I believe that by the time the 2014-'15 UConn Men's basketball season has ended, Rakim Lubin will be a fan-favorite.
Sometimes, you just get a sense about someone.
Like many, I had that sense about Amida Brimah last year. He was a hard-working, athletic 7-footer with an engine constantly set to overdrive. He seemed primed to be someone Husky Nation would embrace, and that proved to be true right from the start of the season.
Brimah wasn't a five-star recruit, but just looking at him and reading the early reports, you could tell that Kevin Ollie and UConn might have found someone unique. I'm getting the same feeling about Lubin.
He's not the imposing figure Brimah is, but whereas Brimah is tall and lanky, Lubin appears as if he were built of parts scavenged from discarded tanks.
He's 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, and was recently described by Kevin Ollie as "muscles on top of muscles." The Alabama native looks like a bruiser. His nickname is "Rock" and a recent article by SportzEdge.com stated that Lubin appears to be "the type of guy who looks like he eats car batteries for breakfast and could steal your lunch money from you simply by saying ‘hi.'" They stipulated in the article, by the way, that Lubin is in fact a great kid.
His numbers in high school attest to his "men among boys" stature. He averaged 21 points and 13 rebounds for the season, was named the MVP of the Georgia North-South All Star Game, and had a 37 point, 21 rebound, 5 blocked shots performance in the semi-final of that tournament.
Lubin most likely won't be putting up scoring numbers like that at UConn. With Ryan Boatright, Rodney Purvis, Danny Hamilton and even Kentan Facey, it will be hard to get a lot of offensive looks for the big men down low. But Lubin knows his job with UConn early on won't be as a prolific scorer but a bully rebounder.
And make no mistake, that's something the Huskies sorely need this year.
One of the things that made UConn's run to a title last year so incredible was the fact that they were, by all measures, a pretty poor rebounding team. According to the statistics, the Huskies ranked as the 190th best rebounding team in the nation throughout the season. That usually isn't good enough to get you into March Madness, let alone win it. Now, in fairness, UConn became a much better rebounding team as the season progressed, and in the Tournament they were able to go toe-to-toe with physical squads such as St. Joe's, Michigan State, and Florida, all of which were expected to dominate the Huskies on the glass.
But UConn had to get creative in order to compete on the boards. They got a lot out of their smallest players (Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright) who routinely stayed back to help grab boards. They also got a lot out of swing players like DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey, who were very effective and opportunistic rebounders. Their big men rebounded better as the season progressed, but UConn was always somewhat vulnerable down low- especially when Phil Nolan and/or Amida Brimah got into foul trouble.
Simply put, they didn't have the bulldog in the middle, that "this is my ball and everyone needs to get out of the way", the physical embodiment of the NBA Jam post-rebound, elbow-shaking tornado, the presence that most of the other great UConn teams have had.
You can go all the way back to Rod Sellers in the early 1990s right through Alex Oriachi in 2011 and usually find a power forward with broad shoulders and an uncanny nose for the ball. My two all-time favorites are Kevin Freeman and Jeff Adrien. They didn't care about points or scoring. They cared about beating you on the boards and shutting you down on defense. If they got a basket or two in the process ... great.
Lubin seems like he might be that kind of a kid. He's burly. He's tough. He knows his job is to get the ball at a high rate, and he seems excited for the challenge.
I don't know what this season is going to bring. Repeating as champions in college basketball is about the hardest thing to do in sports. But I firmly believe that UConn will produce some really exciting basketball. and I am convinced Lubin is destined to be a Husky favorite for a long time.