The future is bright for The University of Connecticut men's basketball team.
In 2014 Kevin Ollie will be starting his third season as head coach of his alma mater. He's losing one (very key) starter, two rotation bench players and one depth guy from a team that won over 20 games, made it's conference tournament finals and is poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Replacing Shabazz Napier is an impossible task, but Kevin Ollie does have four players joining the team next year who bring a wealth of talent and are not lacking in big time experience.
Transfer Rodney Purvis should be the most impactful addition to the roster. The 2012 McDonalds All-American who was the 12th overall ranked senior in his class chose NC State over UConn only to join multiple Wolfpack teammates in transferring from Mark Gottfried's program. As a freshman he averaged 8 points and 2 rebounds in 25 minutes per game but gradually saw his court time diminish across the season. Purvis should step right into Shabazz Napier's spot in the starting lineup, where he will join Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun, Terrance Samuel and a few newcomers in what will be a very talented and versatile back court.
This past season UConn has enjoyed significant contributions from senior G/F's Lasan Kromah and Niels Giffey. Kromah is a tenacious defender, showed great hustle and grit and was sporadically an offensive threat throughout this season. Giffey is also a great defender, and shot over 50% from 3-point range. The next two players should help in their absence next year.
Freshman Danny Hamilton is the 18th ranked senior in the class of 2014. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard is a dynamic slasher who could contribute early as a scorer off the bench and might be able to earn a starting job. Hamilton comes from a great family, with an older brother in the NBA, one currently at UCLA and another who played at UMiami, and is a very polished scorer who may not spend very long in Connecticut depending on how quickly he develops. Scouts salivate over his size and shooting range, he could very well be a lottery pick relatively soon. For those interested in watching him play, Hamilton will be playing in the Jordan Brand Classic at the Barclays Center on April 18th. The Classic is a showcase for the nations best high school players in the country and will feature most of the big names in the Class of '14.
Additionally, 6-foot-3 combo guard Sam Cassel Jr.will be joining the team next year. He was originally committed to Maryland a senior in 2012 but had to go the junior college route due to some of his credits not transferring. After one year at Chippola CC, he chose UConn over Louisville. He's the son of NBA all-star Sam Cassel, who was teammates with Kevin Ollie on the Timberwolves. Cassell Jr. led Chipola to a state title in Florida and has them in the JUCO National Tournament.
With Tyler Olander also on his way out, the front court needed another body. Enter 6-foot-8 incoming freshman Rakim Lubin from Georgia. He's a three star recruit in the Jeff Adrien mold who should bring some toughness down low that this years team desperately lacked. He'll be behind Amida Brimah, Phil Nolan and Kentan Facey on the depth chart, but none of those three players' role is set. Lubin can earn time if he separates himself from the pack as a rebounder and post scorer.
While we have a talented group of incoming players, Kevin Ollie should have increased expectations for some of the younger returning players on the roster. My first guess at the 2014-15 starting lineup looks like this:
Alternate Big Lineup: Daniels, Facey, Brimah at the 3, 4, 5
Sam Cassell Jr.
Kentan Facey/ Rakim Lubin
I could see Brimah beating out Nolan for the starting center job if he can stay out of foul trouble and maybe Omar Calhoun could beat out Hamilton for a starting spot. I also really like the big lineup I proposed (I have a feeling Kevin Ollie may try to bust out something like that during the tournament this year). Either way, we're looking at a starting lineup with 4 top-40 recruits, 2 of which are seniors, and a solid center who won't be asked to do too much.
Next years UConn team will have plenty of experience and talent as well as some good, young depth off the bench but a few questions remain. Can Ryan Boatright carry the torch? Will DeAndre Daniels finally reach his potential? How good can we expect Purvis to be? Will things improve down low?
I don't want to get ahead of myself, after all we are on the cusp of an NCAA Tournament run that I'm very excited about, but the next few years will be very exciting for UConn Men's Basketball. Kevin Ollie is proving to be an extraordinary recruiter, with two top recruits already signed on for 2015, his sterling reputation in the basketball world is paying immense dividends and his early success as head coach so far will only further that opinion. As long as Ollie stays with the Huskies and doesn't answer the calls that must be coming in from the NBA, UConn fans should have 20+ years of Coach KO to look forward to. And that is a wonderful feeling.