On Christmas Night, presumably not long after they’ve unwrapped their gifts and watched a little football, the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team will fly down to Disney World to do a little male-bonding.
The Huskies will sandwich a Dec. 28 non-conference game with the University of Central Florida around a nearly week-long stay of practices, sight-seeing and just getting to know each other a little better down in Orlando.
UConn coach Jim Calhoun tries to schedule such a trip each season. In the past, the destinations have been more exotic (Hawaii) and more international (London), but the emphasis is always the same -- melding the team together as a unit, moreso off the court than on it.
"The guys get together and bond a little bit," said assistant coach Patrick Sellers. "It’s kind of like one of those long NBA West Coast road trips."
Interestingly, the Huskies didn’t really have such a trip last year. The closest they came was a brief stay in New York City, during which they played St. John’s, stayed a couple more days in the Big Apple, then went out to play Pittsburgh. On a team comprised almost solely by underclassmen, most of whom spent the entire season trying to figure out both their own roles and their teammates’, a more lengthy trip might have been helpful.
Calhoun & Co. can only hope that a healthy dose of Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center, sprinkled in with practices and a game with one of the better teams in Conference USA, helps this year’s Huskies make the transition not only into the New Year but into a challenging Big East slate.
For the first time since 1998-99, the Big East is back to an 18-game regular-season schedule. The Huskies (and every conference team, for that matter) will face each conference opponent at least once and three teams twice. In UConn’s case, it will play home-and-away series with Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Providence.
The last time the Big East had an 18-game slate, UConn won a national championship. That doesn’t seem likely this season, though there are indications the team should improve upon last year’s 17-14/6-10 disaster.
Along with their always-grueling league slate, the Huskies will face some good competition in non-conference affairs. They’ll face Gonzaga in the Basketball Hall of Fame Challenge at TD Banknorth Garden in Boston on Dec. 1 and could face some tough teams in the 2K Sports College Hoops Coaches vs. Classic earlier in November. UConn will be one of the regional hosts of that event and could end up facing associate head coach George Blaney’s alma mater, Holy Cross. With wins in the regionals, the Huskies could end up facing Kentucky, Memphis or Oklahoma in championship round games Nov. 15-16 at Madison Square Garden.
UConn will also make a Jan. 26 trip out to Bloomington, Ind. to face the Hoosiers, who could be the cream of the Big 10 this season. On Feb. 9, the Huskies will host the ACC’s Georgia Tech.
Of course, there are a fair share of cupcakes, too (Gardner-Webb, Quinnipiac, Northeastern). But considering the demands of Big East play, that’s somewhat understandable.
AROUND THE RIM: The Huskies are currently focusing their recruiting efforts on big men, and one intriguing name that could soon land on their radar is Obod Oman, a 6-foot-9 forward from Sudan. Oman is currently working on his visa situation but could be in the U.S. within the next couple of weeks, where he may be attending the Winchendon School in Massachusetts. Oman is said to be very athletic and strong, and could play either the two, three or four. UConn is currently recruiting another Sudanese native, 7-foot-2 John Riek, who is attending Our Savior New American in Centereach, N.Y. and is the No. 2-rated center in the country by rivals.com ... Jonathan Mandeledove underwent successful surgery for bone spurs in his ankle last week. X-rays revealed the spurs were even worse than originally thought, but they were all removed and Mandeldove, a 7-foot sophomore center, could be cleared to return to the court as early as the end of the month ... Other schedule tidbits: UConn will play as many as 15 nationally-televised regular-season games -- two on CBS, nine on ESPN or espn2 and two on ESPNU, and possibly two more on espn2 if it raches the championship round of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic ... Former associate coach Tom Moore, now Quinnipiac’s first-year head coach, makes a quick return to the Hartford Civic Center on Dec. 16 when the Bobcats square off against UConn ... The Huskies’ Feb. 6 game with Syracuse is part of ESPN’s Rivalry Week ... All 144 regular-season Big East games will be televised this year.
2007-08 MEN’S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
Nov. 1 ASSUMPTION (GP)* 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4 BRYANT (HCC)* 1 p.m.
Nov. 7-8 2K Sports College Hoops Classic benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer (at Gampel)
7 team b vs. team c 4 p.m.
7 UConn vs. team d 7 p.m.
8 losing teams from day one 6 p.m.
8 winning teams from day one 9 p.m.
Nov. 15-16 2K Sports College Hoops Classic benefitting Coaches vs. Cancer (at Madison Square Garden)
15 Regional winners 7 p.m.
15 Regional winners 9 p.m.
16 Third-place game 6:30 p.m.
16 Championship game 8:30 p.m.
Nov. 20 GARDNER-WEBB (HCC) 7 p.m. (HCC)
Nov. 26 FLORIDA A&M (HCC) 7 p.m. (HCC)
Dec. 1 Basketball Hall of Fame Challenge (at TD Banknorth Garden, Boston)
UConn vs. Gonzaga 3:30 p.m.
Boston College vs. Providence 6 p.m.
Dec. 6 NORTHEASTERN (GP) 7:30 p.m. (GP)
Dec. 16 QUINNIPIAC (HCC) 2 p.m. (HCC)
Dec. 22 MAINE (HCC) 1 p.m. (HCC)
Dec. 28 at Central Florida TBA Jan. 3 at Seton Hall (Prudential Center) TBA
Jan. 5 at Notre Dame 9 p.m.
Jan. 8 ST. JOHN’S (GP) TBA
Jan. 12 at Georgetown (Verizon Center) 2 p.m.
Jan. 17 PROVIDENCE (HCC) TBA
Jan. 20 MARQUETTE (GP) TBA
Jan. 23 at Cincinnati (Fifth Third Arena) TBA
Jan. 26 at Indiana 1 p.m. PF
Jan. 28 LOUISVILLE (HCC) 7 p.m.
Feb. 2 PITTSBURGH (HCC) 1 p.m.
Feb. 6 at Syracuse (Carrier Dome) 7 p.m.
Feb. 9 GEORGIA TECH (GP) 4 p.m.
Feb. 13 NOTRE DAME (GP) 7 p.m.
Feb. 16 at South Florida (Sun Dome) TBA
Feb. 19 DEPAUL (HCC) TBA
Feb. 23 at Villanova Noon
Feb. 26 at Rutgers TBA
March 1 WEST VIRGINIA (HCC) TBA
March 6 at Providence (Dunkin’ Donuts Center) 7 p.m.
March 8 CINCINNATI (GP) Huskies should finish up regular-season play with a victory.
March 12-15 Big East Tournament Championships (Madison Square Garden)
* --- exhibition