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UConn Men’s Basketball Positional Preview: Wings

The Huskies will be looking to two versatile newcomers on the perimeter after the departure of Daniel Hamilton.

Photos: 2016 UConn Basketball First Night

Thus far in the positional previews, we’ve learned that the strength of this 2016-2017 UConn squad will be its backcourt, unsurprisingly, and that the allotment of playing time among the big men remains largely undecided behind center Amida Brimah.

That leaves the wings. While it may be a sparsely populated group, with only redshirt sophomore Terry Larrier and freshman Vance Jackson expected to see meaningful playing time, these two guys—particularly Larrier—are arguably the X-factors of this year’s Huskies.

Larrier (LARE-ee-er), who sat out last season after transferring from VCU, has big shoes to fill following the departure of Daniel Hamilton to the NBA, who he will likely replace immediately in the starting lineup.

Larrier and Hamilton have many things in common. Both are multidimensional, versatile players with comparable body types.

“Me and Daniel are pretty similar, our games are pretty similar,” Larrier said. “I would say I get out and run more than he [Hamilton] does, and I’m a little more athletic.”

Having gone up against Hamilton last season during practices undoubtedly benefited Larrier as he steps into a large void in his first year on the court for UConn.

Additionally, despite the fact that he’s yet to lace up for the Huskies, Larrier was one of 20 players on the preseason watch list for the Julius Erving Award, bestowed upon the nation’s top small forward. He’s also currently projected as the 21st overall pick next June on NBADraft.net.

What do we know for sure about Larrier? The South Bronx native was the No. 43 overall recruit coming out of high school by both Rivals and ESPN. He originally chose VCU over UConn, then elected to transfer after his freshman season when Shaka Smart departed for Texas.

Larrier is smooth and possesses excellent length. A potential mismatch nightmare, he may be best utilized at the 4 in a guard-heavy lineup with Jalen Adams, Alterique Gilbert, and Rodney Purvis, which will go particularly well if he can rebound like a Hamilton or Shonn Miller.

Larrier has drawn rave reviews on his jumper, though he shot just 26% from three-point range as a freshman, and is expected to mix it up more effectively now. If it all comes together, we could be talking about the college version of Paul George.

Kevin Ollie has been on Larrier to make a commitment to the weight room, similar to the one that Brimah and Kentan Facey allegedly made this offseason. KO also has one additional request: He wants Terry Larrier to be himself.

“At UConn, we’re custom made, and when you’re custom made you don’t blend in.”

If Larrier can stand out, it will mean a great season for UConn hoops despite losing a lot of production in the middle of the lineup from last year’s team.

***

Since the 1993-1994 season, only five UConn freshmen have made fifty or more threes: Khalid El-Amin, Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Rashad Anderson, and Doron Sheffer.

Vance Jackson, who could be the best pure shooter we’ve seen in Storrs since Anderson graduated in 2005-06, might very well be the sixth Husky to join that list.

Whether he gets sufficient playing time to do so is dependent upon his conditioning level and defensive showing.

Jackson isn’t just a one-dimensional player—if that were the case, he would not have been a consensus Top-100 recruit (#78 per ESPN, #80 per Rivals). But the Los Angeles native was reportedly sucking wind in his first couple of practices, and appears to be on the slower side on tape.

Conditioning is something the 19-year-old Jackson can definitely work on, but he’ll need to progress quickly; no matter how competent he is at coming off screens and knocking down jumpers, his minutes will be restricted to garbage time if he cannot stay in front of his man.

The commitment is evident, at least—that’s a trait that runs in the family. In 7th grade, when Jackson decided he was all in on hoops, his father quit his job at a moving company in order to devote all his time to training Vance.

It paid off. Jackson originally attended St. John Bosco, where he was teammates with Daniel Hamilton. Jackson then spent his senior season at Prolific Prep, playing alongside five-star Kansas freshman Josh Jackson—the No. 1 overall recruit per Rivals. He experienced an up-and-down senior season, but at least ended on a major high note.

Now, in Storrs, he’s in a position to showcase his one exceptional skill so long as his endurance and defense satisfy Ollie.