Monday, December 15, 2008

Sticks and Stony Brook

Sticks and stones may break their bones, but names will never hurt the UConn men's basketball team. At least you'd better hope they don't, with Jim Calhoun as their coach.

Calhoun was in rare form tonight after being thoroughly unimpressed with his team's 91-57 win over Stony Brook. Other than Jerome Dyson and Stanley "Sticks" Robinson, no one truly escaped Calhoun's wrath.

It started early. As he took the podium to address the media, Calhoun said: "Before we start, I want a shoe check. Please throw them at my team, not at me."

(An obvious reference to the shoe attack on President Bush in Iraq yesterday, for those who only watch ESPN and not CNN).

Here's what Calhoun had to say about some individual players:

On Hasheem Thabeet, who finished with 18 ponts and nine rebounds: "I thought Hasheem was fair, at best. He was the biggest guy on the court. I thought he should have gotten 30 and blocked every shot in the building, but that's just me."

On Jeff Adrien, who racked up another double-double with 18 points (8-for-8 shooting) and 10 boards: "Jeff, I thought, rebounded better, but didn't play much defense."

On A.J. Price, who didn't start the second half but quickly came in after Kemba Walker threw away a pass and wound up knocking down a pair of second-half 3-pointers to finish with 13 points: "He should let the offense take care of itself and get into the game. In the second half, he came off screens naked and got free, that's what he's got to do. It was good for him, yes, but I wasn't very pleased with him in the first half. But then, Kemba didn't want to start, so the first two minutes of the second half he made sure A.J. got right back on the court. They had a deal or something, I wasn't involved in it."

Ah yes, Kemba Walker, the freshman who's been largely immune to criticism thus far but was unimpressive on Monday with four points, five assists and three turnovers in 24 minutes: "Kemba just wasn't very good tonight, so I have no discussion about it."

Calhoun was effusive in his praise for Dyson and Robinson, but even in doing so was able to take shots at the rest of his players.

On Dyson: "Jerome played just an absolute terrific game. He was tough. A coach's voice doesn't actually make him melt, which is nice and pleasant for our team to see."

Robinson, of course, was making his return to the floor after sitting out the entire first semester. He had just one practice under his belt but finished with seven points, five rebounds and a pair of blocks in 16 minutes.

Said Calhoun: "He does contest jump shots, which is something we haven't seen all year. We actually have a guy that goes out and makes those 3-pointers a little more difficult. I thought he was spectacular. I don't know how you do what he did. Basically not touching organized basketball since May, he practiced one day ... We looked bigger with him out there. When he was out there, we had a better defensive feel."

In truth, the Huskies didn't look that bad tonight. It's hard to get a feel against a vastly overmatched team like Stony Brook, but UConn did shoot 63 percent from the floor, 62 percent on 3-pointers (8-for-13), had 26 assists on their 32 field goals and held Stony Brook to 32 percent shooting.

Even Calhoun, deep down, couldn't have thought his team played that poorly, could he? Maybe. But more likely, he had his eye on Saturday, when the Huskies travel to Seattle to face No. 8 Gonzaga.

"I've got a feeling the kids from Gonzaga may hit those shots," Calhoun said. "It's just an outside feeling (I have) on that situation. I have a feeling that when Hash gets in there, it won't be a 5-11 kid stripping him, it'll be a 6-11 kid blocking shots right back in his face."

Oh yes, then there was this little chestnut: "Over the past 4-5 years, this is the worst defensive team we've had. I don't care what the stats say."

So, there you have it. Imagine if the Huskies had only won by 24, rather than 34.

***Back to Stanley. Robinson checked into the game during a timeout 2:10 into the game. His first basket was classic Stanley, sneaking in from the baseline and catching an alley-oop pass from Donnell Beverly for a two-handed slam.

"That was awesome," Robinson said. "That brought me back to last year."

Soon afterwards, Robinson got a reality check, getting knocked to the ground on a hard screen from 300-pound Stony Brook forward Desmond Adedeji.

"That's a big guy," Robinson said. "My guys have got to call out the screens, man. That guy's like 325. The only thing I saw was the floor."

Robinson didn't do a whole lot after that. He blocked a Dallis Johner shot midway through the second half and scored UConn's final five points, on three foul shots and a jumper from the top of the key.

"I felt comfortable out there," Robinson said. "The crowd welcomed me with a great welcome. I felt good about everything."

His coach? Not so much.

Huskies Recruiting a Husky Player

While out in the state of Washington for their "Battle in Seattle" with Gonzaga on Saturday, the Huskies will take a look at one of the top big men in the Class of 2010.

Josh Smith, a 6-foot-9, 280-pound center/power forward out of Kentwood High School in Kent, Wash., is the No. 2-rated center in his class, according to He's said to be skilled, with soft hands and good feet, but obviously carries a bit of extra weight.

Miles: To Be Continued, Pt. II

Nate Miles (remember him?) was originally slated to have his case continued to tomorrow, Dec. 16. However, it has been continued again, this time to Tuesday, Dec. 23, so that Miles can finish up his exam work out at the College of Southern Idaho.

