Saturday, October 31, 2015

Kevin Ollie: 'They better not come in here with any of those junk zones or any of that stuff'

A few quick notes from after UConn's practice today at Gampel (which was attended by Mamadou Diarra), in advance of Sunday's exhibition opener vs. Tampa:


“We’ll experiment. It doesn’t count, but it does count, you know? We’ll experiment with some different lineups. Hopefully, I’ll have the opportunity to play everybody. That’s the beautiful thing about a close scrimmage, that’s one of the things I want, because you can really experiment -- go zone, play a lot of people a lot more minutes.”

“Steve Enoch is real talented. He’s got poise beyond his years, just like Jalen (Adams). He’s a real good basketball player, he’s a sponge, he wants to get better. And he’s huge. He’s more athletic than I thought. I didn’t know he was that special an athlete. He gets up and down and really goes after the ball. He wants to get better, and he’s got skills beyond his years. He’s gonna be a really good player for us.”

“I’ve been an admirer of (Tampa coach Richard Schmidt) for a long time, he’s been there for 33 years. He’s just a great coach. They allowed us to come down to their practice facility, so we’ve got a nice little relationship. They better not come in here with any of those junk zones or any of that stuff. But coach is real good friends of ours, and Coach (Justin) Pecka (a South Windsor native) has been a real good friend of the program.”


“I’m definitely one of the leaders, one of the older guys on the team. The guys feed off my energy. Coach is looking for me to be a leader. I’m taking that role. It’s pretty hard sometimes -- the ups and downs and learning curve of preseason. But it’s all worth it.”

(on UConn's overall depth)

“It’s definitely gonna make our team better. Everyone’s coming in focused. There’s a guy on the bench that plays the same position, so you’ve got to bring it each and every night if you want to be on the court.”

(on Steve Enoch)

(his teammates' reaction to Enoch dunking on Brimah?)

“Everybody’s, ‘Whoa!’, because we’re never used to really seeing it. We’re used to going to get the ball out of the stands anytime somebody tries to dunk on Amida, so it’s a little different when Steve caught him a couple of times.”


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Friday, October 30, 2015

UConn has 25-to-1 odds on winning national title, per Vegas

Per Bovada in Las Vegas:

