The Hartford Courant's Dom Amore documented Kevin Ollie as he addressed the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce last week. Ollie used the opportunity to discuss each player on the roster individually.
I will use this opportunity to, openly and unabashedly, gush about each player on the roster individually, followed by a haiku and projected starting lineup.
"Our captain. ... The boat is not going anywhere if he's not leading it. He's doing a wonderful job. I've seen his growth over the last four years. We're going to expect a lot from him, handling the ball. He's going to be an extension of me..."
By my unofficial tally, Ryan Boatright will have the highest EWKO (experience working with Kevin Ollie) of any college basketball player in NCAA history. That is a scary thought.
Boatright was also UConn's best player on the court for key stretches of the NCAA Tournament (reminder: which we won). Across six tournament games, he averaged 13.67 points while shooting a remarkable 49% from the field and 90% from the free-throw line.
But that happened on a team with other proven threats on the court in Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels- both of whom have moved on to play professionally. Sharpshooter Niels Giffey, who defenses had to respect, is back in Germany.
This year Boatright enters the season as the only proven threat on the roster. Can he adjust to being the man? Consistency was a minor issue for him last year.
I believe with the poise that he has shown in big games, along with the help of a talented, albeit unproven, supporting cast, he will be just fine. Boatright is locked in as a starting guard.
"Phil the Thrill. Phil is going to come back and be an anchor on our defensive team, too. Phil is the guy who took the most charges on our team. Taking charges is about getting dirty, and we have a stat about getting dirty - it's charges, it's getting on loose balls, offensive rebounds, defense rebounds, touches. We chart ‘em, it's all about ‘getting dirty' and he leads us in that category, especially with the charges. He's going to have a great season."
Who doesn't love Phil the Thrill? Most dirty points? Sure. Nolan also leads the team in awesome GIF's.
Though he did struggle at times last year, Nolan is now one of the most experienced players on the roster and will be expected to play like a veteran. The Huskies need him to improve his rebounding production (2.4/game last year) and avoid foul trouble- he fouled out of three games last year (Florida, Memphis twice) and had a high foul-count in many of UConn's closer games.
"Omar didn't really have opportunity to play a lot the latter part of the season... Omar played maybe two or three minutes in the NCAA Tournament but he was the one with the biggest smile... How happy he was for his teammates in that time when he might've said, ‘it's not about me, I didn't get a lot of playing time, I'm not going to be with the team.' He was so full of joy. Those are the type of players I want.
I just think Omar is going to take off to another level. He averaged [10.3] points his freshman year, down last year, becaue he did have two hip surgeries. He's fine, I think he' s going to have an explosive season for us and we're going to need it because we lost a lot of three-point shooting.
After a great freshman season, Omar Calhoun disappeared last year. Eventually he ceded his place in the starting lineup to the more experienced Niels Giffey and Lasan Kromah.
Calhoun never regained his form, but with a fully healthy off-season and more opportunities available in the back court (he was never a great fit as a '3' with Boatright and Napier) I'm bullish on his junior campaign. This is a tough kid and a great basketball player who is clearly an even better teammate. Omar just needs some time to put it together after an injury-related setback.
"Amida Brimah, if you're not ready for him - man. I can't wait for Saturday. When you get in the gym with him and you see his smile, he averaged four points, three rebounds, two blocks, whatever, but he was a game-changer also. It's great to have a guy on the back line of your defense that's going to block everything... He's going to be an integral part of our success."
Brimah surprised many on Wednesday by being the first Husky to cross the finish line in this year's Husky Run. At 7 feet tall, though, I bet he covers a lot of ground in one stride. Still, it is very impressive for him to lead the team in the run.
Brimah will also be a leader on the court this year as he was named co-captain alongside Ryan Boatright. Despite having his own off-season surgery, I envision Brimah locking down the starting center job and having a really good season, especially defensively.
Don't be surprised if this is his last year in Storrs. Guys who are 7-feet tall with Brimah's athleticism and touch aren't usually long for the college game. He needs to avoid foul trouble and be smarter with the ball in his hands to make it happen.
"Kentan is going to be our four man. He probably can't shoot as far out as DeAndre Daniels was able to do his junior year, but Kentan is working on his game, he has a lot of pride. He's going to come in with a great work ethic, and it's his time. He sat back and watched last season. When you wait, you've still got to work, and that's what Kentan did."
I think this means that Kentan Facey is slotted to start at the '4' despite barely playing last year. With DeAndre Daniels gone it's really just Facey and freshman Rakim Lubin who are true power-forwards.
I am extremely excited to see what Facey can do with more playing time. If he has added some muscle to his frame I think he can be a really effective two-way low-post player.
"Terrence, the game changer. If anybody has seen our games, he is a game-changer - ‘AKA game changer.' When he gets into a game, the whole tempo changes. I like people like that. I'm a allergic to average. When he gets in there, he's not average - he might turn the ball over, he might make a layup, but the whole tempo changes."
