What a year 2009 was. Especially in the realm of UConn sports.
The men's basketball team came two wins shy of cashing in on another Coach Cal five-year plan until Uncle Sam, Henry Ford and Toby Keith stepped in and ended the dream in Detroit. After setting back modern offenses 30 years in the International Bowl, the football team overcame the tragic loss of Jasper Howard to clinch its third bowl appearance in as many seasons. And despite being ignored by 8/9 of Connecticut, CT senior citizens rejoiced as the women's team won another title and tallied blowout wins more times than VH1 has shown the Temptations movie.
So just as we did last year, join me, won't you, as we look back at some of the sports figures who, for better or worse, defined the year in UConn sports.
Nate Miles: The embattled blue-chip recruit proved more radioactive than a nuclear power plant, getting tossed off the team about five hours after arriving on campus and then nearly single-handedly bringing down The House That Cal Built, as his shady connections with even shadier agents almost torpedoed our completely clean program that adopts puppies and sells lemonade on weekends.
Now a pariah, Miles has fallen off the face of the earth after being drafted by the mighty Skyforce of Sioux Falls in the NBA D-League. Luckily, Miles’ plight was recently recreated for a made-for-TV movie on TLC:
(It's taken me a year to work this into a post)
Coach Cal: Showed that he’s the toughest man in the universe (again) after breaking every bone in his body at least seven times and still completing a 90-mile bike race up Mount Everest. Also proved that, despite being 67, he still lives by the code "If you got it, flaunt it."
But most importantly, after a tough and, at times, depressing ’09, Cal had us chanting "Five more years!" by the end.
He also may have yelled at a few people along the way.
Scottie Haralson: The latest victim of The Great Purge, Haralson lasted just one year after he couldn’t do the one thing for which he was brought to Storrs: shoot the 3. Haralson transferred to Tulsa this past summer, but it was probably for the best – he gets more playing time, and now Cal can hit the waiver wire for his next acquisition.
But we’ll always remember Scottie for the great nicknames he spawned based on obscure 90s wrestlers, his icy glare and his ability to play organized basketball despite being 3/8 robot.
Joe Dumars and Chris Wallace: The NBA GMs went looking for talent in the summer of 2009 and that, of course, led them to the gold mine that is the University of Connecticut. Dumars wasted all of the Pistons’ cap space on Charlie V and Gentle Ben Gordon, while Wallace’s Grizzlies annexed Marcus Williams from the Puerto Rican league, drafted Hasheem Thabeet and gave the Woyah a shot in summer league.
Both teams currently have three UConn players apiece. In an unrelated matter, both are hovering around .500.
The Dove: It’s hard to put the Dove on this list because, technically, he didn’t exist in the realm of UConn athletics in the 2009 calendar year. At least, not according to the NCAA record book: Dove and his whopping 0.5 career ppg appeared in a total of two games (both in January) for a total of seven minutes.
In fact, the role of Big John -- part gum, part raw sexuality – has somehow diminished the longer he sticks around, even though he barely had a role to begin with. Now in his senior year, Dove has fallen so far in Cal’s eyes, the coach won’t even allow him to don a jersey on the bench any more.
And if that doesn’t already qualify Dove as the saddest human being alive, it actually got worse as the year went on.
From the Courant’s Mike Anthony in October:
"It's my last year, but I was looking at it and if he wants me to do this - and I know he has a lot of connections as far as the next level is concerned - so I have to do what he tells me to do," Mandeldove said. "I can't go against the grain, so I'm just going to do that and take my time. When he wants me to come back, I'll be back and ready."
Reading that evokes the same feeling I’d imagine getting when watching someone being sent to the gallows. Only that may have been more enjoyable, since I’d at least be wearing knickers and an awesome hat.
So why, then, is Dove on a list of the 2009 UConn sports figures?
