Wednesday, May 18, 2016

UConn receives LOI from Christian Vital

UConn has received a national letter-of-intent from Christian Vital. Here's the press release the school sent out this afternoon:

The UConn men's basketball program has received a signed Letter of Intent from Christian Vital, a combination guard from Queens Village, N.Y., who will join the freshman class of 2016-17.

Vital, 6-2 and 170 pounds, averaged 16.2 points per game last season at St. Thomas More (Oakdale, Conn.), helping the Chancellors to a 31-7 record and the National Prep Championship finals.
Vital is known as a high-energy athlete, who can play either guard position, with an outstanding long range jumper, and is a solid defender. But UConn coach Kevin Ollie feels that he brings to the program much more than his basketball skills.

"Besides being a great basketball player with a great basketball mind, Christian is just an outstanding leader," Ollie said. "He has won wherever he's been. He's a great person who lifts your spirit when you're around him.

"Christian's ability to play both guard positions and his leadership qualities are what intrigued us. His combination of talent and character are what we're looking for in our student-athletes. We think he'll be a wonderful addition to the program."

Vital was a New England Prep School Athletic Conference Class AAA All-New England First-Team selection. He scored 13 points, including three three-pointers, and handed out seven assists in the Jordan Brand Classic Regional Game, in which he played with fellow UConn incoming recruit Mamadou Diarra.

"He may have improved more than any kid I've ever had here for two years," St.Thomas More coach Jere Quinn told the Norwich Bulletin. "He's such a hard worker. First to show up in the gym, last to leave --- that kind of kid."

Vital is also well-acquainted with more of his future UConn teammates. In 2014-15 at St. Thomas More, he was a teammate of UConn rising sophomore forward Steve Enoch, he played he played AAU ball with current UConn redshirt sophomore Terry Larrier, and knows UConn rising sophomore Jalen Adams from the AAU and NEPSAC circuits
Vital joins UConn's highly-touted recruiting class which has been consistently rated among the top 10 in the country, including forward Diarra (Queens, N.Y.), guard Alterique Gilbert (Lithonia, Ga.), and forwards Vance Jackson (Altedena, Calif.), and Juwan Durham (Tampa, Fla.).

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Zach Brown, UConn part ways

Zach Brown, we hardly knew ye.

In what can hardly be called a surprise, Brown, the 7-foot center out of Miami, has de-committed from UConn. He and Kevin Ollie spoke on a conference call on Thursday afternoon and agreed it was what was best for both parties. There are no hard feelings, according to a source, it just wound up not being a good fit.

Brown, of course, committed to UConn in January and left his Miami home about a week later to enroll at Putnam Science Academy. He played a few games for PSA, but was involved in a postgame fracas in February and eventually released from the school.

He returned to Miami, made an ill-fated effort to return to Putnam, and eventually re-enrolled in his original high school, Miami Beach High. He's currently playing for the Nike South Beach EYBL team. One of his teammates is Chaundee Brown, a 6-5, Class of 2017 shooting guard who has been offered by UConn.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Vance Jackson excited about coming to Storrs; Kevin Ollie leaving?

Talked to Vance Jackson and his Prolific Prep coach, Billy McKnight, by phone the other night and wrote a story about how Jackson's role could be even bigger than originally anticipated next season, with the departure of Daniel Hamilton to the NBA.

No doubt, Jackson is excited to get to UConn. He's due to arrive on May 29 for summer courses, and plans to stay most of the summer.

Couple of interesting things: Jackson's prime recruiter was Karl Hobbs, who is now at Rutgers as associate head coach. One thing I neglected to mention in the article is that Jackson texts with Jalen Adams almost every day. The gist of those texts:

"We just talk about how excited we are for next year, and how we've got to come in and shock the world, because a lot of people are sleeping on UConn," Jackson said.

Also in the article, McKnight pointed out that Jackson struggled mid-season with his role on the team, and with the way shots were distributed on a team full of fellow D-1 players. Ultimately, Jackson figured it all out and ended the season with a flourish. McKnight said Jackson's biggest challenge as a freshman will be to find and accept whatever role he's asked to do in Kevin Ollie's offense.

Ah yes, Ollie. Didn't get a chance to ask Jackson or McKnight about the latest rumors that Ollie is interested in the Lakers' job, because the rumors hadn't quite surfaced yet when I spoke with the two. Plus, I highly doubt it's going to happen.

