classic.

- Jerome Dyson and Hasheem Thabeet became the 14th and 15th freshmen under Jim Calhoun to start the season opener. It is also the sixth time in seven seasons that a freshman has started.

- Chad Wise, who played two forgettable seasons in Storrs, transferred to Central Arkansas and played for two years under head coach Rand Chappell. Wise was a role player for the Bears and never really found his footing at the school.

When asked on Thursday, Chappell said Wise “is a good kid” and not much more.

Also, Central Arkansas led by five points late during Tuesday’s overtime loss to St. Bonaventure. The thought did not sit well with Chappell on Thursday.

- Checked out this week’s Sports Illustrated, which has a spread on top freshmen in the country. Thabeet made the spread but in a rather unorthodox pose.

Brandan Wright of North Carolina has a pair of wings. Arizona’s Chase Budinger soars over three teammates. Thabeet? He holds up a pair of oversized faux hands and looks confused. Still, he made the spread.

Also to note in the issue, the SI staff broke down the top 16 teams in the country then filled in the rest of the field. UConn sits at No. 21.

The one interesting thing to note?

SI also listed returning starters after each school. The Huskies are the only program with a “0” next to their information.

See you tonight.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Tenative unofficial recruiting visits

A handful of recruits have tentative plans to make unofficial visits this weekend.

Tonight, Jason Morris, a 6-foot-5 freshman from The Hotchkiss School-Lakeville, and Kevon Moore from Archbishop Spalding (Md.) have plans to attend to the UConn-Central Arkansas game. Moore, a 6-foot-2 junior point guard, plays at the same high school former UConn forward Rudy Gay attended.

On Saturday, Tevin Baskin, a 6-foot-5 sophomore from Trinity Catholic-Stamford, the high school of current UConn guard Craig Austrie, plans to attend the Fairfield-UConn game.

Nate Miles, a 6-foot-6 junior guard from Cornerstone Christian in San Antonio, along with 6-foot-7 sophomore Erik Murphy from St. Mark’s School (Mass.), may attend Sunday’s game. Murphy is the son of former Boston College All-American and former NBA player Jay Murphy.

Also, Tyreke Evans, a 6-foot-4 guard from American Christian School (Pa.) and Samardo Samuels, a 6-foot-8 forward from St. Benedict Prep (N.J.), will play in the National Prep Showcase, a tournament featuring the top prep schools in the northeast, beginning today in Worcester, Mass.

Both juniors, who are listed among the top 10 recruits in the class of 2008, have UConn on their lists. Tenative plans have been made for both players to attend one of this weekend's games on an unofficial visit.

UConn injury news

A physically demanding week forced a few UConn players to miss a day or two of practice.

Sophomore guard A.J. Price sprained his right ankle Tuesday and wore a boot for two days. He is expected to play this weekend. Also, freshman forward Stanley Robinson felt some irritation in his left knee and practiced sparingly the last few days. He expects to play as well.

The most severe injury, aside from walk-on Ben Spencer’s sprained right ankle, was to freshman guard Doug Wiggins.

He experienced lower back spasms and sat out UConn’s practice Thursday at the Hartford Civic Center. Wiggins is questionable for Friday’s game against Central Arkansas.

A quick look at this weekend

First, check out today’s Register to see what goes into college basketball scheduling.

Now, moving on from the shameless plug.

Three games in three days is never easy, especially in November. UConn did it last year at the Maui Invitational. Different team.

Much different team.

If anything, it will be a good endurance test for a few young Huskies. It will also mean the UConn coaching staff will have plenty to evaluate with four games on the season to dissect.

Let’s take a quick look at what the Huskies will see.


Central Arkansas, Scottie Pippen’s alma mater, makes the jump to Division I in the Southland Conference. The Bears will play in a conference which receives a 14 seed every year and is always one of the first games of ESPN Championship Week. There’s a great game with a lot of athleticism, fans storm the court, then they wait almost two weeks to get beat up by a middle-of-the-pack team from a major.

Still, the Southland is fun to watch.

But the Bears enter this weekend at 1-1, after losing to St. Bonaventure earlier in the week in overtime. The Bonnies are not UConn, but do have some talent. They are also rebuilding because some administrators thought a few shop classes qualified for college credit a few years back. Not an easy job to rebuild, but Central Arkansas pushed an A-10 team to overtime. A nice way to start the season. Good for morale. To check out more on the Bears, go to their site.

Quick word to the Web master there. St. Bonaventure is in Olean, N.Y., not St. Bonaventure. The Franciscan Friars just south of Buffalo would take serious issue with that.

Also, since the game is not televised anywhere, the UConn sports department will provide a Webcast of the game Friday night. Because of television rights and all that good stuff, this is the only Webcast of the season.