Well, for one, the true reason surrounding his absence this season has spawned JFK-style conspiracy theories (at least for me and … well, that’s probably it). First, he was only supposed to be out one semester; now, it looks like the whole season. Cal says it has to do with academics; Dove, however, says it has nothing to do with academics -- Cal simply wanted to "work on his body." (Isn’t that what the ladies are for?) My guess is Cal simply likes a challenge, so he doesn't want to win by 50 each game. But the truth is out there.
Secondly, finding out the shade of Dove’s sweatpants on the bench has become a pregame ritual.
But most of all, the Dove has to be on this list because he’s The Dove. And just the implication that he might be transferring can still cause a campus-wide panic.
Cody Endres, Zach Frazer: The Ghost of Noodle-Arms Past continues to haunt the Huskies to this day, as UConn QBs fell apart like LEGOs on impact this season.
But after Frazer unfurled his mummy wraps, the Huskies’ passing attack became – dare I say – good, rising into the top 50 nationally after finishing 10th from the bottom in ’08.
All thanks to …
Joe Moorhead: Give this man a raise. Or at least the Nobel Prize.
Donald Brown: As prophesized by a certain clairvoyant, ruggedly handsome blogger, after initially declaring that he would return for his senior season to lead the Huskies to the Orange Bowl (with a side trip to Gum Drop Lane), The Donald gave everyone a great big "Sike!" following a 261-yard performance in the Huskies’ International Bowl win and turned pro.
A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien, Craig Austrie: Cashing in on the latest Calbert Chaney five-year plan, the three seniors led the Huskies back to the promise land. Unfortunately, America stepped in and the dream ended in Detroit.
Still, as senior "classmates" of ours, this trio will always have a special place in my heart.
I’ll always remember the time I bumped into A.J. near the C.L.A.S. building and he asked me where his class was (about halfway into the semester). Or when Craig was Jesus for about a week or two. Ah … memories.
Maya Moore: F—ed cats up. Again.
Josh Nochimson: 666
Stanley Robinson: The AHHHHpple of Porter’s eye, Stan became slightly more consistent in ’09 – which is inconsistent with his consistently inconsistent past – and grew the grizzliest of chin straps.
DeJuan Bear: After being bounced from the tourney in the (*snicker*) Elite Eight and snatching a few pick-a-nick baskets, the scourge of Storrs passed up a promising career as a Mexican professional wrestler to fall like an ACL-less rock in the NBA draft.
LeMoyne University: Aside from UConn, the finest university in America.
Hasheem Thabeet: After two years of Flubber hands, getting pushed around in the post and an offensive repertoire consisting of one move (wide-open dunk-to-loud noises), Theebz (God, I’m going to miss saying that) finally developed a semblance of an offensive game (somewhat) to go along with his absolutely dominant defense. The result? A national Defensive POY award, a trip to Detroit and a seat in one of those snazzy back-room tables at the NBA draft.
But Thabeet’s voyage to the pros hasn’t exactly been a smooth one since UConn South selected him with the No. 2 overall pick; he’s currently averaging 3.0 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 11.1 minutes per game – partly a result of dipping himself in platinum for his draft day catwalk, and partly because, well, he’s not very good.
But if Darko Milicic, Kwame Brown and Michael Olokowandi have shown us anything, it’s that being tall can make you millions of dollars.
The Boneyard: Continued to give unbiased, thought-provoking opinions about UConn sports. Also somehow avoided spontaneously combusting following Milesgate.
Ater Majok: Not since the series finale of Seinfeld has something so over-hyped been so disappointing.
After the NCAA Clearinghouse declared him ineligible for the 2008-09 season, Majok was stuck in a parallel universe where fringe prospects consider themselves NBA-ready for about a year. But after being linked to soul-crushing illegal recruiting allegations, exhausting every possible professional option imaginable, showing up to the Husky Run in a boot and THEN waiting another semester to be cleared academically, Majok – who could cause a shadowy figure to get his grove on for days on end – finally hit the court Dec. 20, recording more fouls (2) than points (1).
Majok – who’s averaging 1.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 14.7 minutes per game (before Wednesday's game) – has been such a non-factor through his first six games, the athletic dept. hadn't even bothered to add him to their stats page until a day ago (even though it says every player has only played three games; blasted newfangled site!).
