Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Media Day Musings

Took in the Big East Men's Basketball Media Day today at Madison Square Garden. Always great to be in New York City, but this event still pales in comparison to what we hear of the Big East Football Media Day, which takes place in lovely Newport, R.I. and includes a round of golf at a historic country club and a clambake, among other niceties.

Today, we got free hats.

Anyway, as you probably know by now, UConn was voted by the coaches' as the preseason league champion, garnering 214 points and nine first-place votes. We agree with Jim Calhoun, who said that there is no way the Huskies are the top team in the league -- at least right now.

"We're not the best team in the league starting off," Calhoun said. "I would hope we'll be the best team when we get a couple of guys back on the we get healthy."

Here are some news and notes from today's event:

***Calhoun said Stanley Robinson has been "100-percent approved by the dean at UConn" to return to the school in mid-December. Robinson, who is already academically eligible to return, still has a few loopholes to close up, but Calhoun is "95 percent" sure that Robinson will be with the Huskies on Dec. 14

***The percentage goes down to 90 for Ater Majok, who is still waiting for the NCAA to clear his coursework form Australia. Clearly, Calhoun expects both players to be with the team by the time the Huskies play Stony Brook on Dec. 15.

***JUCO transfer Charles Okwandu has been playing pretty well in practice and is currently ahead of Jonathan Mandeldove on the depth chart at backup center. Reported Thabeet: "He looks good. Right now, he's moving really slow, but he'll pick it up as the season keeps going."

Thabeet, a Tanzanian native, has been trying to take Okwandu, a 7-foot-1 Nigerian, under his wing a little bit.

"I'm just trying to comfort him. It's like me in my freshman year. I had Jeff (Adrien) trying to tell me what to do all the time, and I thought he was trying to show off. I didn't want to reach into him. My sophomore year, he helped me and I could see me progressing. Right now, I'm just trying to tell the kid to stay focused. Everybody tells him he can come over and start right away. We tell him don't listen to the fans, don't listen to your people. Every day, your people, your family are going to be on your side, even when you're doing wrong. We're just trying to educate him how it is like to be on the court."

***Calhoun said Thabeet has "made as much progress as anyone I've had" -- including Emeka Okafor.

***In what could be a case of Calhounian hyperbole, the coach is still insisting that Robinson has put on 30 pounds of muscle and is tipping the scales at 226.

When asked about this, Jeff Adrien wasn't so sure.

"Thirty pounds? I don't know if it's 30. But he's definitely been working. It looks like he's getting prepared for the season."

***Calhoun said that Craig Austrie has been struggling in early-season practices, and that freshman Scottie Haralson is still trying to find his 3-point stroke.

"The backcourt hasn't been as good as we thought it could be," said Calhoun, "except for Kemba (Walker). He's a one-man fast break."

In fact, if games started tomorrow, Walker would be the Huskies' starting point guard.

"I'm not sentimental about those things," Calhoun said.

***A.J. Price's left knee is fine, but his right foot has been bothering him a bit because he's apparently landing on that foot to compensate for his surgically-repaired left knee.

***Gavin Edwards may see some time at the three early on in order to give the Huskies some size at that position until Robinson arrives. (Majok, it should be noted, is a four, not a three).

***Adrien was a first team All-Big East selection last year, but got a bit of a dis by only being named preseason Honorable Mention this time around.

"It doesn't bother me, not really," he said. "It's motivation, really. I know at the end of the day, I'm going to work very hard to get where I'm supposed to be.

Apparently, he's already started on that path. Calhoun said Adrien has had his best practices in his four years at UConn, and along with Thabeet, has been "incredible."

***Louisville coach Rick Pitino, himself no stranger to hyperbole, had this to say about the strength of the Big East: "I don't think I’m overstating this, but since I've been a coach for 33 some-odd years, I think this is the strongest league in the history of college basketball. In terms of the depth, in terms of the returning players coming back, I've never seen a league with 11 teams that could be ranked in the top 30."

***Apparently, former Providence coach Tim Welsh will be doing some work with ESPN this season. Seems like a natural fit.

***As reported by Andy Katz at espn.com, Nate Miles has enrolled at the College of Southern Idaho, a junior college. More on that later ...

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