Saturday, November 15, 2008

Price, Dyson Miss Practice

Practice was closed today, but UConn men's basketball SID Kyle Muncy passed along the following information:

***A.J. Price did not practice today and received treatment for a left ankle and left foot sprain. His status is day to day.

***Jerome Dyson missed practice because he returned home for the funeral of a family member in Maryland.

***The 17 rebounds for Hasheem Thabeet is the most ever by a Husky under Jim Calhoun in the season opener and the most in a season opener by any Husky in the lid-lifter in 41 years. The last time a Husky opened the year with more rebounds was Bill Corley, who grabbed 19 boards on December 2, 1967. Jeff Adrien had the Calhoun-era mark of 16 boards in the season opener in 2006-07 against Quinnipiac.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pulling No Punches

Here's the blow-by-blow of A.J. Price's little brouhaha with Western Carolina's Joey Parker:

Apparently, the two had a bit of a tussle in front of the UConn bench with a little under 8 minutes to play. According to Price: "The guy ran into me and flopped back and they called a foul on me."

The next time down the court, Price appeared to punch Parker in the stomach (and the TV monitor replay confirmed as much).

"I wouldn't call it a punch," Price said. "Maybe a little elbow or a little love tap or something like that."

"It certainly wasn't a very dynamic punch," added Jim Calhoun.

Whatever. With Parker in pain, Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter apparently implored the officiating crew to take a look at the monitor, and they agreed Price had thrown a punch and booted him from the game.

"It was frustration building up through the whole game, little things going on the whole game," Price said. "I let something get the best of me, and I guess he got the worst of me. We got tangled up a little bit, and I guess he got the worst of it."

In fact, it was Parker who got under Price as Price lofted up a 3-pointer with about 71/2 minutes left in the first half. Price landed on Parker's foot and crumpled to the ground in pain. Visions of last year's torn ACL injury immediately danced in everyone's heads, but it turned out to be just a sprained ankle.

Price returned to the game about three minutes later but wound up going scoreless for just the second time in his career (the first being last March's San Diego ACL game).

Price also turned the ball over five times.

"I come away positive about the whole thing," he said. "We won big, like we're supposed to, and we looked good doing it."

Indeed, Price's situation -- which I probably wrote about too much in my game story -- was the only negative for UConn. Jerome Dyson was terrific (he really seems more mature, more active, a more complete player) and Hasheem Thabeet keeps proving that rumors of his improved offensive arsenal were, indeed, the truth.

Jeff Adrien and Craig Austrie were very solid, and Kemba Walker overcame a shaky first half in which he appeared to force things too much and wound up with eight points and five assists, including a nifty no-look to Thabeet for a dunk with 13:22 left that brought the crowd to its feet.

It's a Go for Charlie O.

Couple of pregame notes from Gampel:

***UConn got the word Thursday night that Charles Okwandu is cleared to play. He was shooting around in the Huskies' pregame warm-up drills.

***The Huskies have left tickets for coveted recruit Durand Scott, but aren't sure if he'll show up.

***Ater Majok is in the house.

***Good story from UConn assistant coach Patrick Sellers, who went up to Boston with Jim Calhoun on Thursday for a speaking engagement. Doc Rivers was at the event, too, and he told Sellers a story that speaks to Ray Allen's work ethic.

On Wednesday night, Allen went 1-for-9 shooting from 3-point range in the Celtics' thrilling, 103-102 win over Atlanta. The following morning at about 8:45 a.m., Rivers was sitting in his office when he heard a ball pounding in the gym outside. He went out to look and it was Allen, working on his shot. Allen wound up working out in the gym from about 8:30 a.m. to noon on what was scheduled as a day off for the Celts.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Carolina On My Mind

Truncated tidbits from today's practice, as the Huskies get ready to kick off their 2008-09 campaign tomorrow night against Western Carolina:

***Jim Calhoun ran practice, but George Blaney handled the media afterwards as Calhoun had to dart off to a speaking engagement up in Boston.