Sure, I've been told by someone within college basketball that one of the reasons Hobbs left UConn is because of the belief that Ollie will leave for the Lakers. Yes, it makes perfect sense that Ollie would want to return to his hometown of L.A. to coach one of the premiere franchises in all of sports -- particularly if he's given the autonomy he reportedly would like.

But I don't see it happening. Yet. He has a great recruiting class coming in. He has a daughter in high school in Connecticut and a son playing football at nearby Fordham. He's coaching the U18 national basketball team this summer. And plus, I don't see the Lakers giving Ollie everything he wants, or at least enough to lure him from so many of the things he loves.

Will UConn be Kevin Ollie's final coaching job? No. I don't believe it will be. But I strongly doubt that he'll be coaching the Los Angeles Lakers next season. He'll be coaching Vance Jackson & Co. at UConn.

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Monday, April 25, 2016

Josh Boone, Clive Vaughan, Marcus Williams, Gavin Edwards playing in The Basketball Tournament

Several former UConn players will be involved in The Basketball Tournament this summer, an ESPN-created, winner-take-all tourney.

Rudy Gay is a booster for the Untouchables, while Clyde Vaughan (or Clive Vaughan), is a coach.

Meanwhile, Josh Boone is playing for  the Tri State Titans. Marcus Williams will play on Team Maryland, and Gavin Edwards will play on Team 23.

The winning team will pocket $2 million. The tourney's format is just like March Madness, with 64 teams in four regions: Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Charlotte. The 12 teams with the most votes as of June 1 automatically get into the tourney, so if you'd like to see the UConn guys get a chance to play, open those team links and give them a vote.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Alterique Gilbert should be fine, despite suffering dislocated shoulder

Alterique Gilbert suffered a separated left shoulder in Friday's Jordan Brand Classic national game, but it doesn't appear to be too serious.

Early in the game, Gilbert fell to the floor in pain after trying to swipe away a steal, gripping his left shoulder, and had to be taken off the court in a wheelchair at the Jordan Brand Classic national game.

Gilbert was taken to a local hospital, where X-Rays revealed a shoulder dislocation — something he’s suffered before.

“They say he’s fine,” offered Sharman White, Gilbert’s coach at Miller Grove High and also for on Friday night for the East Team. “It may take anywhere from 4-6 weeks to make sure it heals properly. He’s in good spirits.”

Gilbert suffered the dislocation when he tried to swipe the ball away from 6-foot-9 center Marques Bolden.

“(Bolden) had a good grip on it, so when he hit it, I think the vibration of it probably just knocked it out of place,” said White.

The coach added that the same thing happened to Gilbert a couple of years ago, “so he kind of knew exactly what had happened.”

Gilbert, a 6-1 point guard, is the centerpiece to a highly-touted UConn recruiting class.

“Y’all gonna really enjoy him up there," said White. "Phenomenal player, phenomenal kid. He affects winning, that’s what he does. He’s been a winner all his life, even before he got to Miller Grove. It’s almost sad that I’m not gonna be able to coach him again. I hated for this to happen, because this is our last ride together right here.”

“You’re gonna get an electrifying guard that can really affect winning in every single way.”

White said that Gilbert is like a hybrid of Kemba Walker, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.

"He can score like those guys, he can defend, but he can also run a team like I’ve seen Shabazz do. Whatever’s needed — he needs to score, manage, distribute, he can do that. You’ve got a great one.”

The coach added that Gilbert spoke with Ray Allen for about a half-hour earlier this week, and Allen was very impressed with the young man.

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Mamadou Diarra, Taurean Thompson, Christian Vital at Jordan Brand Classic regional game

Interesting stuff from the Jordan Brand Classic regional game today. Here's what Mamadou Diarra, Taurean Thompson and Christian Vital had to day:

THOMPSON (who is taking an official to UConn on Monday, his third official):

“I don’t know a lot about UConn. I know (Daniel) Hamilton just left. I talked to the assistant coaches briefly, I haven’t really talked to (Kevin) Ollie yet. He’s been busy. But when I get there, they’ll let me know what’s going on.”

“After UConn, if it doesn’t feel right, I’m gonna keep brainstorming and use my last two officials.”

Thompson was named Team New York's MVP on Friday after shooting 13-for-15 from the floor for 27 points and 13 boards.


(on persuading Thompson to come to UConn)

“I was just talking to him in the locker room about it, ‘you’ve got to come to UConn. He’s taking his visit Monday, so hopefully he likes it.”

Diarra, who scored 19 points in Team New York's 148-128 victory on Friday, said he'll likely arrive on UConn's campus around May 31. He's been working on getting stronger and "stepping out a little bit, making jump shots, stretching my game out a little."

