Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Great Scott! Durand's Mom Liked UConn

While the conventional wisdom for a while among most observers – including the UConn coaching staff – had been that Durand Scott intended on going to the University of Miami, the Huskies got an unexpected phone call last week that gave them a bit of hope.

Scott’s mother, Faith Lyn, called the Huskies’ coaching staff and gave the impression that she really wanted her son to go to Storrs. UConn clinged to that hope for a few days, but in the end, Scott had made up his mind to head down to Miami long ago.

Can’t win ‘em all. With Scott, a talented 6-4 combo guard, now out of the picture, UConn has three other similar players on its radar: Desmar Jackson, a 6-4, 165-pound senior at John F. Kennedy High in Warren, Ohio; and Rico Pickett, a 6-4 combo guard, and James Beatty, a 6-foot point guard, who are both playing at Miami-Dade Junior College.

The Huskies saw Jackson at practice yesterday but haven’t seen him in game action yet. He’s long and athletic, but needs to improve his outside shooting.

UConn has seen both Pickett and Beatty play. Pickett comes with some baggage: he was suspended indefinitely at the end of his freshman year at Alabama last April and immediately transferred to Miami-Dade. Apparently, Pickett isn’t a bad kid, but reports were that he missed or was late for numerous academic responsibilities in his first year under ‘Bama coach Mark Gottfried. (Sound like another Alabama native we know who’ll be re-joining the Huskies in a few weeks?)

Like a Hurricane

UConn lost out on a good one today when 6-4 shooting guard Durand Scott announced he'll be heading down to the University of Miami for the next four years.

Scott, a former teammate of current UConn freshman Kemba Walker at Manhattan's Rice High, is also tight with Miami guard Malcolm Grant and associate head coach Jorge Fernandez. He had whittled his choices down to three schools -- Miami, UConn and Pittsburgh -- and said his decision eventually came down to "comfortability," and that he knew Miami was the place for him after making a visit to Coral Gables.

UConn fans: You win some, you lose some. Yes, UConn is a far more established program, with national titles and plenty of current NBAers on its resume. But this is an 18-year-old simply making a decision he feels most comfortable with. Fifteen, 20 years ago, far more established programs lost recruits to UConn, too. It happens.

And hey, can you blame a kid for wanting to spend his next four winters down in sunny Miami?

Dyson Maturing

There's a lot to like about how UConn has started this season: Hasheem Thabeet's improved offensive arsenal, Craig Austrie's steady leadership, Jeff Adrien's continued addiction to double-doubles, Kemba Walker's ... well, just about everything. We've been impressed by Jerome Dyson, who except for the first half of Monday's win over Hartford, has displayed a better all-around game and more maturity in the early goings. Here's a short feature on Dyson from today's New Haven Register.

Durand Scott Presser @ 3:30 p.m. ... maybe

Just sent a text message to Durand Scott asking what time today's press conference is to announce his collegiate decision.

Scott's response: "Well I'm not sure I believe 3:30."

So there ya have it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Austrie was Austere

Jim Calhoun couldn't stop raving about Craig Austrie following Monday's 99-56 win over Hartford.

"We wore them out with numbers, and we wore them out with the fast break," said the UConn coach. "We didn't respond well except probably for one guy: Craig Austrie. He looked like a senior."

Indeed, while Hartford outhustled the Huskies for much of the first half, then kicked off the latter on a 10-2 run that brought them to within a single point (43-42), Austrie was a steady, calming presence. He knocked down several 15-footers, along with his usual sterling effort from the foul line (10-for-11) and finished tied for game-high scoring honors with freshman Kemba Walker with 21.

"They made a nice run in the second half, and we really exploded. Through the whole thing, Craig Austrie made me really, really happy," Calhoun said. "Instead of casting up 3's, he stepped into gaps, made the 15-footer, and that kind of got the game going a little bit."

Said Austrie: "I just want to have composure out there. A.J. is usually our general, and I just wanted to take A.J.'s role and help the freshmen out and do what I can to help this team ... As the game went on, I saw the middle wide-open. I just wanted to penetrate and get the little 15-foot jump shot going."

It wasn't only Calhoun that was singing Austrie's praises, either. Donyell and Donny Marshall each watched the game from behind the UConn bench, and both approached Austrie afterwards.

"They both came up to me and said 'That's the way to be a leader out there. That was a veteran move,'" said Austrie. "They've been there, they've been in the NBA, they’ve done it. For them to come and give me compliments is something big."

***Price participated in pregame drills and was in uniform for the game, but never played. He had suffered a high ankle sprain in Friday night's win over Western Carolina and hadn't practiced the past two days. And with UConn set to play three games in four days in the Paradise Jam beginning Friday ...

"The decision was, 'Do we take a chance on having that high ankle sprain get worse for the three games coming up?'" said Calhoun. "I felt at no time was it worth it. The only way I probably would have considered it, because he would have given it a go, was if we got down points and felt we really needed him. But I think it really wouldn't make sense with three games in four days."

Walker filled in swimmingly, nailing a pair of second-half 3-pointers and finishing with 21.

"A.J. gave me a chance to start," Walker said. "It definitely felt good."