Odds to win the 2015-16 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship (Teams in red have longer odds, teams in blue have shorter odds, and teams in black stayed the same)         
Odds on 5/21/15           Current Odds
Kentucky                      10/1                              7/1
Duke                            10/1                              8/1
Maryland                       9/1                                10/1
North Carolina               10/1                              10/1
Kansas                         16/1                              12/1
Virginia                         20/1                              18/1
California                      20/1                              20/1
Michigan State              16/1                              20/1
Arizona                         20/1                              25/1
Gonzaga                       25/1                              25/1     
Michigan                       33/1                              25/1
UConn                          50/1                              25/1
Villanova                       25/1                              25/1
Wichita State                 25/1                              25/1
Iowa State                     20/1                              33/1
Indiana                          25/1                              40/1
Oklahoma                     28/1                              40/1
Purdue                          33/1                              40/1
Texas                           50/1                              40/1
Louisville                      40/1                              50/1
LSU                              50/1                              50/1
Florida State                 100/1                            66/1
Georgetown                  100/1                            66/1
Notre Dame                  50/1                              66/1
Syracuse                      50/1                              66/1
Butler                            75/1                              75/1
NC State                       75/1                              75/1
Ohio State                    50/1                              75/1
Utah                             50/1                              75/1
Wisconsin                     50/1                              75/1
Arizona State                500/1                            100/1
Baylor                           75/1                              100/1
Cincinnati                      100/1                            100/1   
Dayton                         100/1                            100/1
Florida                          66/1                              100/1
Georgia                        100/1                            100/1
Iowa                             100/1                            100/1
Miami FL                       66/1                              100/1
Oregon                         150/1                            100/1
Providence                   100/1                            100/1   
San Diego State            100/1                            100/1
Texas A&M                   50/1                              100/1
UCLA                            100/1                            100/1
Vanderbilt                     125/1                            100/1
West Virginia                 100/1                            100/1
Illinois                           100/1                            150/1
Marquette                     200/1                            150/1
Alabama                       200/1                            250/1
Arkansas                      150/1                            250/1
Auburn                          100/1                            250/1
Boise State                   Off the Board                250/1
Colorado                      300/1                            250/1
Memphis                       200/1                            250/1
Minnesota                     300/1                            250/1
Ole Miss                       300/1                            250/1
Pittsburgh                     200/1                             250/1
Rhode Island                 Off the Board                250/1
South Carolina              300/1                            250/1
St. John's                     300/1                            250/1
UNLV                            200/1                            250/1
VCU                             200/1                            250/1
Xavier                           200/1                            250/1
BYU                             300/1                            500/1
Mississippi State           Off the Board                500/1
Kansas State                500/1                            500/1
Missouri                        300/1                            500/1
Nebraska                      500/1                            500/1
Oklahoma State            300/1                            500/1
Penn State                    500/1                            500/1
Stanford                       250/1                            500/1
Temple                         300/1                            500/1
Tennessee                    500/1                            500/1
USC                             500/1                            500/1
Wake Forest                 500/1                            500/1
Washington                   300/1                            500/1
Boston College             500/1                            Off the Board
Clemson                       500/1                            Off the Board
Colorado State              300/1                            Off the Board
Creighton                      300/1                            Off the Board
DePaul                         500/1                            Off the Board   
George Washington       500/1                            Off the Board
Georgia Tech                500/1                            Off the Board
Harvard                         500/1                            Off the Board
LaSalle                         500/1                            Off the Board
Murray State                 300/1                            Off the Board
New Mexico                  500/1                            Off the Board
Northern Iowa                200/1                            Off the Board
Richmond                     500/1                            Off the Board
Seton Hall                     500/1                            Off the Board
St. Joe's                       500/1                            Off the Board
St. Louis                       500/1                            Off the Board
Texas Tech                   500/1                            Off the Board
UMass                          500/1                            Off the Board
Virginia Tech                 500/1                            Off the Board

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My preseason AP Top 25 ballot, All- America team

Happy to be an AP Top 25 voter again this season. Fans of teams I don't vote for, or don't vote high enough, aren't happy -- or at least they won't be. We don't know who they are yet, of course, but they'll be out there.

Here's my preseason Top 25 ballot that I submitted last night, along with a five-man All-America team we're asked to contribute. Just couldn't vote North Carolina No. 1. (I mean, is everybody just going to keep whistling in the wind and ignoring perhaps the worst academic scandal in college sports, at least in recent years?) Instead, I'm going with the Heels' former ACC rival, Maryland, which boasts some terrific returnees (Melo Trimble, Jake Layman) and some top-notch newcomers ... including, of course, Diamond Stone.

And while I understand that many freshmen have burst onto the scene and been stars right off the bat in recent years, even leading teams to national titles, I'm erring on the side of caution and not ranking freshman-laden teams too high, for the most part. I'm also excluding freshmen from my preseason All-America team.

And, as you'll notice, I'm giving the AAC some love. This isn't bias or homerism. This is voting for the teams whose talent I'm most familiar with. I really believe UConn has the chance to be a terrific team -- though it may take a little bit for all the newcomers to get on the same page. You could make an argument that the Huskies have four of the league's top 10 players -- and that's not even including Shonn Miller.

I love SMU's talent but was a little wary about how the team would perform, knowing it's barred from the postseason. That wariness changed after Tuesday's AAC Media Day, where Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore appeared to have the perfect attitude in handling the situation -- though it remains to be seen if they can keep that focus when everybody starts talking March Madness come February.

And I'm really high on Cincinnati. I know they're boring, but you can't deny the Bearcats' defense. And, to be honest, they shoot the ball pretty well, too, and figure to score a little better this season. They've got just about everybody back from last year's NCAA team that gave Kentucky all it could handle in the Round of 32, including Octavius Ellis, Troy Caupain and, perhaps the most talented of them all, Gary Clark. And, of course, they've got Mick Cronin back on the sidelines this season.

