The Huskies open the 2016-17 season with a mix of experience and youth on their roster. In the low post, with UConn having lost its top two rebounders from a year ago, the bigs to get up to speed quickly and be ready to anchor the defense while playing complimentary roles to the Huskies’ talented crop of guards.
Let’s take a closer at the Huskies’ men in the middle.
Amida Brimah, Senior, Center: Brimah battled injuries in his junior campaign, playing in 25 games and averaging 6.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks. Brimah’s 67 blocks last year were a career low, but his free-throw shooting improved dramatically—jumping from 65 percent as a sophomore to 82.4 percent. Brimah will never be an offensive force on the block but at 7-feet tall he provides an excellent target for guards in the screen-and-roll game, where he and Daniel Hamilton had a really good rapport. His growth from the charity stripe will also allow head coach Kevin Ollie to leave the big man on the floor in late-game situations.
Defensively, the Huskies have an intimidating force in Brimah that few teams in the American Athletic Conference can match. While last year Brimah struggled at times with the timing of his help-side rotations, expect a bounce-back season from the senior if he can stay healthy and, most importantly, out of foul trouble.
Kentan Facey, Senior, Forward: Facey was the odd-man in 2015-16 with the addition of graduate transfer Shonn Miller, watching his minutes dip to just 12.7 per game while he totaled 3.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per contest.
The rebounding and block numbers are impressive considering his limited action. An athletic big with a solid face-up game, Facey should be able to stretch defenses with his short-range shooting ability. The departure of Miller should free up a lot of playing time for him this season-- he may even be a starter. Ollie will need Facey to help the Huskies make up for the 14.2 rebounds per game Miller and Hamilton accounted for a year ago.
Steven Enoch, Sophomore, Center/Forward: Enoch showed impressive flashes during his freshman season. At 6-foot-11 and 258 pounds, Enoch is a load in the paint. In under seven minutes per game, Enoch shot 54 percent from the field, hauling in 1.5 boards. His free-throw shooting (42 percent) leaves plenty to be desired, but the Norwalk native looks like he might be the most skilled returning big-man on the roster and could be poised for a breakout sophomore campaign after spending some time at the FIBA Euros this offseason.
Juwan Durham, Freshman, Forward/Center: A long and athletic forward, Durham is a four-star recruit out of Tampa, Florida that many didn’t peg bound for UConn early in his recruitment. Following not one, but two different ACL tears (one in each knee) the Huskies and Ollie didn’t waver in their offer to the top-30 recruit.
Durham has been in Storrs since June and there has been some question if he’ll be medically ready to play this season. Following the First Night, Durham made it clear his intentions were to see the court this year.
If he can recover from the two knee injuries and get back to the player he was in early 2015—the Huskies got a steal. As a junior, Durham averaged just under 23 points per game on 63 percent shooting, converting at 78 percent from the foul line. Not an efficient three-point shooter (just 1-for-13 on the season), Tampa Prep coach Joe Fenlon says during Durham’s rehab he has worked on extending his range. Playing along side guards Jalen Adams and fellow incoming freshman Alterique Gilbert, Durham will want the ability to play as a stretch four, spacing the floor as a spot-up shooter and as a pick-and-pop man.
Mamadou Diarra, Freshman, Forward: The 6-foot-8 power forward out of Putnam Science Academy is part of UConn’s vaunted incoming freshman class. He could be a contributor as soon as this season given his grittiness down low. Diarra has shown the ability to run the floor well while finishing strong at the rim. He is a high-energy player who will need time to polish his game in the half court.
Position Group Keys
The Huskies are a guard-dominant team and will need their bigs to play a complementary roll until some of the young players develop. The loss of Miller, Hamilton and Phil Nolan opens up plenty of opportunities for the likes of Facey, Enoch, Diarra and Durham, who will all be part of an open competition for playing time.
While they likely won’t be asked to shoulder much of the scoring load, Ollie is going to preach rebounding and sound, smart defense. Enoch, Durham and Diarra have the pedigree to be great players on both ends of the floor, but they’ll need the leadership of Brimah and Facey this year to help them transition and grow into bigger roles as the season goes on.