Monday, August 25, 2008

"Slammed On!!!"

Just got back from watching UConn's 11 varsity players compete in four intrasquad games at Gampel Pavilion (A.J. Price wasn't playing, obviously, and incoming freshman Ater Majok hasn't arrived on campus and may not be here until mid-December. More on that later in the post …).

The two best players on the floor were Hasheem Thabeet and … Donnell Beverly. Yup, the same Donnell Beverly who was a backup, backup point guard last year and used so seldom that Jim Calhoun frequently botched his name (he'd often call him "Donyell").

Well, Beverly made a name for himself today – even if it was just in four informal pick-up games. Teamed with Thabeet, Kemba Walker, Gavin Edwards and Scottie Haralson on the White Team, Beverly shot 9-for-12 from the floor and doled out 13 assists against just three turnovers. The White Team beat the Blue Team (Jeff Adrien, Nate Miles, Jerome Dyson, Craig Austrie and the combination of Charles Okwandu and Jonathan Mandeldove) in all four games.

As for Hasheem (7-for-9 from the floor, most on ferocious putback dunks but a couple of mid-ranged jumpers, too) … well, the off-season reports on his improved game seem very true. Each time Thabeet dunked over Mandeldove, Okwandu or whoever, Price (sitting on the sidelines) would yell out "Slammed on!!!"

Suffice to say, Price yelled that out a lot.

Here's a rundown on how each player looked:
WHITE TEAM:
Donnell Beverly
: Unlike Manny, he cut his dreads. Also unlike Manny, he played real hard – lofted up several nice alley-oop passes and showed some terrific athleticism of his own.
Kemba Walker: Rather non-descript. Nothing bad, but nothing great. Calhoun loves him, but "As I told Kemba, being a McDonald's All-American won't even get him a free sandwich at McDonald's. It's not going to get him anything here. We're happy to have him, he's a terrific kid, we're know he's going to help our team. But there's some hungry guys and some experienced guys here. Craig's played a lot of important minutes. He's made a lot of foul shots in clutch times."
Hasheem Thabeet: One jam after another, often on putbacks. Looks sleek and muscular. Hit some 15-20-footers, too (though mostly in shootaround, before the games started).
Gavin Edwards: Nothing spectacular. Still skilled and pretty athletic.
Scotty Haralson: No conscience. Will shoot from wherever, whenever, even when he's not making his shots (and he wasn't today, going 2-for-10 from 3). Also a lot thicker, body-wise, than I had imagined.
BLUE TEAM:
Jeff Adrien:
Spent part of the summer working out in California, with Charlie Villanueva. Said he worked a lot on his outside shooting, though that's not what Calhoun wants from him. Looks even bigger and stronger, if that's possible.
Jerome Dyson: Played at half-speed. Hit a 3-pointer or two, but did little else.
Nate Miles: Half-speed, also, possibly because he's currently fighting a bout with ringworm. Was wearing a bandage on his neck because of the ailment. Apparently came down with it while back in his hometown of Toledo this summer.
Craig Austrie: Typical Craig – solid, knocked down a couple of J's. Shoulders wider, shaped like a 'V' after working in off-season with personal trainier.
Charles Okwandu: Looked a little slow during individual big-man workouts with assistant Patrick Sellers, but made a couple of nice low-post moves during game. "He's a lot further along, skills-wise, than Hasheem was (when he first arrived)," said Calhoun. "He's not as good athletically as him … but he and Jon (Mandeldove) will fight it out to back up Hasheem. This year our goal is to get one guy to do that all the time, as opposed to a rotation. And one guy to back up Jeff, so we'll have four big men. The fifth big man's not going to play that much."
Jonathan Mandeldove: Didn't do much.
DNP
A.J. Price: Worked out with the guards earlier in the day and is doing the same individual workouts as everyone else, as long as there's not contact. Won't be cleared to play in pick-up games until Sept. 28, at the earliest.
"Why take a chance, when he's not getting swelling, everything is very good," Calhoun noted. "Why take a hit there, when you don't have to? Physically, he says he could play in a game tomorrow. If we were playing Louisville tomorrow, he could play, and he's probably right."
Calhoun added that Price's five months of rehab from his torn ACL has him in the best shape of his life.
"He has responded magnificently. He's a different player, as far as how quick he is, shooting. He's just phenomenal. It's the strongest his legs have ever been, I'm sure. The best shape he's ever been in."
Ater Majok: Still in a holding pattern down in Australia as the NCAA clearinghouse continues to look over his transcript. If he's not at UConn by next Tuesday (or thereabouts), he won't be on campus until mid-December.
The problem isn't grades or test scores – Majok is a good student. It's just that he attended two different types of schools in Australia – one based on the Australian system, the other (American International School) more based on the American system.
"That's where the interpretations sometimes gets a little messed up," Calhoun pointed out. "The problem is trying to put the two together to match up. But, we had problems with Hasheem, it came down to nip-and-tuck with Hasheem … but the fact that his school was in America made it a lot easier, just from a time standpoint."
Stanley Robinson: Not on campus, not enrolled, living in the area, working full-time and taking an online class. If he gets things straightened out (not academics) he'll be back at UConn in mid-December, as well.

More news later in the evening

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