Blaney liked the way the team looked in practice.

"They were kind of juiced up, and that's always a good sign that they want to play somebody," he said. "Sometimes that kind of juice gets you too excited, and I think Coach tried to settle them down a little bit."

***The Huskies realize they haven't exactly been world-beaters in their season-openers the past two seasons. Two years ago, it took a key Craig Austrie 3-pointer to help get by Quinnipiac, 53-46. Last year, UConn barely got by Morgan State, 69-65.

"We haven't shown that we're really together at the start of the season as a team," Price admitted. "I think it's important to come out this year and show that we are on the same page and try to execute the game as best as possible at both ends of the floor."

Added Blaney: "It's always important to get a win first. I always think of November and December games as getting ready for the conference and getting ready for championships. It's really important to establish what you're going to be."

***Blaney on 6-9 Alex Oriakhi and 6-7 Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, each of whom sent in their letters-of-intent to UConn on Wednesday.

"Coaches that have seen (Oriakhi) all keep saying how much he's finishing now better than he did in the summer, or even last year. He looks physically ready to play, and that's a big step for any kid coming into a big program like this. Jamaal just knows how to play. He knows how to get open, to get his shot, and he just keeps getting better. They're really two good kids, and we're really happy that they're part of the Husky family."

***Charles Okwandu was sick and didn't attend practice. It's still not known whether he'll be eligible to play tomorrow as the NCAA looks into his eligibility. It's possible Okwandu may have to sit out the first few games of the season due to a transgression that doesn't appear to be serious.

***Western Carolina is led by 6-6 wing Brandon Giles, who averaged 15.3 ppg last season. Blaney said Giles reminds him of Central Florida's Jermaine Taylor, who torched the Huskies for 30 points last year. In fact, talented wing players often gave UConn trouble last season, begging the question: Who'll guard him tomorrow night? Jerome Dyson, 6-4, will undoubtedly get the call, but who backs him up? Gavin Edwards (a natural four)? Price (a point guard)? Donnell Beverly (who rarely plays at all)?

***Quote of the Day from Thabeet, on UConn's goal of playing into April this season: ""If they have games in May, we'll play 'til May. It's just exciting to get this thing going. We expect a lot of our guys. It should be a great year."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Okwandu May Have to Sit for a Bit

Charles Okwandu, UConn's 7-foot-1 sophomore JUCO transfer, may have to sit out the Huskies' first few games of the regular season due to an eligibility issue.

It's not known exactly what the issue is, but it isn't believed to be a serious infraction. A source said it stems from something that occurred "in the short time (Okwandu) was in America before junior college."

Okwandu attended the College of Southern Idaho in the spring of 2007 but never played basketball there and transferred that summer to Harcum Junior College in Pennsylvania. Drew Kelly, his coach last year at Harcum, said last week that he had been questioned by the NCAA back in April about how Okwandu's trip from his native Nigeria to Southern Idaho may have been facilitated.

Okwandu had to sit out UConn's first exhibition game on Nov. 5 as a precautionary measure as the NCAA looked into a separate issue. He was cleared to play in the Huskies' second and final exhibition tune-up on Sunday against UMass-Lowell.

UConn had expected to have heard from the NCAA Eligibility Center by now regarding this situation, and is hoping to know Okwandu's status by Friday, when the Huskies open their regular season at 7:30 p.m. against Western Carolina at the XL Center in Hartford.

Okwandu, who played only half a season for Harcum last year and has only been playing organized ball for a couple of years, went scoreless with two rebounds in 13 minutes of action against UMass-Lowell.

***Also, UConn has received its signed letters-of-intent from Alex Oriahki and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel. Oriahki is a 6-9, 245-pound center/forward from Lowell, Mass. Coombs-McDaniel is a 6-7, 210-pound guard/forward from Dorchester, Mass. Both play for the Tilton School in New Hampshire, and play for Leo Papile's BABC AAU team.

Of course, both committed to UConn nearly two years ago.

