Enduring a losing season is never fun. All parties involved are negatively affected; the players question their abilities along with everyone else on and around campus. The coaching staff scrambles to "right the ship" to avoid being on the hot seat. Recruits, boosters, administrations, etc. are all in frenzy when a team from a power program fails to meet expectations.
Multiply that tenfold when speaking about University of Connecticut. The success enjoyed by UConn, most recently last year's NCAA Championship, has propelled the program to national prominence. With that prominence comes the spotlight of being the only show in town and a lot of pressure.
No one can be great forever, and in a sport where the players have a finite shelf life in regards to eligibility, a drop off here and there is to be expected. But an extended drop off at a championship-level program is rarely tolerated. For instance in 2006-2007, my sophomore year, UConn was fresh off a league title and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Such success led to the departure of five core players to the NBA, leaving us with a young, inexperienced team. The year was full of growing pains, we got bounced out of the 1st round of the NCAA tournament, and we finished the year 17-14 (6-10 in the Big East). Though not by record, by all accounts that was a losing season for #HuskyNation, and needless to say our team looked a little different the following year.
When you are winning things are great. The practices are smoother, jokes fill the locker room, and walking around campus is a lot easier. But when expectations are not met, things turn very quickly. Practices can seem like they are never ending because there are so many details that need to be ironed out. The locker room can be so quiet after a loss because no one wants to make the inevitable sentencing any worse.
Though the fans remain pretty loyal and are encouraging for the most part; any athlete that makes it to the level of being a UConn basketball player isn't satisfied with mediocre performances, and therefore feels like he is doing a disservice to the school despite the pats on the back. All these things in addition to the regular issues that come with being a college student can weigh very heavily on a player. You lose a heart-breaker on a Monday night and still have to muster up the energy to complete your synopsis on Falkner's "A Light in August" or study for that Biology test the next day. Those things don't go away whether you are winning or losing, but I can say it makes things a little easier to find the motivation when your up in the Win column.
For those disappointed in this version of the Huskies, I remind you that two NBA players from last year are gone, along with some other key producers. Plus there are plenty of new faces that are just getting their paws wet. That includes Kevin Ollie, who came in when the program was in a transition phase and expectations were relatively low, and was able to produce a championship run out of no where. I hate to call it an anomaly, because the Huskies are known to be a tournament tough team, but Ollie is still relatively new and has little head coaching experience. Lets give coach and his program a chance to grow, and I'm sure he will make the necessary tweaks.
Johnnie Bird III walked on to the University of Connecticut Men's Basketball team, playing for them from 2005-2009. He has a book coming out on March 10th about his time as a walk-on with a major program, "The Toughest Two."
You can follow Johnnie on Twitter @JohnnieBirdIII