Saturday, February 14, 2009

Game 1 A.D. (After Dyson)

Gotta admit, I'm starting to fall in line with Jim Calhoun's campaign for Hasheem Thabeet as Big East player of the year. How could you not, after today's 25-point, 20-rebound, nine-block (the latter disputed by Calhoun) performance at The Rock?

Calhoun's pro-Thabeet hype was in full swing again afterwards:

"The reason we're in first place is that he's the most dominant force in the league. I was tired of (other coaches) politicking. You know who I'm going to vote for Most Valuable Player. I can't vote for one of our kids, but it'll probably come from a second or third-place team, unless some guy miraculously puts his team on his shoulders and carries them up to fifth place or something like that."

"You hear Bill Raftery and some other guys start to compare him to people, (people) say, 'I don't think he's that good, he's a little bit awkward, I wouldn't take him with the first 10 in the draft.' Next year you probably won't be the general manager of some team, then."

***As he's been several times in road arenas, Calhoun was miffed at Thabeet's blocked-shot total. Clearly, the coach believed it should have been more.

"It says nine blocked shots and (Seton Hall's John) Garcia had six. I'm not a statistician. I do know one thing: it looked like volleyball at times … I don't know why people do that. For the life of me, what purpose does it serve? Does it make Garcia a better player than Hasheem? Garcia's a terrific kid, I'm glad he's healthy, but why would you have him three away from him. Did you guys watch the game?"

***With the guard triumvirate of A.J. Price, Kemba Walker and Craig Austrie combining to shoot just 6-for-25, UConn's best offensive play often seemed the alley-oop pass to Thabeet. There were four in all, including two in a row during a 35-second span late in the first half from Price.

"That was the best thing I did today, just get it to Hasheem," said Price (2-for-10, six points).

Thabeet's most impressive alley-oop was a one-handed slam of a lob from Austrie. His ability to catch such passes – which he couldn't do, even earlier this season – makes him at times nearly indefensible for opponents. It's also become a patented play in UConn's arsenal.

"Most times it's not even eye contact," said Price. "He's doing it off instinct now, which is even better than eye contact. When he sees one of the guards beat his man down the lane and the big man steps up, he pretty much knows it's coming. He makes himself a big target and makes it an easy play for the guard."

Thabeet even kicked off UConn's scoring with a 15-foot jump shot off a pass from Price.

"He's got a pretty good jump shot," said Calhoun. "He's made those. If you put him on the line with Gavin (Edwards), him, Jeff (Adrien), who's a pretty good shooter, Sticks … two out of three times, he'll beat them all."

***With their guards misfiring and with opposing guards penetrating the lane too easily most of the game, the Huskies certainly missed Dyson.

Of course, as Thabeet reasoned: "When they were going by the guards, I was there to block shots. Maybe you'll see me averaging more blocks."

Calhoun: "Why did Hasheem block so many shots? It could be that they were getting to the rim. A.J., Kemba and Craig should do a much better job stopping penetration. What's going to happen, a couple of those guys from Pittsburgh are going to bang you, somebody's going to get two fouls, and now (DeJuan) Blair's going to be allowed to roam free. We have no one besides Hasheem to play Blair, just like nobody else in the league has anybody to guard Hasheem."

"(Dyson) gives us a fiber many times in a game that you can't necessarily get," Calhoun added. "At times, we didn't seem to have that. That's the adjustment we're probably going to have to go through. Some of the (bad) shots early … and Jerome can take his own bad shots, but he does hold it together a lot of times … Hopefully it's an adjustment period. I think Monday night we'll probably have a better test, at least physically. Not that Seton Hall's not a good team, they won five straight … they're good enough to make some noise the rest of the way through."

UConn hosts No. 4 Pittsburgh Monday night at the XL Center in Hartford.

"Now," said Price, "Monday is the test."