I wouldn't be surprised if UConn, SMU or Cincinnati win the AAC regular season title. These are three very good teams, and I'm giving them the love they deserve.

1. Maryland
2. North Carolina
3. Kansas
4. Virginia
5. Kentucky
6. Iowa State
7. Oklahoma
8. Duke
9. Gonzaga
10. Arizona
11. Wichita State
12. California
13. UConn
14. Villanova
15. Michigan State
16. Indiana
17. Utah
18. LSU
19. SMU
20. Cincinnati
21. Butler
22. Wisconsin
23. Notre Dame
24. Vanderbilt
25. Texas A&M


Kris Dunn, Providence
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
Georges Niang, Iowa State

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Daniel Hamilton, Jalen Adams, Amida Brimah, Sterling Gibbs earn preseason AAC honors; Rodney Purvis snubbed?

The AAC released its preseason coaches' poll on Tuesday morning, and the coaches pretty much got it right.

SMU is picked to win the league. Debatable (especially with its postseason ban) but certainly not criminal. UConn's picked second, Cincinnati third, Tulsa fourth, Memphis fifth, Temple sixth, Houston seventh ... pretty standard.

Daniel Hamilton earned first-team honors, and I completely agree. I think there's a chance he could wind up conference player of the year. I'm that high on Hamilton. But it's no surprise that SMU's Nic Moore, who won the award last year, is the preseason pick.

Jalen Adams is tabbed as rookie of the year. I thought this could go to either Adams or Memphis's D.J. Lawson, who is a McDonald's All-American and could see major minutes as the player asked to replace Austin Nichols. But again, certainly no crime that Adams (who likely won't start much this season) is the choice.

Amida Brimah and Sterling Gibbs made preseason second team. Certainly fair. But here's where things get a little sticky -- Rodney Purvis did not earn any recognition. He is the Huskies' top returning scorer, and we all saw what he could do over the final couple of weeks last season, particularly in the league tourney while Ryan Boatright was battling injury and double-teams.

Of course, there are only so many spots (10) on the preseason teams, and it's hard to give four of them to UConn players. Should Purvis have got the nod over, say, Brimah? You could make that argument.

But he didn't,. and now maybe this "snub" could serve as motivation for Purvis as the season unfolds.

Preseason Player of the Year
Nic Moore, R-Sr., G, SMU
Preseason Rookie of the Year
Jalen Adams, Fr., G, UConn
Preseason All-Conference First Team
Octavius Ellis, Sr., F, Cincinnati
Daniel Hamilton, So., G/F, UConn
*Markus Kennedy, R-Sr., F, SMU
*Nic Moore, R-Sr., G, SMU
James Woodard, Sr., G, Tulsa
Preseason All-Conference Second Team 
Troy Caupain, Jr., G, Cincinnati
Amida Brimah, Jr., C, UConn
Sterling Gibbs, GS, G, UConn
Shaq Goodwin, Sr., F, Memphis
Shaquille Harrison, Sr., G, Tulsa

[*] denotes unanimous selection
2015-16 Preseason Coaches' Poll
(First-place votes in parenthesis)

SMU (8)
UConn (2)
Cincinnati (1)
East Carolina

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Monday, October 19, 2015

Some (belated) First Night video, stories

Here's my story off First Night, mostly centering on Vance Jackson's commitment that same night. And here's a follow-up story from the following day, with quotes from Jackson.

And here's some video from Friday's festivities:

The UConn band glows in the dark:

Terry Larrier throws down a dunk:

Steve Enoch throws down a dunk:

Kevin Ollie speaks:

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Amida Brimah not named to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award watch list

No doubt, Amida Brimah needs to improve this season on rebounding and cutting down silly fouls. UConn could use a little more offense out of the 7-foot junior center, as well.

But he has been one of the top shot-blockers in the nation the past two seasons, not to mention the AAC's defensive player of the year. That's got to warrant him some consideration as one of the better centers in college hoops, no?

Well, apparently, no. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced its 20-player watch list for the 2015 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year award, and Brimah's name isn't on it. You can't tell me he's not one of the top 20 centers in the nation.