Although there’s still a whole lot of time left for him to turn things around, the Sudanese refugee is (as noted on this blog before) looking more like Ajou Ajou Deng than Luol Deng. For now, he's already one of the best on the team in the "yelling at opponents after dunks or blocks" department; Stan has taught him well.
The 3-point shot: Just like the free throw, it was gruesomely butchered by the men’s basketball team
Scott Lutrus: Although confined to swishy pants throughout the great Lutrus Watch of ’09, Lutrus, the corporal of kick-ass, finally vanquished the mighty stinger that sought to confine him to the sideline and carried on doling out the Lutrosity to all of those that dared oppose his will.
Geno Auriemma: Another year, another title, another pasta sauce.
Andre Dixon, Jordan Todman: After sobering up from an ’08 defined by nine carries and however many alcoholic beverages it takes to tailgate a police car, Dixon finally decided to play nice in 2009, even after losing the starting gig to Todman and being forced to share carries with the talented soph for the entire season.
Aside from the progression in the passing game, Dixon setting aside his ego was the biggest on-field development for the Huskies, as it gave them one of the most fearsome one-two punches on the ground in the conference.
On the season, the duo combined for over 2,000 yards and 28 touchdowns, propelling Dixon into draft consideration and putting Todman on course for being the best back in the Big East once Noel Devine jitterbugs to the pros.
Marcus Easley: Straight out of a Jerry Bruckheimer film, Easley transformed from little-known walk-on to star receiver while learning the meaning of true love and embracing the impossibility of the American Dream.
Jasper Howard, Randy Edsall: The UConn program will never be the same since the untimely death of Howard, and because of Edsall, it’s a change for the better; I can’t imagine a coach handling such a tragic event any better, both on and off the field.
Howard will forever be remembered by UConn fans and sports fans in general – not only for the way his horrific murder grabbed headlines and helped bring UConn teammates, students and fans together, but also for being such a vibrant, good-hearted person.
And what would a year in review be without a look back at our some of our tops posts, way back in the pre-semi-legitimate days. So bear with me for a moment as we give ourselves a big Hash-sized hug. (We understand if you, too, cower in terror):
Bringin' The Yucks
- Syracuse Hate 1/2 Week: A very special message from Otto the Orange
- Quick, quick: Everyone take a look at Wikipedia right now
- Moc you like a hurricane
- Please God, no: The Dove considers transferring
- Football Preview Weekish: Cincinnati
- Some musings on Syracuse Hate Week
- Football Preview Weekish: Rhode Island
- TheUConnBlog's second-annual men's basketball season preview: A new hope
- It was 40 years today
- SH1/2W: The UConn rebuttal: In which denizens of Storrs reject specious logic
- State of the program: Did Coach Cal make the right decision?
- Everybody cross your fingers and pray: #1 UConn vs. #3 Missouri
Best Performance By An Ensemble Cast/Recurring Feature
- Football Preview Weekish
- Men's Basketball Season Countdown
- Syracuse Hate 1/2 Week
Now, on to 2010.
To help prepare you for what's ahead, I once again break out my ouija board, crystal ball and rabbit's foot (because I like things that are soft) to predict what to prepare for:
UConn wins the Big East: In football. And not the type those bloats play across the pond.
The Huskies lose some key contributors – Dixon, Vaughn, McClain, Witten – but the core remains intact. As long as the offense finds some semi-reliable targets at wideout and fixes some of the holes in the secondary, UConn can be in the running to earn its first (legitimate) conference title – especially with the league looking wide open (again) after BKells scurried off to South Bend.
Which ultimately leads to …
Edsall leaves for greener pastures: Sorry to break it to you, but this is happening within the next five years. He loves us, but, sadly, he’s just not in love with us.
After a brief flirtation with the Irish and Kansas eying him from afar, Easy E has already established himself as one the hottest coaching "prospects" for the (legitimate) major conferences. And if Prediction No. 1 comes true, he will finally make a break for it, for four reasons.