***Thabeet's 20 boards were the most in a game by a UConn player since Okafor grabbed 22 on Feb. 21, 2004 against Notre Dame. (Earlier in this space, I said that Thabeet's nine blocks tied Okafor's single-season UConn record. I was wrong. That's the beauty of blogs ... you can always go back and correct your mistakes, unlike in the print edition of the paper).

Calhoun was asked where Thabeet's performance ranked with some of the all-time great efforts in UConn history.

"(The game didn't have) the same importance of the second half of the Duke game in the (2004) semifinals for the national championship by Emeka (Okafor), when everybody said I was a fool for leaving him on the bench because he had two fouls and we fell down by nine. He bailed me out of being a fool by coming back and getting 17, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots. It was that kind of performance where you just knew, no matter what Duke did, they couldn't stop him and he could stop them … For a regular season game, this was a pretty special performance. To stay that active, against small people, big people … it was pretty special. (But) it's a little different before 45,000 people with a chance to go to the final game of the national championship."

***The Seton Hall band, at one point, played "Blister in the Sun." Do you think when the Violent Femmes wrote that song some 25 years ago they thought someday it would be played by a college band at a basketball game?

***UConn's 24-1 mark matches its best-ever start to a season, previously set in 1995-96.

***Ex-Husky stars Josh Boone (New Jersey Nets) and Charlie Villanueva (Milwaukee Bucks) watched the game from behind UConn's bench.

Dyson Speaks

Greetings from Newark, home of the nation's most ridiculous airport.

We met with Jerome Dyson about 45 minutes ago, and here's what he had to say:

(on the injury itself)
At halftime, I took a few steps on it. It felt alright, then that third step there was a lot of pain. I just tried to wait it out, because they said a bone bruise could take a while. Once I got up the next morning, I felt like it was more than just a bone bruise. I felt a lot of pain and my knee was starting to swell up.

(on whether he'll come back this season if the meniscus can't be repaired and only cleaned out)
I'm definitely looking to the future. I kind of want a career out of this, so I don't want to come back as fast as I can. If they can repair, that's what I want them to do. That would be the best thing for me in the long run ... It will be a lot of wear and tear on my body if they do clean it out, because I'll have no meniscus there. I want them to go in and repair for the long run.

(on UConn's chances without him the rest of the way)
We're still the No. 1 team in the nation, we're still a great team. More people just have to step up. I have faith in my teammates, I know how good they are. I'm sure it will be no problem with me out ... I know Craig's going to step up, he stepped up last year.

(on his reaction to getting the news of the MRI on Thursday)
It was a little emotional. It's like every time I start off with a good season, something always pulls me back down. My teammates came by to let me know that it was going to be alright and that they were with me.

(on how it happened)
They set a double screen and I was trying to get through it … I tried to go around the side of it, so when I planted my knee to turn, I kind of twisted it.

(on whether he was playing the best basketball of his life this season)
I felt like I was playing the type of basketball they wanted me to play. There were some (aspects) of my mid-range (game) I had to work on, but I was passing the ball great, I was scoring and getting my teammates involved. I felt like it was a good season, it's too bad it had to end.

(on whether he feels he's missed out on a great opportunity this season)
I feel like the team won't be as good as it is now next year. I feel like we had a real good chance of going all the way. I still feel that way, but I would like to be a part of it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bad Afternoon

"I'd like to say 'Good afternoon,' but I don't really mean it."

That's how Jim Calhoun started today's teleconference call with reporters. Here's some of what Calhoun had to say about Jerome Dyson's injury:

"We're saying (his absence) is indefinite, because they truly don't know until they go in and do surgery on Monday, I believe, to see exactly what they find. There's a tear in the meniscus, and they can either repair it or cut a piece out. The best thing to do is repair it, which is what they try to do at all costs, so down the line five, six years from now, Jerome won't have problems. If they cut it, there's an outside chance he'll be back in 3-4 weeks."

"We're prepared for the worst. We wish for a good, if not necessarily speedy, recovery, so he can come back next year and probably be our leading scorer, and hopefully have a great career after that."