There are numerous freshmen on the list, however, including Diamond Stone (who chose Maryland over UConn) and Skal Labissiere, who's not even eligible to play yet at Kentucky.

Meanwhile, Sterling Gibbs didn't make the watch list for the Bob Cousy award for top point guards. The only Huskies who made watch lists were Daniel Hamilton and Rodney Purvis -- both for the Julius Erving award for small forwards. Isn't Purvis a two-guard?

Ultimately, none of this is a big deal. It's just one watch list out of numerous preseason lists and awards, and it's all just opinion. But these are the type of things that could motivate UConn, which seems to be flying under the radar a bit at the start of this season and may be able to play the "disrespect" card.

Anyway, here's the list of candidates:

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Mamadou Diarra, Hamidou Diallo, PSA teammates to be at UConn's First Night festivities

Mamadou Diarra, UConn's first Class of 2016 commit, will be at Friday's First Night festivities -- and he'll bring some of his good friends along with him.

Diarra's entire Putnam Science Academy team will be there, and that includes Hamidou Diallo, the highly sought-after shooting guard who holds an offer from the Huskies. It also includes a pair of top-notch Class of 2018 talents: Eric Ayala, a 6-foot-4 point guard from Delaware who has been offered by St. John's, Penn State and South Carolina, among others, and 7-2 Nigerian center Manny Umoffia.

UConn has yet to offer either player but has shown interest in both.

Meanwhile, the "Team Kevin" and "Team Geno" rosters have been announced for Friday night's scrimmage. Here they are:

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Daniel Hamilton, Rodney Purvis earn Erving Award consideration

For what it's worth, Daniel Hamilton and Rodney Purvis have both been named to the 2016 Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award watch list. I thought of Purvis as more of a two-guard, but what do I know?

Four different lists were announced on Tuesday: Erving, as well as the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year, Jerry West Shooting Guard of the Year and Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year. No other Huskies are on the lists. I thought Sterling Gibbs might make the Cousy list, but it's a long season.

And if you're wondering about the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year list, that will be released on Friday. I'd expect Amida Brimah to make that one.

2016 Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award Candidates:

Jaylen Brown, California

Daniel Hamilton, Connecticut 

Rodney Purvis, Connecticut

Brandon Ingram, Duke

John Brown, High Point

Troy Williams, Indiana

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Kansas

Wayne Selden, Jr., Kansas

Alex Poythress, Kentucky

Damion Lee, Louisville

Ben Simmons, Louisiana State

Jake Layman, Maryland

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State 

Justin Jackson, North Carolina

DeAndre Bembry, Saint Joseph’s

Malik Pope, San Diego State 

Michael Gbinije, Syracuse 

D.J. Hogg, Texas A&M

Brandon Taylor, Utah

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Book signing on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble in Farmington

Please feel free to stop by the Barnes & Noble in Farmington (across the street from the WestFarms Mall) on Saturday at 5 p.m.

I'll be signing copies of my book, Rebound! The Incredible Story of UConn Basketball's Comeback from Defeat to Dominance, which chronicles the Huskies' run to the 2014 national title.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Sights and sounds from UConn's season-opening practice

It's that time of year, folks. UConn officially kicked off practice on Saturday with a four-hour grind that started at 10 a.m. in Guyer Gym and ended around 2 p.m. inside the Werth Family Champions Center.

Here's some of what was said, along with some video:


(on the newcomers)

“They did an amazingly good job. Sterling did a great job, Shonn was fantastic, and Enoch and Jalen did a great job. Terry played well, too. I was like, ‘Man, I wish I could have him, too.’ Just being greedy, I guess.”

“We lost a lot of games in the last few minutes, last possession, that we’d like to clean up. That’s why the execution part is so crucial going into the season.”

“Oh, we’re gonna run. Definitely gonna run. I was very disappointed in our tempo (last year). We’ve got to run, push the pace. I’ve got a lot of options. I can go big, I can go small. That’s what I like. We’ll just see how we can manipulate the defense, and see who’s not gonna give in, retreat or surrender. That’s what I kept telling the guys: it’s the UConn covenant.”