- Now that Turner Gill (Kansas), Brian Kelly (N.D.), Charlie Strong (‘Ville), Chris Petersen (extension) and Gary Patterson (ditto) are off the market, only maybe Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh ranks above Edsall in the big-time-coach-in-waiting totem pole. Although, the latter two on that list could wind up in play.
- If Edsall were to accept a job next December, when most open positions are filled, the buyout he would have to pay drops significantly from last year’s total, according to the details of his contract. Had Edsall bolted last Dec., it would have cost him $1.25 million. In 2010, it’s only $500,000. And only $400,000 after Jan. 1.
- He could probably coach in the south or up north, as he has ties to both now, thanks to stops at Georgia Tech and Jacksonville, and Syracuse and UConn.
- Edsall’s son, Corey, will be graduating from East Catholic next spring. Not a huge point, but it’s worth noting.
It’s also worth pointing out (for the counter argument) that Edsall previously had chances to bolt for either Georgia Tech or Notre Dame, but wound up staying in Storrs. But I’m a little skeptical as to how much interest both teams actually had; Edsall always seemed to be a backup, at most, for both jobs. So I think he’s going if he gets the right job, he’s outta here.
As far as a landing spot, none of the SEC teams seem to fit, and he can’t move within the Big East. ACC? Possibly. Although, most of the teams that may have openings (Maryland and maybe NC State or BC) don’t seem like they make sense.
My guess is it’ll be a Big Ten team. Illinois? Probably not enough of a step up. Michigan? I’m predicting a comeback year for the Maize and Blue, so I’d say no; BUT, if that doesn’t happen, he’ll be in the running.
I think Penn State either plays so poorly they pull a Bobby Bowden force-out on JoePa, or he finally steps down after 102 years at the helm, giving way to the Edsall reign in Happy Valley.
To replace him, UConn either brings in Skip Holtz or nabs another from the Big East coaching farm system that is the MAC.
Geno raises another banner: While mortal enemy Coach Cal looks on with disdain after the No. 5-seed men’s team is bounced in the second round of the tourney.
Brandon Knight chooses Kentucky: I think we’ve all come to terms with this by now. The Wildcats will definitely lose John Wall, opening the door for rocket scientist-in-the-making Knight and his 4.2 GPA to take over as the go-to player. And considering DeMarcus Cousins is only No. 30 on Chad Ford’s Big Board ($), his likely return would be even more incentive for Knight stay in the Durrty South.
With Kemba likely to stick around, it doesn’t make sense for Knight to come to Storrs. He could play off the ball for a year or two, but why do that when he can be the starter wherever he wants at Kentucky, where they’ll purchase recruit a top-10 team every season.
Frazer is your starting quarterback: Ask me two weeks from now and I’ll probably change my mind. (Actually, I wrote this before Frazer’s 9-for-22 performance in the PJ.com Bowl and I’m already having second thoughts.) But my crystal ball shows the former Notre Dame golden child leading us to the promise land in ‘10.
The stats favor Endres: Despite three fewer starts, the soph had a better QB rating and TD/Int ratio and only 107 fewer passing yards. But Frazer has the arm, the pedigree and the luck – Endres’ season-ending injury opened the door again for Frazer, and the junior led UConn on a four-game winning streak to finish the season while (finally) cutting down on his interceptions.
Mike Box finally gets into a game: And he sucks. Ending the ludicrous idea that he’s even remotely ready to play.
The spelling of "ludicrous" is officially changed to "ludacris": To steal a line from Mr. Simmons, give me one reason why this shouldn’t happen.
Superfan Dale Nosel steps down, passes the torch: After a Survivor-esque reality show on UCTV for his throne, Guy With Diamond Eyes defeats Son of Guy With Lots-‘O-Basketballs Wig and is named the new go-to UConn fan for all pre-game ESPN pumped-up fan close-ups and the favorite for all in-game contests for most school spirit. However, field hockey crowds will forever be 1/3 less enthusiastic.