"Our goals are still attainable. Injuries happen, sickness happens, tragedies happen. This isn't a tragedy. What happened in Buffalo -- that's a tragedy. This is an unfortunate thing for Jerome."

***Calhoun said Craig Austrie will return to the starting lineup.

"He's started before," Calhoun noted. "We have a good record with Craig starting."

The coach added that both Donnell Beverly and Scottie Haralson will run a bit with the first team in practice today. But the three players who need to step up the most in Dyson's absence are, in order, Kemba Walker, Stanley Robinson (who'll see some time at power forward) and Austrie.

"Kemba will have the most significant rise (in playing time). Stanley, obviously, has got to do some of the things he's capable of doing -- some 18-point games, games like he had in the first half the other night ... more than the 2-point game he had at Louisville. I don't think this changes A.J., Jeff or Hasheem, given foul trouble or not."

***The coach said that after Wednesday's game, everybody was confident that Dyson's injury was no more than a bruise. Concern started creeping in when Dyson couldn't close his knee, and the pain didn't subside.

Calhoun said Dyson was "devastated" when told the news of the MRI findings while in the training room yesterday.

"He broke down, his teammates went to see him. It was a tough scene. But I put things in perspective for him. Things happen to people. You don't want adversity, but character doesn't come out when everything's going good. Character comes out when something very difficult happens. It's how you handle that."

"I tried to put some things in perspective for him. If he does come back and play in the postseason, it's a bonus."

***Calhoun said he still very much likes the team that will board a bus (with Dyson) to Newark, N.J. later this afternoon for tomorrow's noon game with Seton Hall.

"As I drove home (Wednesday night), I had seen Duke and North Carolina play, and I had certain feelings about our team. I still have those same feelings now. The adjustment will be different, we'll be a different team, but hopefully we'll get the same results."

"We lost a terrific player, but I like this group. Not saying we're better or worse, just different."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Could Dyson Return This Season?

While Jim Calhoun's statement regarding Jerome Dyson's torn lateral meniscus injury (“I know that he will work hard in the offseason and be back next year as a major contributor to our future success") would seem to indicate otherwise, there's a chance (however small) that Dyson could return to UConn's lineup this season.

Recovery from this injury can range anywhere from a week to four months, depending on the size, severity and location of the tear -- much of which can't totally be determined by an MRI.

According to Dr. Michael Joyce, an orthopedic sports specialist based in Glastonbury: “In general terms, a small meniscal tear is simply resected and players can return in short order, in a matter of a few weeks or even a week. You see it in football frequently.”

If the tear is larger, however, “the surgeon would repair it and put it back together to preserve it. If it’s a repair, (recovery) is 3-4 months.”

In rare cases, larger tears can’t be repaired at all. Dr. Joyce said the surgeon will only know the severity of the tear by going inside; an MRI only reveals so much.

And there's this from The location (zone) of the tear is one of the most important factors in determining treatment.

Tears at the outer edge of the meniscus (red zone) tend to heal well because there is good blood supply. Minor tears may heal on their own with a brace and a period of rest. If they do not heal or if repair is deemed necessary, the tear can be sewn together using dissolvable stitches. This is successful 90% to 95% of the time in this area.

The inner two-thirds (white zone) of the meniscus does not have a good blood supply and therefore does not heal well either on its own or after repair. If torn pieces float into the joint space, which may result in a "locked" knee or cause other symptoms, the torn portion is removed (partial meniscectomy) and the edges of the remaining meniscus are shaved to make the meniscus smooth.

When the tear extends from the red zone into the white zone, there may be enough blood supply for healing. The tear may be repaired or removed. This is something the orthopedic surgeon decides during the surgery.

Losing Dyson for the rest of the season would be a severe -- though not fatal -- blow to the Huskies' national title chances. Let's not forget, UConn has survived – even thrived – without Dyson in the past. After Dyson failed a second university-imposed drug test last season and was suspended for a month, the Huskies won their next eight games in the midst of a 10-game overall winning streak.

And, of course, the Huskies were able to throttle the Orange Wednesday night without Dyson for all but the first few minutes.