***Oh, and Durand Scott still hasn't made up his mind but insists he's still deciding between three schools: UConn, Miami and Pittsburgh. He says he'll make his decision over the next week, before the early signing period ends on Nov. 19. Scott also says he'll probably schedule a news conference to make the announcement, but doesn't know which day that will be yet.

Kemba Will Make His Point

It appears the Register is one of the few -- if not the only -- Connecticut paper putting out a college basketball special section this year. It hits news stands tomorrow. Not sure if the stories from the section will be available online, so I thought I'd post a feature on Kemba Walker that will be appearing in tomorrow's tab.

By David Borges
Register Staff
STORRS --- The chant began some time during the first half, emanating from a few rowdy UConn fans sitting in the student section at Gampel Pavilion.
"Kem-ba Walk-er! Kem-ba Walk-er!" it went, and it grew and grew in volume until nearly the entire student section was chiming in. "Kem-ba Walk-er! Kem-ba Walk-er!"
Not bad, considering Kemba Walker wasn't even on the UConn roster yet. In fact, he wasn't even a UConn student yet – Walker was still a senior at Rice High in the Bronx.
This was, after all, last November, during one of UConn's early-season games against the University of Buffalo. Walker was sitting behind the Huskies' bench on an official visit to the school to which he had already committed. Naturally, the chant in his honor didn't go unnoticed.
"I was excited," he recently recalled. "That had never happened to me before. I had never been to a college game on a visit, so that was an excellent feeling. I guess they were looking forward to seeing me play, basically."
Indeed, Walker's arrival at Storrs this fall was one of the most eagerly-anticipated for a UConn freshman basketball player in a while. He comes with terrific pedigree: McDonalds All-American, MVP of the FIBA Americas Under-18 Tournament, a winner, a leader, a "marvelous young man."
The latter quote comes from Davidson College head coach Bob McKillop, who coached Walker on the Under-18 USA squad this past summer. Listen to McKillop gush about Walker and you'd think the 6-foot-1 point guard was playing the wrong sport.
"He's a first-class gentleman, a leader," said McKillop. "Coaches love point guards who can score, but whose objective is to execute the system. He's a quarterback that gets into the pocket, picks out all three of his receivers, has the capacity to run but will be very cognizant that advancing the ball down the field is the objective of the quarterback. He seems to always make that right decision because he puts the team on top of his agenda."
UConn coach Jim Calhoun already has a special place in his heart for Walker. He calls him a "one-man fast break," and said the Huskies became a better passing team the day Walker signed his letter of intent.
A pair of preseason exhibition games have done nothing to prove McKillop or Calhoun wrong. Walker has been the best player on the floor in the Huskies' routine wins over American International College and UMass-Lowell, combining for 21 points, nine assists and just two turnovers as a sparkplug off the bench.
"And as good as he was," Calhoun said after the AIC game, "he'll get better."

Two Are Better Than One

Of course, the Huskies already have a pretty good point guard. Kid named A.J. Price, who was only a unanimous first team all-Big East player last season and a second team All-American.
Rather than create tension with a freshman pushing a senior for minutes, however, it appears Walker and Price will get along just swimmingly.
"Any time I can give him advice, I'll do it," Price said. "Just what to expect, what he can get away with, what he can't get away with. Anything I can do, I'll do, because he's going to be very good."
Price has started the first two exhibitions but has moved off the ball when Walker enters the game. It's easy to envision the two spending plenty of minutes together on the floor this season.
Of course, that's hardly a new thing for UConn. The Huskies' national championship teams of 1999 and 2004 each featured two point guards on the floor in Khalid El-Amin and Ricky Moore ('99) and Taliek Brown and Ben Gordon ('04). Doron Sheffer and Kevin Ollie also had great success together in the mid-90's.
"I like having two guys that can run a team," said Calhoun. "I just think it makes it easier. (Longtime Boston Celtics scout) Kevin Stacom said to me the one thing we didn't have in 2006 was another guard. We had Taliek and Ben, but that was it. Now, we have sometimes three guys on the court who can (run a team), because Craig Austrie will play with them, too."
Walker, only 18, has already proven he can be a vocal leader. While he's always deferential to the veterans – saying he has no problem not starting, that it's Price's team, that his time will come – he recently called out junior guard Jerome Dyson publicly for not being aggressive enough offensively.
Dyson seemed to heed Walker's words, scoring a game-high 18 points against UMass-Lowell.
"If somebody walked into the gym, you wouldn't know he's a freshman," senior forward Jeff Adrien said of Walker, with whom he's very close. "He's a very humble guy. He's done things in his high school days – USA basketball, McDonald's All-American – but he doesn't think he's going to run the team. He understands there's veteran guys, and he respects them and learns from those guys. He's learning from A.J., from Craig, from Jerome. You have a guy who's learning from guys like that, that's going to be good."

