Saturday, June 27, 2009

Knight School?

Brandon Knight, the reigning Gatorade National Player of the Year, made an unofficial visit to UConn today.

Knight, 6-foot-3, is the top-rated point guard in the nation among Class of 2010 players, according to He plays at Pinecrest School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

He's also an excellent student: so good, in fact, that he also paid a visit to Yale on Friday.

(Update): Here's a mention of Knight's visit in Dave Solomon's column.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Train in Vain

A long night in New York City devolved into a long morning in (or near) Milford. The MetroNorth train that I and Mike Anthony (no, not the Van Halen bassist) took home from Grand Central Station at 1:12 a.m. caught fire about five minutes from the Milford station and caused a 1 1/2-hour delay. Yep, it caught fire.

We were cruising along, me listening to my iPod at typically high volume, when suddenly I heard a loud explosion and saw a spark -- a real, big spark -- outside the train window. The train stopped, things get dark, and after what seemed like 10 minutes the announcement that we already knew came -- "Folks, we've experienced a technical problem, we're trying to fix it."


Anyway, they tell us all to move up to the first few trains of the car. As we pass through the car ahead of ours, smoke starts billowing through. Great.

Long story short, after a near 90-minute wait, a "rescue train" comes to our rescue, hitches us up and takes us to the Milford and New Haven stops. I got home at 5 a.m. Was at TPC River Highlands for the Travelers by 11:30 a.m.

Quiz question: Who sang "Train in Vain."

No, Adrien!

Jeff Adrien didn't get drafted tonight, but it says here he'll find a spot on an NBA roster next fall. He'll be a free agent and possibly have a chance to select which team he'd like to sign with. He may start getting calls tonight (this morning).

Adrien's hometown Boston Celtics had the chance to take him with the 58th overall pick in the draft, but instead chose Tennessee-Martin guard Lester Hudson, who was the nation's second-leading scorer after Stephen Curry.

Otherwise, a pretty good night for the Big East – four Big East alums in the first round and 10 overall. First round: UConn's Hasheem Thabeet, Syracuse's Jonny Flynn (No. 6), Louisville's Terrence Williams (No. 11) and Earl Clark (No. 14).

In the second round, Villanova's Dante Cunningham (No. 33), Georgetown's DaJuan Summers (No. 35), Pitt's Sam Young (No. 36) and DeJuan Blair (No. 37), UConn's A.J. Price (No. 52)

Maybe it's because I watched the two torch UConn twice this past season, but if you ask me, both Young and Blair are much better NBA prospects than Cunningham and Summers. Cunningham deservedly won the Big East's most improved player award, but he doesn't have the skills or athleticism of either Pitt player. Just as Jim Calhoun.

***Some real doozies asked by a couple of media members at Hasheem Thabeet's press conference.

Here's one question: "Memphis is known for great music, great food … pro basketball, not so much. How much do you know about the city of Memphis and are you concerned about a franchise that has been a colossal failure?"

Another one, from the same guy, to No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin: "Blake, the philosopher Santayana once said, 'Those who don't remember the past are condemned to repeat it.' With 30 years of losing in an organization, is it going to take time?"

Not every day you hear Santayana quoted in a presser.

***Brandon Jennings elected not to wait in the "green room" (which isn't green at all and in fact, isn't even a room, as Phil Chardis pointed out) with his fellow likely lottery picks. A statement released by his agent earlier in the day indicated he'd be watching the draft on TV with his family in a "more private setting, with the people he loves the most." Apparently, the Jennings camp believed he had slipped far in the draft and didn't want to have a Brady Quinn-like situation, sitting around, embarassingly waiting forever to be picked.

But Jennings wound up going No. 10. Then, after absent Earl Clark was picked at No. 14, Jennings emerged onto the stage to be congratulated by NBA commissioner David Stern. Seems that "private setting" wasn't too far from the Garden.

***The New York crowd, as always, let us know how it really felt. When Stern kicked off the proceedings by congratulating the Lakers for their NBA title, the chant of "Lakers (stink)!" went through the building.

The crowd was extremely disappointed when Stephen Curry went to Golden State at No. 7 – one pick before the Knicks. Curry seemed to be hoping to go to the Knicks, whose style of play would seem to suit him to a 'T.' Instead, the Knicks took Arizona's Jordan Hill, a power forward.

There were (unnecessary, if you ask me) chants of "Over-rated!" when UNC's Tyler Hansbrough was picked at No. 13 by the Pacers. And when Israel's Omri Casspi was picked by Sacramento at No. 23, there was actually cheering on press row by (we presume) an Israeli writer.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Price a Pacer

A.J. Price goes to Larry Bird's Indiana Pacers with the 52nd overall pick. Good for him. Now, we'll see if Jeff Adrien goes with one of the final eight selections.


