SI.com published a glowing article about the UConn basketball program this afternoon. And when I say glowing I mean glowing. You can see it coming from the headline: "Setbacks, uncertainty at UConn not likely to tarnish storied program" which would be a bit much coming from even the the most loyalty-blinded supporter of the program and sounds borderline insane coming from Sports Illustrated.
It doesn't stop at the headline though. The first four paragraphs are a glowing portrait of R.J. Evans' decision to spend his senior year at UConn, the "old man wisdom" that Calhoun gave to his incoming point guard and the focus his recruiters had on Evans picking his graduate major. Now I'd hate for something on this site to be cynical, but that focus might have had a bit more to do with the NCAA loophole that's going to let Evans play this year than anything else.
I'm sure that Evans will be a fine player next year, but he would never be joining UConn if it wasn't for the mountain of hurt the NCAA has dropped on the Huskies. Yes, Evans is a guard with size, but he can't shoot (59 percent from the line, 12.5 percent from three) and as a junior averaged only 2.8 assists against 2 turnovers while playing a Patriot League schedule. His arrival is a result of UConn's problems, not a sign of a cure.
The article does mention that UConn's roster looks like the aftermath of a diaspora (and, to be fair acknowledges that this was "one reason" for bringing in Evans -- I'd say it was the sole reason, but whatever). It then touches on (and just as quickly sweeps aside) Calhoun's very real medical concerns that are threatening his future at the program. Sure, it talks about his Dean Smith-inspired retirement program, but does so seemingly without remembering that Smith surprised his school and left it scrambling by actually retiring in October, a situation that could happen to UConn literally any day now.
Recruiting concerns? SI isn't hearing any of that. To be fair, Omar Calhoun is in the fold and that's good. But, to be polite, Phillip Nolan (an unheralded project big man) and Leon Tolksdorf (a player the staff recruited based on video alone) don't exactly scream "UConn hasn't lost a step." Things are looking up for next year -- getting Ketan Facey was a good start -- but recruiting is a fickle business and "old coach with a history of medical problems recovering from a broken hip" is probably going to be a phrase whispered into a lot of ears.
And then there is Kevin Ollie, who gets this treatment:
Though Ollie, a 13-year NBA veteran, has no head coaching experience and has only been an assistant for two seasons, Calhoun has come out in favor of his possible promotion, as have several prospects who are wary of joining a program with a head coaching change on the horizon. And should Ollie be thrust into the role as early as this fall, those in the program expect a smooth transition[.]
I really wonder who the unnamed people in the program expecting a smooth transition are, because I suspect Warde Manuel wasn't the source for that bit of Ollie-pumping. In fact, if I had to bet I'd say that person has a name that rhymes with Tim Malhoon or Mevin Collie.
The article also describes the non-Shabazz Napier/Ryan Boatright/Omar Calhoun parts of the lineup as "tenuous," which is beyond charitable. If you had told me two years ago that UConn's best frontcourt player would be Tyler Olander I would have laughed in your face -- and I like Tyler Olander. I'm legitimately excited to see what he does this year, but dear lord his prominence is not a good sign.
I don't want to rip UConn to shreds here. There are plenty of things to be excited about in the Huskies future, and it's entirely possible that UConn will play above expectations this season, Jim Calhoun will stay around for two more (healthy) years before peacefully handing the reigns to a more-seasoned Kevin Ollie and UConn will head into the future ready to destroy everyone at that 2017 Nike Uber-Tournament. But I wouldn't bet on that. There are too many question marks both on and off the court to dismiss out of hand. UConn would be in a perilous transition period even without the NCAA ban and diminished expectations for this year, but when you combine the two it doesn't take a lot of effort to come up with all-too-plausible nightmare scenarios.
I'll leave you with just one: Dean Smith retired on October 9, 1997. What happened? His assistant Bill Guthridge succeeded him -- that worked out well for UNC in the short term, but Guthridge had been Smith's assistant for 30 years and I'd wager he had more support from the UNC administration than Ollie seems to be getting from UConn. Even then, when Guthridge stepped down two years later Matt Doherty came in and promptly drove UNC into a ditch. Replacing a legend is not easy -- and doing it on short notice with the weight of the NCAA on you does not make it any easier. There is a lot that can go right for the UConn program, but a lot can go wrong too.