Monday, February 25, 2008

Teammates Embrace Dyson's Return

Here's a story on Jerome Dyson's return that only ran in the print editions of today's New Haven Register:

By David Borges
Register Staff

As well as the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team played without Jerome Dyson over the past month, it’s easy to forget that the team’s recent 10-game winning streak actually began with Dyson in the lineup.

Dyson, who returned to practice on Sunday after a 30-day suspension for failing a university-imposed drug test, was there for an 89-73 win over then-No. 13 Marquette and an 84-83 victory at Cincinnati. The former was the Huskies’ most impressive overall win, the latter their most impressive comeback win of the season.

“He was there for the first two, so it’s not like we won all these games without him,” point guard A.J. Price said. “It’s only going to benefit us by having a player of his caliber coming back.”

Dyson scored just nine points in the win over Marquette, but his presence was much more noteworthy against Cincinnati on Jan. 23 at Fifth Third Arena, when he scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half. UConn trailed the Bearcats by 12 points with 5½ minutes left, but Dyson helped lead the team’s comeback with consecutive 3-pointers during a key 12-2 run, a layup to get the Huskies within four, and sticky defense on Bearcat sharpshooter Deonta Vaughn, preventing him from getting off a last-second shot.

Vauhgn was forced to pass off to Marcus Sikes, who missed, completing UConn’s comeback.
Of course, the following night, Dyson and Doug Wiggins were caught by UConn police with a couple of bottles of alcohol in their car. You know the rest of the story: the marijuana found near the car, Dyson’s failed drug test and suspension, UConn’s eight straight wins without Dyson before Saturday’s 67-65 loss at Villanova.

Dyson should return to game action Tuesday night at Rutgers. Any thoughts that his return will disrupt team chemistry, or that his ego needs soothing after he watched the team play so well without him, were quickly put to rest by his teammates.

“He’s the type of person, the type of player who’ll come in and understand what he needs to do,” Price said. “I’m sure he’s been watching us, so he knows how we’ve been playing. Nothing’s really changed. He’ll get back in the lineup, and I don’t think the chemistry will change at all.”

Added guard Craig Austrie: “We don’t have to convince him (that we need him). He knows what he has to do when he comes back, and I’m sure he’ll be ready to step in and play.”

There’s little question that the Huskies will gladly welcome back Dyson’s 14.3 points a game. All but one of UConn’s eight wins sans Dyson were by single digits — three of them by two points or less. While announcing Dyson’s impending return after Saturday’s game, coach Jim Calhoun hinted that the sophomore guard’s ability to beat opponents off the dribble is something the Huskies sorely miss right now.

“We had a very difficult time with our guards creating opportunities (Saturday),” Calhoun said. “I don’t know when and if (Dyson) will play, but we’ll give him a look in practice.”

And in describing Villanova stud Scottie Reynolds’ play, Calhoun added: “He, unlike our players, gets free. We haven’t quite got that one down yet.”

There’s no question that elements of UConn’s play improved without Dyson. Although Calhoun has long called Dyson his team’s best one-on-one defender, evidence from the Huskies’ two games with Notre Dame this season suggests otherwise.

On Jan. 5, with Dyson guarding him much of the way, Notre Dame’s Kyle McAlarney scored a career-high 32 points. On Feb. 13, this time with Austrie draped all over him, McAlarney shot just 4-for-14 for 12 points.

Austrie took over Dyson’s spot in the starting lineup and doesn’t figure to give it up anytime soon. He’s not spectacular — 10.8 ppg in Dyson’s absence — but provides strong defense and even stronger play in the clutch.

In fact, Dyson is more likely to take minutes from Stanley Robinson, who broke out of a six-game offensive drought with 15 points on Saturday. The Huskies are supremely thin at the 3-guard position behind Robinson, particularly now that Curtis Kelly (a power forward by nature, anyway) is out two-three weeks with a dislocated left elbow. Gavin Edwards is the only other viable option, and he’s a natural 4-man, as well.

Whatever role in which Dyson returns, he’ll be welcomed back with open arms.

“He understands what he brings to the table, he knows how important he is to this team,” Price said. “He’ll be able to come back and fit right in. He’ll give us another option to score the basketball really well and put up a bunch of points in a short period of time.”

David Borges can be reached at dborges@nhregister.com

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