Terrence Samuel was a pleasant surprise last season. We all knew the talent was there, but few expected him to have the kind of impact he did last year as a freshman. Samuel mostly saw mop-up duty in the first half of the season, but his playing time increased across the second half. Still, nobody expected Samuel to have to step up and play meaningful minutes in the NCAA Tournament.
But that's exactly what he did, and he was excellent.
He was far from perfect, but Terrence Samuel played with a veteran's poise while bringing size and physicality to the guard position. He was a good change of pace from the more graceful approaches of Ryan Boatright or Shabazz Napier and will likely occupy a similar role this year off the bench. Some year down the road, this will be his team.
Sam Cassell Jr:
"They call him ‘old man.'... His dad is a great friend of mine, we played together on the Milwaukee Bucks with Ray Allen. If you know basketball and you know Sam Cassell, his son plays just like him. He's got an ‘old man's' game. He's not going to be on the highlights, dunking on everybody, but wherever he wants to get on the court he gets there at his own pace... his IQ is through the roof, a little like Shabazz Napier."
Another versatile guard? Believe it. Kevin Ollie will be sending them at you in waves like attacking lines in hockey. I think he's secretly building up to the most talented version of "40 minutes of hell" or maybe he's bringing the Grinnell system to major college basketball.
As an added bonus having the guy whose father once mimed over-sized testicles on your team is always a good person to have. Cassell Jr. was a Top-150 recruit in the Class of 2012 who originally committed to Maryland, but had to go the junior college route due to academic issues which he has since ironed out.
"My Ferrari is now out of the garage. Rodney Purvis. Now I can drive my red Ferrari and I can't wait. He's a wonderful young man. I don't know how long we're going to have him because, you know, our guys, they go to the NBA real, real quick. They develop quickly. He is a great, great young man. He's going to come out and play the right way, a little bit of point guard, a little of two guard. He's excited, I'm excited for him. You're going to see him, you're going to love him."
We talked a lot about DeAndre Daniels being an "X-factor" last season, well this year if anyone should be labeled as such it would be Rodney Purvis. He hasn't played live basketball since his final game at NC State two seasons ago, but is so talented (McDonald's All-American, 5-star recruit) that most UConn fans are expecting big things this year.
Rodney Purvis reportedly came to UConn to learn how to play point guard, and has spent the past year in Kevin Ollie's School for Point Guards Who Want to Win National Championships and Personal Accolades While Also Going High in the NBA Draft Too. Looks like he'll be playing both guard positions for us this year.
Either way, the Ferrari will be starting in the back court next to the Boat.
"When I say ‘a pro,' he is a pro on and off the basketball court. Outstanding person, when you see his smile, it lights up a room, like that Magic Johnson smile. You're going to see that love he has for the game. He's 6-7, he's versatile, when we look at recruits we look at versatility, we look at heart and character. But the main thing we look at is versatility, where I can put him at different positions on the offense and defense end and I can really control the game with him, I can play him at the 1, 2 or 3. That's how versatile he's going to be."
As if you already weren't crazy excited for this roster, let's toss in the Top-20 recruit with a pro-pedigree, prototypical size and silky-smooth jumper who could be an impact player in his first year on campus. Hamilton appears to be the only '3' on the roster but Kevin Ollie has no hesitation sending three guards out there. With the added size that Rodney Purvis, Terrence Samuel, Omar Calhoun bring to the back court, the 6-foot-7 freshman will have to win playing time away from some very talented basketball players.
I think eventually Hamilton is starting alongside Boatright and Purvis in the optimal UConn line-up.
"I send our recruits to [UConn president] Susan Herbst, she always comes out to me and says, ‘you need get bigger guys, you're sending all these skinny guys to me." This time, I brought this individual in the office and I see this big old smile on Susan's face - it's Rakim Lubin and he's like 270 pounds and 6-7. He is a rebounding machine, he's going to be a great addition to our team. He's going to bring some girth, when we walk out of the locker room, he' s going to look like Patric Young with Florida - muscles on top of muscles. That's what Rak Lubin is going to for us - he's going to give us that muscle down low."
Last but certainly not least, freshman Rakim Lubin has an opportunity to earn playing time as a power forward, especially if he can help the team address its low-post struggles. Right now he is penciled in behind Facey, but who knows maybe Nolan slides over to power forward to make an extra-big line-up with Amida Brimah.
Lubin will get his shot to contribute, it will be interesting to see what kind of role he can carve out for himself as a freshman.
Waves of skilled guard play,
coaching by Kevin Ollie,
good bigs, we will win
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
G - Ryan Boatright, Sr.
G - Rodney Purvis, So.
F - Danny Hamilton, Fr.
F - Kentan Facey, So.
C - Amida Brimah, So.