Saturday, November 25, 2006

UConn notes

Here are some notes that made it to the print edition of the Register but not the Web.


By Brett Orzechowski
Register Staff

STORRS – The problem is not Stanley Robinson’s right knee, which he hyperextended three weeks ago in practice. The current dilemma is where to play the 6-foot-9 freshman forward, perhaps the University of Connecticut’s most versatile player.

After four games, Robinson’s role has diminished then improved. Minutes decreased as quickly as they were gained. It’s not so much performance, Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said Friday. Between Robinson’s shooting ability and athleticism, there are few spots or lineups that cater solely to the forward’s attributes.

This, Calhoun said, will change.

When UConn (4-0) welcomes the University at Albany (2-1) to Gampel Pavilion on Sunday at 5 p.m., Robinson will once again start the game as a reserve and substitute in for Jeff Adrien in the post, Marcus Johnson on the wing, or either guard position. Having Robinson is both a luxury and a bane, Calhoun said, but his role cannot be overlooked.

“We need to get Stanley somewhere on the floor where we can utilize him best,” Calhoun said. “He fits into a number of things we’re doing, but the situations have been difficult to use him correctly. We want to change that.”

Robinson has shown signs of productivity with 13 points and six rebounds in 15 minutes against Central Arkansas. Then he showed a lapse against Fairfield with just two points in 10 minutes. Still, he is averaging 6.5 points and five rebounds heading into the weekend. The problem: he only averages 15 minutes.

The spurts of court time do not bother Robinson. He said he has accepted Calhoun’s free substitution method in the early season, but anticipates that to change. Robinson also knows that he has received the go-ahead from the coaching staff to shoot at will. Something, he said, that only bolsters his confidence.

“I have to be comfortable no matter what because I don’t know where my minutes are going to be,” Robinson said. “Shoot. Rebound. Pass. Attack. It’s at the point in the season now where I have to do all those things and do them well, something I can do.”


With the recent success of mid-major programs in the preseason NIT, Calhoun said fans and players alike cannot help but notice the popular trend of smaller schools defeating programs from traditional power conferences in November.

One that has caught his attention, much like the rest of the country over the past decade or so, has been Gonzaga.

Mark Few and the Bulldogs are again forcing people to take notice of the West Coast Conference school. Before it arrived at Madison Square Garden, Gonzaga cracked the Top 25 at No. 23 and then held off North Carolina on Wednesday to advance to the final, where it lost Friday night to Butler.

Calhoun said that even before a preseason NIT game was played, he could not even imagine a final match-up between Gonzaga and Butler. The program from the Pacific Northwest has evolved into a March staple and is usually good for a win or two in the NCAA Tournament.

Still, Calhoun said they remain a mid-major, a fact that is sometimes lost even with its past success.

“I don’t consider them a major program yet until they reach a Final Four or win a national championship,” Calhoun said. “Then they will reach that point.”

UConn welcomes in two WCC teams, St. Mary’s and Pepperdine, in December.


When asked if playing non-conference games at Gampel against smaller programs carries a distinct advantage, Calhoun said it still holds some clout, but not as much as it used to.

With Albany making its first appearance in Storrs and the facility on Sunday, Great Danes guard Jamar Wilson said the crowd will only energize him, not play mind games. Calhoun agreed and said that is now the perception of most visiting teams.

A certain mystique still exists when you enter the building, Calhoun added, but no longer does it carry an intimidation factor. He points to a game 16 years ago, when UConn jumped out to a 32-0 lead over New Hampshire on Dec. 12, 1990.

“That team was flat out intimidated,” Calhoun said of the 1990-91 New Hampshire team. “But I think that era has gone by.”

Brett Orzechowski may be reached at

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A look at Albany

Checked out Albany's game against Sacred Heart on Tuesday night.

Here's a story that ran in Thursday's Register that didn't make the Web, only the print.


By Brett Orzechowski
Register Staff

FAIRFIELD – Even before St. Patrick’s Day, when the rest of the country learned that the University at Albany was more than just another college in the New York state system, Will Brown knew this Sunday would absorb the collective conscience of his team and the foresight has bothered him since.

The Great Danes head coach and the Albany athletic department secured a date with the University of Connecticut before last season’s NCAA Tournament, a guarantee game now just four days away. The program will receive $55,000 for this weekend’s test at Gampel Pavilion, but Albany took on much more when it earned a No. 16 seed after winning the America East Conference title in March.

With a hint of irony, the selection committee placed Albany opposite the top-seeded Huskies. For almost 30 minutes at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, the Danes were on pace to set a tournament precedent by upending a No. 1. They were up by 12 points with 11:34 remaining. Then there was a collapse.

Now, they are playing a new season while the same expectations remain.

When Albany (2-1) makes the trip to Storrs, it will be greeted by a Gampel crowd and a much different UConn team from a season ago. The Huskies (4-0) are not the only team with a different complexion. Brown said he must be the only coach in America who thinks one game failed to secure his program’s legacy. It remains a loss. It remains UConn. And Albany’s current composition resembles nothing of a team which pushed the Huskies eight months ago.