'A Young Chris Paul'

The one knock on Walker's game has been his shooting ability. Although he averaged 18.2 points per game in his career at Rice, his ability to knock down the long-range jumper has been questioned.
"That’s what was told to me as well," said McKillop, "But I thought he shot the ball very well for us. In situations where we needed a 3, he made them. It surprised me – in shooting drills, he wouldn't be great, yet when it came to game time, Kemba seemed to make everything he had to make."
Indeed, Calhoun believes Walker's the type of player who'll shoot better during games than in practice "because he's a gamer. He knows how to win."
Walker buried both his 3-point attempts against AIC and has proven particularly adept at knocking down lane jumpers in UConn's early-season scrimmages.
"In the Under-18's, that was a shot I usually took and made a lot," he said. "Out there, I got my confidence in taking that shot. Over here, I've been working on it a lot. I guess it's my shot now."
Throughout the preseason, Calhoun has often been asked which players Walker reminds him of.
"He's a combination of a lot of different guards," he noted. "He's quick, he really pushes as well as anyone we've had. Because of his size and stop-and-start ability, he kind of reminds you of a young Chris Paul. But now you're going to a guy who's become a very good player."
Calhoun is hesitant to compare Walker to any of UConn's past great point guards – except for one.
"He's similar to Doron in that he can hit you at 75 (feet)," Calhoun said. "A lot of kids are reluctant to do that because they want to show how well they can handle, but he'll throw the ball ahead, which I love. Then when he gets there, he can cross you and penetrate. The best thing he does is put offensive pressure on the other team. He comes at you. And you've got to pick him up, or he's going to the rim."
McKillop even rates Walker with his own star player at Davidson, preseason All-America junior guard Stephen Curry.
"Kemba's from the same mold. He has that tremendous balance between humility and confidence."
Still, McKillop isn't big on comparing one player to another.
"I hope," McKillop said, "that people down the road say about a guy, 'He's the next Kemba Walker.'"

David Borges can be reached at

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On the Cover of the Sports Illustrated

This week’s Sports Illustrated College Basketball Preview issue hits the stands tomorrow and contains 42 pages of hoops coverage. It features standout men’s and women’s players on six regional covers: Maya Moore and Hasheem Thabeet of UConn, Briann January and James Harden of Arizona State University, Rashanda McCants and Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina, Ashley Barlow and Kyle McAlarney of Notre Dame, Courtney Paris and Blake Griffin of Oklahoma and Shavonte Zellous and DeJuan Blair of Pittsburgh.

(Don't ask me how I managed to post the SI cover featuring UNC instead of UConn yesterday. I was in a hurry, the image was small, etc., etc. Bottom line: Dumb mistake)

Here are SI's men's rankings:

Men’s Top 20

1. North Carolina

2. Connecticut


4. Louisville

5. Purdue

6. Notre Dame

7. Pittsburgh

8. Duke

9. Texas

10. Tennessee

11. Memphis

12. Michigan State

13. Gonzaga

14. Georgetown

15. Marquette

16. Arizona State

17. Oklahoma

18. Davidson

19. Miami

20. Villanova

New Big East Commish Could Be Named Soon

Word is the Big East could name its new commissioner within the next 24 hours. We’re hearing two of the frontrunners are current senior associate commissioner John Marinatto and former Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg.