Still, the 6-foot-4 junior guard has been a much more complete player this season. He’s the team’s most athletic and explosive offensive player, has been a better distributor of the ball all season (76 assists) and has cut down on his turnovers (49).

He’s also UConn’s best on-the-ball defender, frequently guarding an opponent’s top player. Dyson has helped shut down such high scorers as Rutgers’ Mike Rosario, Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell and Notre Dame’s Kyle McAlarney this season.

Dyson Out With Knee Tear

Jerome Dyson has suffered a torn lateral meniscus of his right knee and could be out for the rest of the season.

Dyson underwent an MRI Thursday afternoon at Windham Hospital in Willimantic and results showed the tear. He will undergo surgery within the next week, at which time it will be determined whether Dyson could return at some point this season.

Dyson's status is listed as "indefinite" right now, though a statement from coach Jim Calhoun makes it sound like Dyson is lost for the rest of the season.

“We are obviously all very disappointed for Jerome, who has been such a big part of why we are 23-1 and in first place in the BIG EAST,” said Calhoun. “I know that he will work hard in the offseason and be back next year as a major contributor to our future success. As for our team going forward this season, it is another challenge we will have to face. We have very good players who I know will rise to the occasion and fill the void left by Jerome’s absence.”

Dyson started all 24 games to date in 2008-09 and averaged 13.2 points per contest. He has reached double figures in 18 games and led the Huskies in scoring five times.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Just Another Night

Notes & quotes from No. 1 UConn's 63-49 dismantling of No. 23 Syracuse tonight at Gampel:

First things first: Jerome Dyson's right knee injury doesn't appear to be serious. With 15:44 left in the first half, Dyson bumped his right knee with a Syracuse player, crumpled to the ground in obvious pain and remained on the floor for several minutes.

Dyson tried to get up on his own power but couldn't put any weight on his right leg, and was eventually carried off the court by walk-ons John Lindner and Jim Veronick.

Dyson will have an MRI and X-Rays this afternoon, but according to a UConn spokesman, there is no structural damage to the knee at this point and no concern that it is an ACL or MCL issue. It appears it's a severe bruise, and it's possible Dyson may have hyperextended the knee. He was apparently on crutches in the locker room afterwards. We'll know more tomorrow.

***For the other question surely on many peoples' minds: What exactly went on between Jim Calhoun and Syracuse's Paul Harris this evening? Well, we're not 100-percent sure.

Just over three minutes into the second half, after Harris had split two defenders to throw down a dunk in transition and tie the score at 35, the player and coach had words. Referee Jim Burr stepped in, and after a few moments, Calhoun slapped five with Harris and all seemed to be forgiven.

"I've known (Harris) probably since he was a freshman in high school," Calhoun said afterwards. "His 'guy' was Khalid El-Amin's 'guy' in Buffalo. He and I were joking during the game, he said something to me, I said something to him back and then I was kidding with him and we (slapped each other) five, then Jimmy Burr came into the situation. But I have great respect for him, he's a terrific competitor."

After the game, Calhoun and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim engaged in a rather long handshake, during which Calhoun apparently explained the situation.

"He said (Harris) said, 'I'm getting going,' or something," Boeheim offered. "To me, it was nothing. I don't think it was anything of importance."

***Defense was once again the name of the game for UConn. After holding the Orange to 32 percent (19-for-60) shooting, UConn hasn't allowed an opponent to shoot better than 38 percent or score more than 61 points in its last six games.

It all starts with Hasheem Thabeet, who blocked seven shots, altered countless more, and tore down 16 rebounds while adding eight points.

"Thabeet is a tremendous defensive player," said Boeheim. "I've said many times, I think he's as good, or better, than anyone who's ever been in the league. Our game is to try to get to the basket. (Thabeet) takes that away from you"

***The Huskies used a 12-0 run midway through the second half to turn what had been a tight game into a fairly routine victory. Befitting of its season-long balanced attack, UConn got contributions from everyone on the floor during the run.