One last note about Central Arkansas: Pippen’s game was always fun to watch. On any other team early in his career, he would have been a marquee name. Except he played with Michael Jordan, wins a few titles, makes the NBA’s Top 50 greats as a guy who plays second fiddle, then is hung out to dry in Portland.

Tough break. I’m sure he’s not complaining, though.

Anyway, the only thing I remember about Pippen, aside from standing behind Jordan in every interview clip, is the McDonald’s commercial with the two kids who were suppose to be Pippen and his brother from decades ago. His brother says, “Now Scottie!” in a high, Southern drawl with a hint of Bobby Brady's awkward puberty-inflicted voice, and young Scottie cuts backdoor for two.

The only time McDonald’s grabbed on to someone besides Jordan, Bird, Magic, Mia Hamm or Tab Ramos or the guy who offers up Big Macs as hors' dourves at his party.

Super Size Me.

I digress.


The last time UConn faced in-state Fairfield was in 2000-01 when the Huskies started the season ranked 13th and ended their year in the second round of the NIT.

The Stags are under first-year coach Ed Cooley and have started the season 0-3 against some decent competition. As much as this weekend is a test for UConn, it is for Fairfield. The Stags have youth and experience and Hamden Hall’s Danny Oglesby, but this will be a building year, not a rebuilding one.


Looking for a story on Ole Miss’ first-year coach Andy Kennedy and his thoughts about taking over as interim head coach at Cincinnati when Bob Huggins was shown the door.

Couldn’t find one. Interesting to see what that was like.

Anyway, Kennedy, the former UAB standout, has his own program without the “interim” label, and should have a decent, if not competitive year in the SEC.

The Rebels are 2-0 heading into the weekend and should be UConn’s toughest test Sunday night at the Hartford Civic Center. They are physical, have some athleticism, and should be fun to watch.


Word has traveled the country and back that USC received a fax last night from O.J. Mayo, considered the top recruit in the United States. Interesting take on the decision in today’s L.A. Times by J.A. Adande.

Also, the New York Times published a few college basketball stories today.

One was about Georgetown and Roy Hibbert and the other on Rutgers and Fred Hill.

Both Hibbert and Hill have received too much pub in this space so we’ll relax on their mentions until January.

Or December.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Around the Big East

Before taking a look at some stories across the Big East, let’s head south to Lubbock, Texas.

If you want to understand the basketball coach and more importantly, the person that is Bob Knight, go back to 1981 and read Frank Deford’s Sports Illustrated piece on him, “The Rabbit Hunter.” Even though John Feinstein did a quality job in portraying Knight in “A Season on the Brink” (and even before Brian Dennehy dropped the “Tommy Boy” routine to play the coach in EPSN's monstrosity of a movie), Deford did more in a few pages than those two ever will.

By now, everyone has seen the replay of Knight giving a little knock to forward Michael Prince’s chin the other night. In standard time. In slow motion. In reverse. In slow motion again.

Knight has the support of Prince, the player’s parents and even his AD. So where’s the problem? Move on.

We’re living in different times and sometimes, that’s unfortunate.

Now, some Big East snippets.

A few weeks ago, just by looking at the Providence men’s basketball roster, it was apparent that the Friars are in trouble this season. Remember Marty Conlon?

Anyway, the rumblings are beginning early in Providence and Tim Welsh is under the microscope. Again. He has a few years remaining on his contract, but after losing a few recruits early in the signing period to other programs, the next few years may be tough for the Friars. It’s November. Check out Jim Donaldson’s piece from the Pro-Jo.

Next, Northeastern travels to Syracuse tonight. Aside from watching all the video clips that provides with freshman Paul Harris sporting the dress shirt and green headband look (probably won’t catch on like Stephen Thompson’s rat tail), the Post-Standard has always done a quality job with the Orange.

Here’s a good piece from central New York, though. It’s about 60-something Tom Murphy, now an assistant at Northeastern. Murphy is synonymous with Division III hoops in upstate New York after winning 600-plus games at Hamilton.

But Murphy was forced out a few years back and most people close to the situation do not talk about it publicly. Murphy took the high road in this piece and has moved on to coach under one of his former players.

Murphy said he was offered Division I jobs in the past, but has taken on a role much like George Blaney at UConn. Good read about a coach moving on in the twilight of his career.

Also from the Post-Standard, this story on Gerry McNamara ran in their preview section. The kid from Scranton has left a mark on the program. After reading this story, it sounds like sophomore Eric Devendorf may step in – the pride of Bay City, Mich., and not the Bay City Rollers (By the way, they were Scottish).

Dug this up from a few months ago about Pitt assistant Orlando Antigua, a former Panther and Globetrotter. This Q and A tells a good story that never gets old. Antigua will spend some time on head coach Jamie Dixon’s bench, then you’ll see him as a head somewhere in a few years.

This ran in the Louisville Courier-Journal. Aside from suspended freshman Derrick Caracter, there are other freshmen to note at Louisville. Sounds like expectations are high in Kentucky much like they are in Connecticut.