But he knows his bread-and-butter will be rebounding and shot-blocking.

“That’s my niche, that’s what I’m gonna need to do to get on the floor. That’s what I’ll keep on doing. Our leading rebounder last year was Daniel Hamilton, and he’s out, too. So that’s a big role that’s missing. They’re gonna need that.”

(on Hamilton's departure to the NBA)

“I’m a little surprised ... He’s good, but players come and players go. That’s just a part of the game. There’s a lot of other guys on the team that can step up and play, like Terry Larrier, Vance Jackson.”


The Queens Village, New York product, played AAU ball with Larrier, knows Jalen Adams from playing prep ball in New England and said Steve Enoch is “my beat friend.”

“I just spoke to him the other day, he told me to get ready for my visit,” Vital reported. “And Coach Ollie is a really great guy, too. You can see how genuine he is about his players. That’s why he shows so much emotion when coaching on the sidelines. And being in Connecticut, UConn is on a lot. When I’m scrolling through the channels, I’m able to watch them play.”

Vital said it's down to UConn, Louisville and Iowa - though it appears UConn and Louisville are the leaders. He'll visit both soon (UConn early next week).Vital spoke glowingly of Louisville.

“You grow up watching Coach Pitino, he’s a great coach,” Vital said. “I can tell he has a lot of great character. A lot of things, as we know, happened down at Louisville, and I am aware of that and I’m thinking about that in my decision. But I don’t feel like you should ever judge someone just because they sin differently than you. Whatever did happen over there, no one’s perfect. They definitely took the steps to get ahead of their sanctions by saying ‘no postseason’ last year and getting rid of scholarships. Coach Pitino can’t come down and see me, that’s part of it ... And also national championships ... I want to compete for a national championship.”

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Kevin Ollie will assist Shaka Smart on 2016 U18 national team

Kevin Ollie and Maryland's Mark Turgeon will be assistants to Shaka Smart on the 2016 USA men's basketball U18 national tteam this summer in Chile. Here's the press release:

University of Texas head coach Shaka Smart will guide the 2016 USA Basketball Men’s U18 National Team in its quest for a fourth straight U18 gold medal, along with USA assistant coaches Kevin Ollie of the University of Connecticut and Mark Turgeon of Maryland.

The trio will lead the USA at the 2016 FIBA Americas U18 Championship July 19-23 in Valdivia, Chile. Not only is a gold medal at stake, the top four finishing teams will earn a qualifying berth in the 2017.

“With his experience from the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship and the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship, Shaka Smart is an excellent choice to lead the 2016 USA U18 National Team,” said Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), chair of the USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team Committee, which selected the USA coaching staff. “Coach Smart and assistant coaches Kevin Ollie and Mark Turgeon are very successful head coaches at the college level, and the USA team will be completely prepared to compete for the gold."

Smart helped USA Basketball teams to gold medals at the 2012 FIBA Americas U18 Championship and the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship. Overall as a USA Basketball assistant coach, Smart is 14-0. 

In his first season as head coach for the University of Texas in 2015-16, Smart led his team to a 20-13 record and an NCAA Tournament appearance. Prior to that, he was a head coach at Virginia Commonwealth University for six seasons (2009-10 to 2014-15), where he compiled a 163-56 record (.744 winning percentage) and made five NCAA Tournament appearances, including the 2011 Final Four. 

He also has 10 seasons of experience as an assistant coach at five different schools, and as an assistant coach, he has an all-time record of 220-97 (.694 winning percentage).

“It’s a tremendous honor to coach the USA U18 National Team and represent our country in international play,” Smart said. “The opportunity to work with Kevin Ollie and Mark Turgeon is something I’m extremely excited about. They are two of the best coaches in the country, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot."

In 2015-16, Ollie led Connecticut to a 25-11 record, an American Athletic Conference Tournament title and the NCAA Tournament second round. In four seasons overall as the Huskies head coach, he owns a 97-44 record (.688 winning percentage), including winning the 2014 NCAA National Championship.

He was an assistant coach for two seasons at Connecticut (2010-11 and 2011-12), during which time the Huskies were 52-23 (.693 winning percentage) and won the 2011 NCAA Championship.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be a part of USA Basketball,” Ollie said. “Any time you are asked to  represent your country, especially in a worldwide competition, it comes with a tremendous sense of pride and responsibility. I am grateful to be asked to help mold these outstanding young men into a team that can compete."

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