He's No. 2!

Some quotes from Hasheem Thabeet's press conference, after he was selected by Memphis with the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft:

"I'm happy and excited.I look forward to being part of the Grizzlies' organization."

On whether he had an inkling that Memphis would select him:

"I was surprised. (The Grizzlies) were calling my agent … I was waiting to hear what's going to happen. I ended up in Memphis, so I'm happy. I was going to be happy wherever I ended up. This is, for me, a great opportunity to go out there and play ball and have fun."

On his improvements from his freshman year at UConn to now:

"When I came here, I never thought, first of all, that I would be able to make it to Division I. I ended up at UConn, and when I got to UConn, I got to be coached by Jim Calhoun. He pushed me since day one ... I had to believe in myself that I can definitely do it. After my freshman year, I was young and I had to grow up and (Calhoun) prepared me mentally pretty well for me to believe in myself. He challenged me and I can challenge myself to be man enough to go out there and play ball, and I ended up believing in myself since my freshman year."

Thabeet considered leaving for the NBA after both his freshman and sophomore seasons. Calhoun told him leaving after his freshman year "is going to be the worst mistake in your life. I had to believe in him and trust him and told my family that I can wait a couple off years for me to be in the NBA … To me, this is a blessing."

Thabeet, who becomes the first Tanzanian ever selected in the NBA draft, was seated with his mother, Rukia Manka, who still lives in Tanzania. His father, Thabit Manka, passed away several years ago.

"The first five years (away from home), I didn't get to see my family … I used to speak to them on the phone every two or three weeks, and now they are here and get to experience this with me. I don't even know how to explain that. It's just a great feeling and I'm happy that (my mother) was there to experience it."

Still waiting to see if A.J. Price and/or Jeff Adrien get selected. Stay tuned ...


All the Way to Memphis

Hasheem Thabeet has been selected by the Memphis Grizzlies with the No. 2 pick in the 2009 NBA draft. He'll join former Husky Rudy Gay on a team that also features (for now, anyway) four other 7-footers: starting center Marc Gasol, who averaged 11.9 points per game last season, Chris Mihm, rookie Hamed Haddadi, infamous draft bust Darko Milicic and Thabeet.

Heading off to Thabeet's press conference, will be back with more ...

(P.S. -- Who sang "All the Way to Memphis"?)


Separated at Birth ...?

Jennings Feeling Jilted?

With his draft stock apparently plummeting, Brandon Jennings has decided not to join the rest of the potential lottery picks at tonight's NBA draft festivities.

This statement from his agent, Bill Duffy: "Because we do not have a strong grasp of Brandon's draft position, I've advised that he and his family enjoy this day in a more private setting with the people he loves the most. Brandon Jennings will have a very illustrious career in the NBA, and at the end of the day, that is all that is important."

Jennings, of course, went to play in Italy this past season straight out of high school, rather than attend college for a year.

Feeling a Draft

Just took my seat on press row at Madison Square Garden's WaMu Theater, ready for tonight's 2009 NBA Draft (yeah, I'm early ... but they start serving food at 4 p.m., I'm told).

Been lucky enough to cover World Series, a Final Four, an MLB All-Star Game, but never a draft of any sort. Should be fun. Put it this way: I'm looking far more forward to this draft than my dad was looking forward to a different draft back in the late 1960s.

Anyway, will add updates throughout the evening on Hasheem Thabeet, A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien and anything else UConn-related. We'll be here 'til the bitter end, planning a very late ride home. Stay tuned ... and in the meantime, enjoy this Sporcle quiz on which college programs have sent the most players to the NBA. A little surprised UConn is this low, but pretty impressive when you consider they've sent nearly all their guys in the past 20 years. (Oh, and if you haven't heard of Sporcle yet and you're a trivia-lover, like me ... you're welcome).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

86 Floors, 7 feet, 3 inches tall

Hasheem Thabeet visited the Empire State Building and its famous 86th-floor observatory on Tuesday as he gets set for Thursday's NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden. Here are some photos taken by Matt McCullough:


Monday, June 22, 2009

Of Ater, Twitter and Thabeet

Went over to Gampel Pavilion this afternoon to see what’s going on up in UConn territory. Apparently, just missed Jerome Dyson, who has been cleared to participate in full-contact drills and pick-up games for the first time since tearing the lateral meniscus in his right knee in February.