A.J. Price began it with a trio of free throws and capped it with an off-balance, baseline jumper. Kemba Walker stripped Jonny Flynn of the ball and cruised in for a breakaway layup.

"It kind of gave us confidence on the defensive end, so that was definitely a big play," Walker said.

Craig Austrie hit a 3-pointer off an inside-out pass from Thabeet and Jeff Adrien canned a 15-footer – all sandwiched around a pair of traveling calls against Syracuse's Eric Devendorf.

"This team is very balanced," said Adrien. "We have a different leading scorer every game … that's the great thing about us. We all click great with each other on different nights, and guys are going to give different things every night."

***Thabeet had the most impressive sequence of the game late in the first half. With 4:23 left in the half, Thabeet blocked a sure dunk by Rick Jackson. Syracuse picked up the loose ball and had a 3-on-1 advantage, but Thabeet still managed to get a piece of Devendorf's shot.

On the other end of the floor, Thabeet banked in a jump hook that gave the Huskies a 26-24 lead. They'd never trail again.

***During the pregame layup line, Adrien started pumping up the student section, big-time.

"It's kind of a tradition, though I haven't done it in a while," Adrien explained. "It's something Hilton Armstrong told me to do, to get the crowd going by asking them 'What day is it?' three times: 'What day is it?' 'Game day!' 'What day is it?' 'Game day!' 'What day is it?' 'Game day!' I've seen students around campus saying, 'When are you going to bring it back.' I brought it back today."

During pregame shootaround, Adrien was also serenaded with a "Happy Birthday" chorus by the student section. Adrien turned 23 the day before.

"Better late than never," he said.

***For what it's worth,'s latest mock draft has Thabeet going No. 4 overall and Price 41st. Adrien? Undrafted.

Again, take that for what it's worth.

***Who sang "Just Another Night," one of the more forgettable efforts of this man's otherwise stellar musical career?

Wounded Knee

As of right now, they're just calling it a bruised right knee for Jerome Dyson. No structural damage.

Dyson crumpled to the floor with 15:44 left in the first half and remained on the ground for several minutes. He apparently bumped knees with a Syracuse player.

Dyson tried to get up on his own power but couldn't put any weight on it, and was eventually carried off the court by walk-ons John Lindner and Jim Veronick.

Dyson hadn't returned to the bench as of halftime.

Calhoun Rides Again

The NBC-30 Jim Calhoun Cancer Challenge Ride wil be held on Saturday, June 13. (A press release on the event doesn't specify where it's being held, but the last two years it's been in Simsbury). There will be rides of 10, 25 and 50 miles; Calhoun plans to participate in the 50-mile ride.

To register for the ride or as a team, interested parties should visit There is a $30 fee to register and a minimum fundraising requirement of $400 per rider.

The event benefits the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UConn Health Center, as well as Coaches vs. Cancer.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Orange Crush

A few notes and quotes from UConn in advance of tomorrow night's bout with Syracuse at Gampel:

***While much has been made of the fact that UConn has had the fewest fouls called against them in the country this season, Jim Calhoun points out that Syracuse has had the fifth-fewest whistles against them.

Much of that would have to do with Syracuse's patented 2-3 zone -- except for the fact that the Orange haven't been playing as much zone this season. Calhoun estimates Syracuse plays about "60 percent man" now. Whatever it is they're doing, they're not doing a very good job of it: in Big East play, the Orange are allowing 75.8 points per game, 12th out of the league's 16 teams.

On the flip side, Syracuse has the second-highest scoring offense at 78.5 per game.

"When they're scoring in bunches, and that's really what they do, their defense tightens up," Calhoun said. "I think when (Andy) Rautins went out, they really suffered defensively. But they can put points on the board faster than anybody else in our league."

***Stanley Robinson has been sick the last couple of days with a stomach virus -- a result, Robinson said, of some bad Chinese food Saturday night. The Huskies had Sunday off and Robinson didn't practice on Monday, but was back on the floor today.