(on Jalen Adams)

“He’s gonna be a fantastic player. The one thing that he’s gotta get better at is conditioning -- which wasn’t bad, but playing at this level, you’re gonna be playing a top-notch point guard. You’re gonna be playing probably their best player on the court. So you’ve got to be able to guard defensively, then come down and have the composure to run the offense.”

“We’ve had a lot of great point guards. If he wants to be in that line of guys, he’s gonna have to do the extra stuff. It can’t just be the two hours of practice. It’s got to be the extra stuff to make him an extraordinary person to put on that jersey.”

(on how hard it is to monitor an entire program as a head coach)

“You have to have discipline. I’m not saying those other teams didn’t have it, I’m just speaking for myself. You have to have accountability, and that starts with the coach. It is what it is. We can put our arms up and say it’s not our job to do it, but that’s what we have to do. That falls on us. We have to understand that it comes with the job, with being a head coach. You’ve got to have great people around you.”

“It’s up to them to take ownership and do the right things. I think all our guys want to play. They have pride in their jersey and their university. Hopefully, our guys do the right thing. But they’re 17, 18-year-olds, they make mistakes like we all make mistakes. We’ve just got to be careful with what we’re doing. It starts with me. I can’t run away from that. We’ve got to step up. It’s like a great quarterback -- you can’t run away from pressure, because most pressure comes from outside. You’ve got to step up in the pocket. That’s what we’ve got to do -- step up in the pocket, on the court and off the court. That’s why we challenge so much. If you see your brother doing something wrong, you challenge him to be better, because he’s just gonna bring us all down. We do a lot of things off the court to try to manage them when they get in those situations, so they think about doing the right things, not the wrong things.”


“That plays a big part in being good. You have to hold everyone accountable. As a brotherhood, you can’t be scared to tell your brother that he’s doing something wrong.”

(on Adams)

“Jalen’s talented. He’s really skilled. He’s gifted, he’s tall, he’s athletic. He has all the abilities to be a star. This year, I’m just gonna try to give him some knowledge, teach him a couple of things that I’ve learned over the course of the year. And I’ll probably be able to learn a couple of things from him, as well.”

(on running)

“That’s a guard’s dream, to be able to have the freedom to get out and run, and to use the pick and roll. Just to have the freedom overall, I think that’s one of the things that he’s really stressing. He doesn’t want to come down and call a play each time down.”


“They handled it pretty well. The fifth-year (guys), and a couple of the freshmen, they played real well. I didn’t expect them to be that good. They handled it real well.”

(on Adams)

“He’s more mature than a freshman. He doesn’t play like a freshman, he plays like it’s his second or third year. That’s gonna help us huge, because he comes in and has a clue on what’s going on. He’ll come in and play right away.”

(on team's versatility)

“Last year it was kind of like, ‘Watch him do that, watch him do this.’ It’s more of a team this year. Everybody can do different stuff. People aren’t just one-dimensional.”

“It’s kind of like having toys. He can throw whatever toy or whatever car he wants to have.”


“It was tiring, but I think I did pretty well ... The whole week leading up to this, everybody’s like, ‘First practice, K.O. is cool, but when you get on the court, he’s in a different mindset.’ So, I was kind of expecting it. And I like to run.”

“We have five guys who can score the ball, four who can score off the perimeter. Everybody’s a key asset, so you have to pay attention to everybody.”

(on running)

“I love that a lot. That’s one of the main reasons I came here, just watching them play. They’re always uptempo offense. I like to get out, fast-break dunks, alley-oops. I like to have fun when I’m playing.”

“Everybody can play basketball at this level. People who are willing to put in extra time, pay attention to detail, do the little stuff.”

“Each of those three guards, I want to take stuff from. Kemba, I want to take his aggressivness and creativity. Shabazz, his pull-up jump shot and how he’s the leader. And Boatright, how he’s also a great leader and he just gets everybody involved. I like that a lot from all those guys.”

(can he lead as a frosh?)

“Definitely. I think leading is natural. In those type of situations, growing up -- even off the court with my friends, I was always, like, the head honcho. Leading is natural. If you’ve been through it, it carries on to the court.”

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