Expectations also exist at Rutgers. The football program has not raised them, even though the athletic department will see a huge boost in budget and revenue this year that goes beyond football billboards in south Florida. But first-year basketball coach Fred Hill has set them for himself and his team. Good luck.

Some recruiting news that may not have an impact now, but Jay Wright may have become giddy after last year’s success with so many guards.

Villanova has signed three this week

Finally, every team needs role players and Georgetown believes it has found one. Marc Egerson will play in Roy Hibbert’s shadow this season, but he will learn and then excel next season.

Role players should take note

Lastly, if you have any questions, comments, gripes (love those) or points about UConn and/or the Big East you would like to make or discuss, feel free. It's open.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Patience after one game

The game tape has been evaluated. It will probably be looked at a few more times before UConn starts a three-games-in-three-days stretch with the Hispanic Fund Classic at the Hartford Civic Center this weekend.

And each time that tape from Friday night's Quinnipiac game is viewed, something new is found.

And each time, the same mistakes will resurface.

Aside from an absence of a go-to player in the waning minutes, there were other offensive difficulties. First, a few apparent ones.

- Hasheem Thabeet finished 1-for-6 from the floor and 3-for-7 from the line: 5 points.

- A.J. Price finished 2-for-11 from the floor and missed all four of his 3-point attempts.

- The UConn guards were a combined 7-for-27 from the floor and 3-for-14 from 3-point range.

Now, a few quick explanations. Thabeet will not become a main offensive threat this week. By Thanksgiving, this probably won’t change. By Christmas, it may. By the main chunk of the Big East schedule, the UConn coaching staff hopes he evolves into a primary option.

After two exhibitions and one regular-season game, a number of readers have grown impatient with the Thabeet project and voiced them in a number of e-mails. But remember, the 7-foot-3 freshman center has played only four years.

Patience is needed. When you have six other legitimate offensive options, Thabeet should not be scrutinized for a lack of offensive production (By the way, he did have seven blocks and 11 rebounds). Assistant coach George Blaney, who has five decades of experience, is an ample teacher in this situation. He is also one of the more patient coaches on this staff.

Moving on to Price.

No one was more disappointed and frustrated with his play after Friday night’s victory than Price. Two years away from competitive basketball will do this to a 20-year-old college player.

Along with Gavin Edwards, Price is one of the more cerebral players on this roster. He makes good choices on the break, he takes good shots, but neither attribute was apparent against Quinnipiac.

He said he was pushing, that he forced shots and passes, and understands there is a ton of pressure on him this year to produce. Not only because he is the perceived leader of this team from the backcourt, but because of what he has been through the last two seasons. Of course, one action was self-inflicted; the other was out of his hands.

Finally, the guard play. Jim Calhoun evaluated his young roster in the preseason and liked the fact that his team was going to be able to run this winter. But it’s not so much that Calhoun is pulling the reins on his guards.

The guards are pulling the reins on themselves.

In their discussions with the state media Thursday, both Doug Wiggins and Jerome Dyson spoke about the small fear factor that exists when a mistake is made on the court. They understand one mistake will land them on the bench. The chances they took in high school and prep school have been cut back on, but both are not afraid to make a mistake. Calhoun said he is not happy with conservative play, but after the Quinnipiac game, when the backcourt accounted for six assists and seven turnovers, it was apparent that all the guards over-thought their roles.

This will change. They played just one game.

Some quick statistical analysis of the fast break.

Points off the break:
Quinnipiac 10, UConn 4.
UConn foul shooting:

First, if UConn converted at least eight more foul shots to reach the national average, this game would have been over three minutes earlier and Craig Austrie probably would not have found himself in this situation. But he did and knocked down that crucial 3-pointer, so now his confidence grows. Maybe.

Still, before the final five-minute stretch, UConn went to the foul line 24 times, and two-thirds of those opportunities were after fouls on the fast break.

Of the 29 team fouls Quinnipiac picked up, 17 were from guards (22 if you want to count Chris Wehye, traditionally a wing player who found himself rotating back on defense to stop the break).

They stopped the break by giving up fouls. They put UConn on the foul line. From a strategy standpoint, not a bad move by coach Joe DeSantis.

But across the floor, this opened up a number of opportunities to pull away.

UConn never did.

Tactically, the Huskies guards did nothing wrong except pass up a few 10-footers on 2-on-1 or 3-on-1 breaks. Instead, they made the extra pass and put one of their teammates on the line but they just did not produce there.

Final analysis: Better choices need to be made. Better choices will be made. Better foul shooting is needed. If not, the winter may be a long one.

But also remember, as much as Thabeet is a project, so is the development of two freshmen guards, one first-year sophomore (Price), and another guard, Austrie, whose confidence and experience is needed.

This weekend, all four have three games to prove they understand.

After that, some changes should and will probably be made.