It seems very likely that the case, which involves the protective order taken out against Miles by a female UConn student, will be heard on Dec. 23, and that Miles will be in attendance at Rockville Superior Court.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Oh Stanley!

So myself and the rest of the UConn beat writer contingent are watching the Huskies' practice this morning at XL Center, carrying on with some light chat while the team is running a fullcourt scrimmage.

One team gets on a little 2-on-1 break, and Jerome Dyson throws up an alley-oop pass to Hasheem Thabeet. Thabeet can't stuff it home but tries to lay it up off the glass, only it rolls around and out of the rim.

Then, all of a sudden, Stanley Robinson springs up out of the blue and stuffs it home with two hands and plenty of authority.

I turn to the Republican-American's Ed Daigneault (sp?) and we give each other a look like, "Oh yeah, he can do that, can't he?"

Yes, he can. Robinson made his return to the practice floor today for the first time this season after sitting out the first semester to deal with some personal issues. Much of that will be covered in tomorrow's Register story, but here's some of the details of Sticks' first practice:

Understandably, his shot was a little off. He nearly air-balled a 15-footer, then a lane jumper after making a nice cut to the hoop. Late in practice, he air-balled a 3-pointer from the corner.

However, Robinson looked as lithe and as athletic as ever. He made a similar slash to the hoop later in practice and hit the basket, showing again just what the Huskies have missed in his absence.

"Energy, excitement, being positive, staying positive and staying consistent," Robinson said when asked what he brings to the Huskies' attack.

UConn, of course, has been pretty good (8-0) without Robinson. But there's no doubt he brings a special dimension to the team.

"He's a great athlete," said Jim Calhoun. "He jumps and dunks. He's not going to make every shot yet. Some of the stuff we've added, he doesn't know yet. But he does know how to run, block shots, rebound and defend. We don't want to break our chemistry up, we have won eight straight. But conversely, we've added a very good basketball player to our lineup, which makes us a better team."

Robinson, who ran the 3 1/2-mile Husky Run route on campus three times a week over the past couple of months, said he's in "long-distance shape. I'm not in sprint shape, I'm in Husky Run shape. Give me like two weeks, everything else will work out fine."

Calhoun said that Robinson will play both the 3 and 4. He won't start tomorrow night against Stony Brook (even though power forward Jeff Adrien is only "probable" after spraining his right ankle in practice yesterday), but the Huskies will surely ease his way back into the rotation.

"He's in good shape, that won't be the problem," said Calhoun. "I don't think he'll play 40 minutes, but he'll be in the rotation, I don't have much doubt about that."

***Calhoun said there may be a chance the Huskies starting lineup looks different tomorrow night, and it has nothing to do with Robinson. Freshman point guard Kemba Walker has had some "real good practice sessions," according to the coach, and there's a chance he could start tomorrow. It's not likely, however.

"Right now, we'll probably have the same lineup," Calhoun said.

The coach has been disappointed with A.J. Price's play for most of this season, but noted that Price had one of his best practices of the season yesterday.

Price has played tentatively this season, a result, he now admits, to not quite being able to get over the mental hurdle of returning from last March's torn ACL.

"I told you guys plenty of times that wouldn't be a problem, I'll play through it. But that's just the way it is," he said. "Mentally, to get over it, it's just difficult. You don't want to feel that pain that you felt when you tore the ACL ... I'm just not going strong when I go to the hole, probably not wanting to hurt myself. It's going to change and I'll get over it. I'll play better, eventually."

***Adrien only participated in about half of today's practice. He wasn't able to get any lift off his ankle.

***Obligatory Ater Majok Update: Nothing new, still "up in the air," according to Calhoun. The team has until mid-January, at the beginning fo the second semester, to still have a chance for Majok to play this season. Nothing new has come up, Calhoun said, it's just that Majok's past history (a refugee camp in Egypt, asylum in Australia) has made the case very difficult for the NCAA to decipher.

***Although Robinson will be a walk-on player, paying his own way through the money he saved working at a sheet metal factory the past few months as well getting some Pell grants, he will have his name on the back of his uniform, Calhoun said.

***Calhoun couldn't resist noting that the Huskies' near-miss at Buffalo a couple of weeks ago may not have been as bad as originally thought.

"Oh by the way, didn't they beat Temple by 12?" he said, not having to mention that Temple crushed No. 6 Tennessee yesterday. "I guess some of those experts aren't quite as expert as they were. Regardless, Buffalo looks a little better today."

***UConn faces 5-4 Stony Brook tomorrow night in Hartford. The Seawolves are coached by ex-Calhoun assistant Steve Pikiell. Stony Brook went 7-23 last year.

"I told him, that five-year contract made him a better coach," Calhoun joked. "A more confident coach, anyway."

Face the Face

Here's a story from today's Register about how college student-athletes deal with social-networking sites like MySpace and, in particular, Facebook. There are plenty of risks and benefits to the sites.

High-profile athletes like members of the UConn team face different issues than athletes from smaller schools and programs. Talked to several members of the Huskies about their use of Facebook in this article and got a wide array of responses. There's also some interesting stuff about Craig Austrie, who, shall we say, didn't exactly use the best judgment when posting on his Facebook page one time last year.

(Today's music quiz: who sang "Face the Face"?)