Being named the American Athletic Conference preseason rookie of the year is no small feat. How about doing it twice?
That’s the honor Alterique Gilbert received Monday morning at the American Athletic Conference tip-off event in Philadelphia. After being named the preseason rookie of the year last season, Gilbert’s freshman campaign was cut short just three games into the season after dislocating his left shoulder against Loyola-Marymount.
Following his second shoulder surgery in less than six months, Gilbert was able to redshirt and save a year of eligibility, making him a redshirt freshman this year and eligible to receive the preseason rookie of the year award in 2017.
“It’s always good to know that other people think highly of me. I’m just continuing to work and buy into my program and get better with my team and build team chemistry so we can get a few wins,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert had some buzz around him prior to arriving in Storrs, joining the Huskies as a four-star recruit and No. 34 prospect in the country according to Rivals. In his three games last season, Gilbert showed flashes of his potential, averaging 10.3 points and two assists, including a 14-point performance in the season opener against Wagner.
The Georgia native will likely slide into the starting lineup alongside point guard Jalen Adams as they try to be UConn’s next great backcourt duo. With combos like Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, Napier and Kemba Walker, Walker and AJ Price, all the way back to Kevin Ollie and Doron Sheffer, Adams and Gilbert want to be the next in line.
“Traditionally, UConn guards have always had that one-two punch, and I feel like we’re definitely bringing that back this year,” Gilbert said. “It’s definitely fun playing with Jalen, it makes the game a lot easier for me and my teammates.”
Gilbert’s presence alone will make things easier for Adams. Last season, head coach Kevin Ollie and the Huskies leaned on Adams for long stretches in order to remain competitive as the team dealt with a myriad of injuries.
Even with that added pressure, Adams flourished, averaging 14.4 points and 6.1 assists per game last season, earning first-team American Athletic Conference honors.
When Gilbert and Adams are on the court together, Adams can play off the ball more and can get better looks, especially from deep, where Adams shot 35 percent last season. When they’re not both on the court, Gilbert will able to spell Adams and let him rest.
“We got Alterique back, so it kind of gives us an opportunity to take Jalen off the ball a little more than we could afford last year,” Ollie said. “That whole different dimension is going to be great.”
Not to be overlooked in UConn’s stable of guards, the Huskies have fan-favorite Christian Vital ready to take on a key role off the bench and graduate transfer Antwoine Anderson providing sage wisdom from his 62 starts at Fordham.
Gilbert’s presence coupled with the return of Terry Larrier, who missed most of last season with a knee injury, should help distribute the scoring load more evenly than last year.
“Me and him have been working hard in rehab and making sure our bodies are good,” Larrier said of himself and Gilbert. “Our teammates have been supporting us every step of the way...We’re eager to get out there and compete.”
With Gilbert and Larrier returning, the Huskies want to prove last season - where UConn posted a losing record for the first time in decades - was a fluke. For a program with an offense so heavily-guard oriented, this year’s success rests mightily on Gilbert’s surgically-repaired shoulders.
“I’m very anxious and very excited,” Gilbert said. “I think our team is good and I can’t wait to play.”