Three games into the 2017-18 season, UConn fans are delighted, or at least relieved, to see the Huskies start the season with three wins. They were without Jalen Adams for the first game, and struggled in the second one, but powered through a rocky start in the third to grab a comfortable win. After last year, we’ll take the 3-0 however it comes, but this team does seem to have the pieces to be decently competitive.
Some of the improvements which are evident compared to last year are rebounding—this year’s team is much longer and tougher—and offensive cohesion. On an active roster with seven new players, there’s still a lot we need to learn about how much certain guys can contribute, but it’s clear the two graduate transfers have played a big role in the Huskies’ improvement in those two areas.
For forward David Onuorah, in Storrs by way of Cornell, this is not too surprising. He missed all of the exhibition play and the first regular season game with an injury but had proven to be a strong post presence in his time at Cornell. From his two games, we’ve seen a size and toughness which UConn has lacked in the post over the past few years. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him in the starting lineup at some point.
Perhaps more surprising is that former Fordham guard Antwoine Anderson has stepped up in a big way in the early going. With Adams, Alterique Gilbert and Christian Vital all very much in the backcourt mix, it was easy to believe Anderson was just there for his sage fifth-year wisdom. Instead, he started in the first game due to Adams’ absence, scoring 12 points, and has scored double-digits in both games since going back to the bench.
Having graduate transfers contributing in key roles has been a running theme for Kevin Ollie in his tenure as the Huskies’ head coach.
In 2012, Ollie added Holy Cross graduate RJ Evans to his roster. Evans provided a calming veteran presence for a young team which exceeded expectations with a 20-win season. He’s now an assistant coach at Louisville.
In 2013, Lasan Kromah joined the Huskies from George Washington and played a key role on the 2014 national championship team, making 17 starts and playing great two-way ball. His best postseason performance came in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament with 12 points in the win over Vilanova, and in the regular season he dropped 13 in a win at Memphis and 14 in a win at Washington.
In 2015, Ollie added two high-impact grad transfers to a team which would eventually make the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Shonn Miller came from Cornell and immediately became the team’s leading rebounder and the best low-post scorer the program has had in a while. Sterling Gibbs joined from Seton Hall to add experience and proven scoring ability to a young backcourt.
Kevin Ollie has had to deal with many factors working against his recruiting efforts from day one. In his first year, he had an NCAA Tournament ban and eventual conference downgrade from the original Big East (RIP) to the AAC. Later he endured some #millennial challenges after pulling in a really talented recruiting class in 2016. Graduate transfers have helped buoy his teams and give proven players from mid-major programs major opportunities, which they always seem to cherish.
Ollie faced a remarkable rebuilding challenge this offseason with three transfer departures and three starters lost to graduation. That Anderson and Onuorah are capably filling key roles has this year’s team looking like it could exceed its modest preseason expectations and keep Ollie from drawing the ire of Husky fans who are increasingly disappointed with the program’s performance.