Robinson should get Paul Harris, the Orange's do-it-all, 6-foot-4 forward, at least to start the game. Harris has been a tough match-up for UConn in the past as a four-man, Calhoun noted, but now that Rick Jackson mans the four and Harris has moved to the three, it should be a better match-up for the Huskies.

Either way, "he's a hard match-up for the whole league."

***Calhoun believes the Orange are UConn's biggest rivals.

"It's probably the rivalry we have. I know the people in Pittsburgh don't like me to say that, but over a 20-year period, beating Syracuse has probably been the No. 1 thing we want to do. UConn-Pittsburgh is a rivalry, but not as much as (this one)."

***Calhoun sarcastically added that Syracuse Jim Boeheim just loves coming to Gampel. When it was mentioned that the two of them have coached in a lot of games over the years, Calhoun couldn't resist a shot at his follicly-challenged friend/rival: "It shows a lot more on Jim than it does on me."

***It's all about resume-building with seven games to go (including two against Pitt and one against Marquette) for UConn.

"I think our resume's pretty good, but it can get even better," said Jeff Adrien. "We've still got great teams to play in front of us, so why not go out there and get those W's and make the resume even better than it is right now.

***Syracuse's Arinze Onuaku leads the Big East in field goal percentage (70 percent) yet is perhaps the worst free throw shooter in the country (29-for-87, 33 percent). In his last seven games, Onuaku is an almost inexplicable 1-for-19 from the charity stripe.
Roll that around your tongue for a while: 1-for-19 in the last seven games!

***I know "Orange Crush" isn't a very original title for this post, but can anyone name the band that performed that song?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Thabeet is Big East Player of Week

Hasheem Thabeet has been named the Big East's Player of the Week. Thabeet had 14 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks in No. 1 UConn's 68-51 romp at No. 5 Louisville last Monday. On Saturday night, Thabeet went for 17, 12 and six in a 69-61 non-conference win over Michigan.

For the two games, the junior was 10-for-13 from the floor and 11-for-13 from the foul line.

That'll work.

Adrien Adonis

I admit, it took me a while to really warm up to Jeff Adrien.

Not as a person -- he's a terrific kid. Not even as a player, so much. I always recognized he was a very good player. I just never realized how good until earlier this season.

Last March, just before the all-Big East team came out, I posted my own all-Big East team on this blog and had Adrien as a second-teamer. I got a lot of e-mail about that complaining that he should be on the first team, but I wasn't so sure. Yes, he was the Huskies' leading scorer and a double-double waiting to happen, but there was just something missing. I guess there were a few too many of those unspectacular, 11-point, 10-rebound double-doubles, where the thing you noticed most from Adrien were the missed putbacks and easy baskets and the ill-advised 16-footers.

But he wound up being selected first-team Big East, and he probably deserved it. Despite that, he was a preseason second team pick this season. There is absolutely no doubt that Adrien will be a first-teamer this time around.

While Jim Calhoun is waging a campaign for Hasheem Thabeet as the Big East's player of the year, and while A.J. Price has (at least until the last couple of games) reverted back to the second team All-America player he was a year ago, a strong argument can be made that Adrien has been the Huskies' best player this season.

Thabeet may be UConn's most valuable player (where would they be without his defensive presence?), but Adrien has probably been their best. He's their leading scorer (14.1 ppg), second leading rebounder (10.1, to Thabeet's 10.2) and most vocal leader. Despite being undersized (Calhoun has been selling him as "6-5 1/2" lately, though he's listed at 6-7), Adrien is an absolute horse on the boards. Even though there were just 3 seconds left in a game already decided, Adrien grabbed his 1,000th career rebound the other night with the same ferocity as if it was the final 3 seconds of overtime in a tie game.

And there is no argument that he's been the Huskies' most consistent player. I can't think of more than two or three games this season where Adrien hasn't played particularly well. Even those 16-footers are no longer ill-advised -- he's hitting them now with some regularity!

Anyway, here's a mini-feature on Adrien in today's Register that covers a lot of the previously mentioned topics.