Otherwise, had a good chat with associate head coach George Blaney (Jim Calhoun has only been in the office once, for about an hour, since breaking five ribs in a bike crash on June 13), as well as Ater Majok and a few other players. Here’s what we’ve got:

***All indications are that Majok will be on board for the Huskies next season. He’s been working out at Gampel pretty much every day for the past week with UConn’s other players. Perhaps more telling, he has signed up for second-session summer classes at the school that begin in late-July.

“He’s doing everything that indicates that he is (planning on playing for UConn),” Blaney noted
Added junior guard Donnell Beverly: “He said he’s staying here, that he’s going to come to school.”

Majok, however, won’t guarantee it.

“I think I’ll be playing at UConn next year,” he said with a wide grin, before adding. “I don’t know yet, but I would really like to … I need a championship, so that might motivate me to come back.”

So, who knows? Majok said his workouts for NBA teams over the past month or so was “a good experience, I learned a lot. It’s good for someone like me who hasn’t played basketball a lot, just to go and learn the game from the veterans and coaches.”

He added that working out with the rest of UConn’s players, particularly the guards, this summer is a positive, “so when I get on the court later, we have something in common, we’ve played together already.”

Majok says the coaching staff tells him he’s a “hybrid four – and that basically, I’m a nightmare for any four-man in the nation. I can shoot the 3, and not a lot of big guys can go out there and handle the ball, things like that. They look at me as a hybrid four – a three or a four who plays the four.”

***It’s June, we realize that. But if the season started tomorrow, Gavin Edwards would be the starting four and Charles Okwandu the starting five.

“Charles is strong, he can rebound, he can really defend,” said Blaney. “He’s a baby offensively, but when you have Kemba (Walker), Jerome and Stanley (Robinson), you’re not looking for a ton of scoring from that position.”

As for Edwards, it’s just a matter of him having as much confidence in himself as the coaching staff has.

“He has all the skills – passing, catching and shooting,” Blaney said. “He has basketball knowledge, he’s one of the smarter players we have, guard or forward. He’s got great speed, he’s got great jumping ability. I think he’s a little bit like Hilton (Armstrong) – he’s kind of grown into his body, he’s made himself a lot stronger.”

Said Edwards: “I think I’ve kind of come into my own now, and I’m ready to believe in myself the way everybody else on the coaching staff does. They’ve been telling me that the (No. 4) spot’s basically mine to lose and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have the confidence to be able to go out there and start and play as well as I have in my best games here.”

***In further evidence of how social-networking affects the college sports landscape, a rumor broke out shortly after the end of last season that 7-foot enter Jonathan Mandeldove was set to transfer. It was even reported by a local news station, apparently as a result of a “tweet” on Mandeldove’s Twitter page.

In fact, Mandeldove, a senior, said transferring from UConn was never a consideration. As for the “tweet”, it was just a joke on Mandeldove’s part.

“I saw (the rumor) and I replied with another tweet, ‘Leaving campus right now,’ because I saw someone was following me and posted it up on another website,” he said. “That was a little prank.”

In fact, Mandeldove’s teammate – little-used junior guard Donnell Beverly – did give some consideration to transferring.

“I thought about it,” Beverly said. “I talked to some people at home, and we figured the best thing for me to do is just to stay here, because my chance will come, I believe that. And I’m under a great coach, anyway. Nobody would be able to get you more ready than coach Calhoun.”

***The Huskies use a VertiMax machine to help players improve their leaping ability. The machine has a harness that players tie around their waist and is connected to a platform by two cords. The players jump (as high as they can) while strapped into the harness and dunk or put in as many layups as they can over a certain amount of time. After the resistance that the machine offers, the players feel they can jump through the roof once unharnessed.

“Everybody raves about it,” said head manager Ben Wood.

Upon stepping onto the machine, making him practically eye-level with the bottom of the basket net, Majok said: “I’m so close (to the rim). Is this how Hasheem feels?”

***Edwards has won the team’s strength and conditioning award the past two years.

***Blaney said Jeff Adrien had two very good workouts over the weekend, with Utah and Charlotte. The Utah workout went particularly well, with Jazz coach (and soon-to-be Hall of Famer) Jerry Sloan in attendance.

“That would be a kind of coach that he’d really do well with,” said Blaney.

***As for Hasheem Thabeet: “All of the pro guys I’ve been talking to, it sounds to me like (he’s) No. 2.”

***Blaney on Calhoun: “He’s trying to get up and move around, get the blood flowing, not be sedentary – and you know he’s going to do more of that than he’s supposed to. Each day, he sounds better. If you catch him at the end of the day, he usually sounds a little tired.”

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