Current commish Mike Tranghese is stepping down in June after 19 years at the helm.

The Big East school presidents are meeting in Philadelphia today and don’t meet again until March, so they could have the announcement either this afternoon or tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Odds and Sods

We beat writers are often deluged with e-mails -- some interesting, some not -- concerning the teams we cover. Not sure if this is of any interest, but some might consider it noteworthy:

According to, No. 1 North Carolina is a 9-to-4 favorite to win the 2009 NCAA title. No. 2 UConn is a 20-to-1 favorite to win its third title in 10 years, and the Huskies get 5-to-2 odds at winning the Big East championship.

Here's a look at's conference favorites, and how the odds of the Top 25 teams winning it all:

Pac-10 - UCLA (9-to-5)

Big 12 - Texas (3-to-1)

SEC - Tennessee (5-to-2)

ACC - UNC (even)

Big East - UConn (5-to-2)

Big Ten - MSU (3-to-2)

CUSA - Memphis (1-to-3)

Ivy - Cornell (4-to-5)

MAC - Kent State (3-to-1)

MWC - BYU (5-to-2)

Top 25

1. North Carolina 9/4

2. UConn 20/1

3. Louisville 20/1

4. UCLA 12/1

5. Pittsburgh 25/1

6. Michigan State 20/1

7. Texas 30/1

8. Duke 10/1

9. Notre Dame 50/1

10. Gonzaga 30/1

11. Purdue 50/1

12. Oklahoma 60/1

13. Memphis 25/1

14. Tennessee 40/1

15. Arizona State 50/1

16. Marquette 40/1

17. Miami 100/1

18. USC 30/1

19. Florida 30/1

20. Davidson 50/1

21. Wake Forest 50/1

22. Georgetown 25/1

23. Villanova 75/1

24. Kansas 25/1

25. Wisconsin 75/1

(Who can name the band who released an album with the same title as the title of this post?)

Food Drives at UConn

The University of Connecticut Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) will be holding a food drive at three UConn athletic events this week.

The drive will be on Tuesday, Nov. 11 at the men’s ice hockey game vs. Yale (7:05 p.m.), on Friday, Nov. 14 at the men’s basketball game vs. Western Carolina at Gampel Pavilion (7:30 p.m.) and on Sunday, Nov. 16 at the women’s basketball game vs. Georgia Tech at Gampel Pavilion (2:00 p.m.).

Patrons are asked to bring non-perishable food items to those games to benefit the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Majok's Mystery Tour

Ater Majok's odyssey touched down at the XL Center today as he showed up just before tip-off and took a seat behind the UConn bench with his high school coach, Ed Smith.

Majok, a 6-10 UConn signee from Sudan via Australia, has been visiting family in Washington, D.C. for the past week, and said he planned on remaining there until (he hopes) he's cleared to play by the NCAA. However, Smith later said that Majok will likely have to return home to Australia at some point.

At any rate, Majok is confident that he'll be playing for UConn by the start of the second semester in mid-December. He has completed his schoolwork in Australia, but has yet to get through the NCAA clearinghouse.

"It's because of a difference in the calendar year," Smith said. "It looks very positive."

"I'd rather be on the court right now, but what happens, happens," Majok said with a shrug. "When I come, I've got to come in ready to do work. It gives me a chance to work right now."

He said he's working out four times a day to stay in shape and be ready to join the Huskies a week or so before Christmas.

"It's going to be hard, but it's possible," he said. "At UConn, you can. When I come in, I expect to do what I do. It's been a long process, but it makes you appreciate what you're going to get by playing. When you go through hard work, you appreciate the end of it."

Smith noted that Majok's younger cousin, Majok Majok, has been drawing plenty of interest from the likes of Virginia, Providence and St. Louis.

(Naming the artist who performed the song, album and movie from where this post gets its title should be an easy one for you out there ...)