***It continues to be a struggle for freshman Scottie Haralson. He missed all three of his 3-point attempts in six minutes of action Monday and -- including a pair of exhibition games -- is now 1-for-15 from the floor this season, 1-for-14 from 3-point land.

He drew Calhoun's wrath several times Monday night, at one point even being pulled and replaced by walk-on Johnnie Bird (if only for seven seconds).

"There's one guy that's really happy that Scott's on the team: Gavin Edwards," Calhoun said with a wry smile. "Instead of me just getting on Gavin now, we get on Scott. It's Scott's year. The happiest guy is Gavin Edwards. He's really, really happy. I can see it. When Scottie fell down and rolled over, which was one of my favorite moments of the night, I'm trying to encourage him as much as I could, and I saw a little smile out of Gavin."

***The Huskies will leave for the Paradise Jam on Wednesday but will stay overnight in Atlanta before flying down to St. Thomas Thursday morning. They're expected to land around 2:30 p.m.

***Did I used the word "austere" correctly in the title of this post?

First Half for the Birds ...

... Johnnie Bird, that is.

To say it's been a strange first half for the Huskies here at the XL Center would be an understatement.

At the break ...

***Craig Austrie (11 points) and Donnell Beverly (nine) are the Huskies' leading scorers.

***Johnnie Bird has played and A.J. Price hasn't. Bird is a walk-on. He played just seven seconds, but still.

***Jeff Adrien received mock cheers when he hit his first free throw after missing his first four. He's also missed all four shots from the floor.

***Hasheem Thabeet has two fouls and has played just eight minutes.

***Scottie Haralson still can't hit a shot.

***Jim Calhoun is not a happy man. He pulled three starters (Thabeet, Austrie and Jerome Dyson) after the first 1:29 of play. He's spent most of the first half yelling at various UConn players, substituting in and out like a hockey coach.

The Huskies have a 41-32 lead, thanks in part to 14 free throws (on 22 attempts). Oh, to be a fly on the wall in the UConn locker room right now.

Price May Play

A.J. Price is in his warm-ups, stretching and shooting around with the team. It appears he's going to give it a go tonight.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Will Durand Say 'No Mas' to UConn?

According to recruiting analyst Evan Daniels, highly-touted shooting guard Durand Scott will announce his collegiate decision at a press conference on Wednesday.

Scott, out of Rice High in the Bronx, has narrowed his choices down to UConn, Pittsburgh and Miami -- with the latter allegedly holding the lead in the clubhouse. We'll find out for sure on Wednesday, but we know this -- UConn very much wants this 6-4 guard, who teamed with Kemba Walker in high school and AAU ball. It would be a nice send-off to the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands if Jim Calhoun learned on Wednesday that Scott plans on coming to Storrs.

Xcerpts from the XL Center

Some notes and observations from UConn's practice today at the XL Center, in preparation for tomorrow night's Nutmeg State battle with the University of Hartford:

***A.J. Price didn’t practice for a second straight day as he rehabs a foot/high ankle sprain injury he sustained in Friday night’s win over Western Carolina. Jim Calhoun said it’s “less than 50-50” that Price will play tomorrow night, and that Kemba Walker will almost certainly get the start at point guard even if Price is cleared.

“If I had to play today, I couldn’t,” Price noted. “I’ll have two more rehabs today, and throughout day tomorrow we’ll see how it feels.”

Price, who hurt his foot when he stepped on the side of an opponent’s foot in the first half Friday night, said the injury was a little more painful today. He’s also mindful that the Huskies play three games in four days starting Friday at the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.

“That is in the back of my mind. I don’t want to re-injure myself trying to play through this game. Not to say this game is an easy game or anything like, but with the road coming up ahead of us, I want to make sure I’m 100 percent for those games.”

***Jerome Dyson also missed his second straight practice as he attended his aunt’s funeral. He’s expected to be back on campus later tonight and Calhoun fully expects him to play tomorrow.

***Don’t think Calhoun hasn’t noticed early-season upsets by Virginia Military Institute (over Kentucky) and Northeastern (over Providence).

“I don’t want to be Kentucky, and I don’t want to be Providence,” he said. “And there’ll be more, too. Every time this year, be it Gardner-Webb or whomever it may be … the year they went to the Final Four, Michigan State lost to Oakland. “

Walker, just a freshman, knows Hartford will be pumped to pull off the big upset of its in-state rivals.

“It’s basically a Battle of Connecticut,” Walker said.

***Charles Okwandu hasn’t shown much in the two games he’s played so far, looking a bit green and out-of-step. But he proved in practice today that he’s got some offensive skills, making a nice interior pass to Hasheem Thabeet from the foul line, driving and dunking a couple of times and knocking down a 10-footer off an inbounds play.

Calhoun relishes the idea of playing Okwandu and Thabeet together a lot this season, but it’s not likely to happen tomorrow night against a Hawk squad that plays four men out on the perimeter.

***Asked if he had any lingering regrets about the punch he threw at Western Carolina’s Joey Parker Friday night, Price replied: “Not at all.”

He says he hasn’t seen the replay and doesn’t care to, but believes Parker may have done a little Sir Laurence Olivier acting job after getting hit by Price.

“I got him pretty good, but I think he tried to sell it a little bit, too,” Price said. “I don’t know if I got him as good as he made it seem like, but he did a good job. He got me out of the game.”