“I knew even before the NCAA Tournament that this game was on our schedule this year and it always stayed in the back of my mind,” Brown said, “because I also knew what I would and wouldn’t have going into this game.”

Brown’s comments Tuesday night after Albany’s first loss of the season to Sacred Heart were said by a realist, one who knows his team best.

The Danes return Jamar Wilson, the America East Player of the Year who is averaging 20.7 points and 5.3 assists this season, and Brent Wilson, a third-team conference selection. After the two, the names and recognition taper off.

What the rest of the America East coaches and other prognosticators overlooked, Brown explained, was that his program lost two 1,000-point scorers to graduation, Lucious Jordan and Levi Levine, and a 7-footer, Kirsten Zoellner. All three played an important role in last year’s near miss. Still, the conference selected Albany first in its preseason coaches’ poll.

Just 34 years old and on a path to perhaps secure a major coaching job, Brown has been a quick study of the college game. Albany signed him to a contract extension through 2010-11, but in a short time he has built a program beyond respectability. The non-conference schedule reflects this. Along with the UConn game this season, the Danes also played Bucknell and Delaware to start the year at home. Both were wins against quality schools.

While mapping out the schedule, Brown thought a road game against Sacred Heart would suffice before returning to Connecticut five days later. Against Bucknell and Delaware, Albany averaged more than 4,000 fans at the Recreation and Convocation Center. During Thanksgiving break at Sacred Heart, 516 fans were treated to a Danes’ letdown and the Pioneers knocked down 12 3-pointers. Sacred Heart won handily, 90-71.

Brown said before Tuesday, he knew this would be a “trap game.” All week, his players were inundated with ticket requests for UConn and the media attention started growing a month ago. Brown’s players also knew they would play to a larger television audience than just the greater New York Capital Region this weekend.

They knew the match-up still reminds people of last year, and in the process, Sacred Heart was overlooked.

“Now, because of last year’s UConn game, we have more hype surrounding our program. So, of course, it’s now easier to focus on Albany than for us to focus on someone else,” Brown said. “So who do we focus on? A team that’s still two games away. That game (UConn) went both ways for us. You feel like you arrived. The next day, there’s a lot of extra weight.”

The figurative weight does not compensate for the literal size that Albany lacks. Beyond both Wilsons, the Danes’ scoring is limited and their defense was porous against Sacred Heart, allowing 90 points for the first time since Jan. 4, 2003, in a game against Maine.

Half of their field-goal attempts were from 3-point range and their frontcourt offense, which has been a concern of Brown’s before the season, showed little productivity. Albany’s size consists of 6-foot-7 junior starter Jimmie Covington, but beyond the forward, only two freshmen, 6-foot-9 Mike Yocum and 6-foot-11 Brett Gifford, add some depth.

Gifford did not play against the Pioneers because of illness, Brown said, but the coach added his minutes will likely increase against Huskies center Hasheem Thabeet. After that, Brown said his preseason concerns may be exposed in a game he believes has too much hype surrounding it.

His players agreed after the Sacred Heart loss, but they understand that Albany, by virtue of one game, now has a different set of standards.

“We earned that NCAA Tournament berth and we earned the right to play UConn last season,” Jamar Wilson said. “This game coming up will be no different. Their hearts beat just like ours. But we’re Albany, and people now know that. I just hope they remember that. I guess it’s our responsibility now.”

Brett Orzechowski may be reached at

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Light reading

The Big East took notice of Jeff Adrien’s four consecutive double-doubles to start the season by naming him to their weekly honor roll.

Check out the rest of the Big East accolades.

At Big East media day last month at the Garden, a number of coaches pointed to DePaul, a middle-of-the-pack team that may cause problems for the rest of the conference.

The Blue Demons gave Kentucky a problem last night. Don’t let their 1-3 record fool you.

I’ll hit ESPN once in a while, but this grouping from their analysts had a few things to note.

Jamar Wilson of Albany, UConn’s next opponent Sunday, had a great week. So did Butler, which upended Indiana and now heads to NYC for the preseason NIT semifinal. Between them and Old Dominion dropping Georgetown, the early mid-major talk begins to percolate.

Also, the notebook mentions the Boston College-Providence game. After respective losses to Vermont and Brown, these two teams are heading in the same direction.

Not good.

A quick look at the round-up from last night. Of course, tune in for Duke and Marquette tonight. But also take note of Curtis Sumpter’s night at Villanova and some non-conference brewing down at Georgia Tech. The Wreck is in Maui and ranked No. 19.

That will change by mid-February, when UConn heads to the Georgia Dome.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Miles commits to UConn

Nate Miles, the 6-foot-6 junior guard who plays at Cornerstone Christian in San Antonio, orally committed to the University of Connecticut after the Huskies’ win over Mississippi on Sunday night.

In an impromptu press conference at the Hartford Civic Center, Miles announced his decision. Miles also considered Louisville, Illinois and Kansas.

Miles, who grew up in Toledo, Ohio, said he chose UConn because he felt head coach Jim Calhoun can get him to next level. He said he likes the Huskies’ style of play and the future of the program. Miles is considered one of the top 10 prospects in the class of 2008.

This is the third oral commitment UConn received this season. All three were from high school underclassmen.