This decade hasn’t always been sunshine and roses for the UConn men’s basketball program, but it’s hard to look back on it and say it was anything but great.
Coming in to the 2010s, UConn was well regarded as strong basketball program, shocking the world in 1999 for their first title and rolling past pretty much everyone for title No. 2 in 2004, But these last 10 years helped solidify the Huskies as one of college basketball’s most successful programs with championships in 2011 and 2014 thanks to two of the game’s best point guards.
Of course, there’s been turmoil too. UConn dealt with two separate NCAA sanctions, a postseason ban, the entire American Athletic Conference saga, two head coaching changes and a yet to be settled lawsuit from former head coach Kevin Ollie — all potentially program-crippling occurrences — and still managed two two titles (twice as many as Syracuse has all-time) this decade.
But the two national championships combined with last year’s hiring of new head coach Dan Hurley and this year’s announcement to join the new Big East has the Huskies ending the decade on a high note.
While there is still work to be done to get back to national title contention, athletic director David Benedict has navigated an increasingly complicated NCAA landscape to get the University’s flagship basketball program back on track.
With the decade coming to a close, The UConn Blog staff came together to help form a team of 10 men’s basketball players that defined the 2010s. While some players were no-brainers, the rest of the team, especially the front court, was not so simple and not nearly as clear cut as our women’s basketball all-decade team. With that being said, here’s our all-decade team for the 2010s:
Walker is an obvious selection for the team based on his junior season alone. In that 2010-11 season, Walker posted the greatest single season in UConn basketball history, scoring a program-record 965 points and leading the Huskies to their third national championship. Throughout that season, Calhoun and UConn relied on Walker to score when it mattered, and the junior never failed to deliver. He led the Huskies to an undefeated record in tournament play (as well as in non-conference), taking home Maui Invitational, Big East, and national championship titles en route to being named a consensus First-Team All-American.
Walker’s first two seasons in Storrs were no joke either. He was a solid bench piece in relief of A.J. Price as a freshman on a team that reached the Final Four. As a sophomore, he averaged nearly 15 points and over five assists. All together, he ranks ninth all time in scoring with 1,783 points, two of which came on one of the best buzzer beaters of the decade at Madison Square Garden.
Much like Walker, Napier is a no-brainer. After serving as key bench player on Walker’s 2011 title team, Napier blossomed into a starter his sophomore and junior seasons before putting together a Walker-esque run of his own to lead UConn to its fourth national title in 2014. That season, Napier averaged 18 points and nearly five assists and two steals per game while shooting over 40 percent from the 3-point line en route to winning American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and being named a consensus First Team All-American. His incredible senior season helped establish UConn as one of the greatest programs in the history of college basketball and his buzzer beater against Florida remains an iconic UConn moment.
Lamb’s time in Storrs was short, but few managed to make such an immediate impact. As a freshman, Lamb started 40 of 41 games and served as Walker’s sidekick, chipping in 11.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. But Lamb took his game to the next level in the 2011 tournament, shooting 58 percent from the field and averaging 16.2 points, including a 24-point performance against Kawhi Leonard and the San Diego Aztecs in the Sweet 16.
As a sophomore, Lamb posted 17.7 points per game and earned honorable mention All-American honors before getting drafted No. 12 overall by the Houston Rockets.
While Hamilton played just two seasons at UConn, he contributed almost immediately and brought a unique blend of guard skills in a 6-foot-7 frame. He averaged 11.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists during his time in Storrs and was the best player on UConn’s 2015-16 team, which reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. That season, Hamilton picked up his game in the AAC Tournament, averaging 21 points and over 11 rebounds to help the Huskies to title. Along with Napier and Walker, Hamilton is the only Husky this decade to record a triple-double with a 11-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist effort in a win over Central Connecticut.
Drummond was UConn’s only one-and-done of the decade, but his season in Storrs was certainly a good one. After loads of hype as both a Connecticut native and the Huskies’ first-ever No. 1 recruit, Drummond delivered, averaging 10 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.
This decade, UConn was as guard-heavy of program as there was. Because of that, the frontcourt options this decade were slim pickings. Drummond gets the nod in the starting five because his one season was better than any other one season from the other big men on this list, and because of the jaw-dropping athleticism and potential that led to him being drafted No. 9 overall in the 2012 NBA draft.
Daniels sneaks in to the all-decade team thanks to his incredible performance in the 2014 NCAA tournament, where he emerged as the Huskies’ second scoring option and a stopper on defense. Daniels averaged 16 points per game in the tournament, posting 20-point and 10-rebound double doubles against Iowa State (27 points, 10 rebounds) and Florida (20, 10) and providing the ability to stretch the floor and blow by opponents’ bigger and stronger defenders.
His regular season in 2013-14 was no joke either, averaging 13.1 points and six rebounds per game while shooting over 40 percent from three. He finished a few points short of being a 1,000 point scorer, but his floor spacing ability and performance in the NCAA tournament cements him as one of this decade’s best Huskies.
Adams had big shoes to fill as the heir apparent to the UConn guard throne after Ryan Boatright, and coming from the same hometown as Napier certainly didn’t lessen the pressure either. Nonetheless, he put together arguably the best collegiate career of a player in the Kevin Ollie era. After four seasons, Adam finished 10th all-time in scoring with 1,706 points and seventh all-time in assists with 511. Combine that with an NCAA tournament victory and an AAC title thanks in part to his incredible 67-foot shot in the semifinals against Cincinnati and the case for being a part of this team speaks for itself.
Boatright, who is inexcusably not a member of the Huskies of Honor, may have been small in stature but made a huge impact during his four years at UConn. After serving as an impact bench piece who changed the flow of games with his scoring ability, athleticism and defense as a freshman, Boatright flourished as the shooting guard alongside Shabazz Napier. As a junior, Boatright’s on ball defense was widely regarded as the best in the country, and he chipped in 12.1 points per game and shot over 37 percent from three on the other end to help the Huskies to the 2014 title. After Napier graduated, Boatright stepped in and took the reins, averaging 17.4 points and 3.8 assists and leading the Huskies to the AAC tournament championship before suffering a shoulder injury.
With more career points (1,786) than Walker and Adams as well as a key role on the 2014 title team, Boatright may just be one of the most under-appreciated players on this list.
Brimah is arguably the most controversial player on this list, but has enough credentials to hold his own in a thin frontcourt field. For a school known for churning out shot-blockers, Brimah was by far the best this decade, finishing third all-time in both career blocked shots (367) and blocks per game (2.8). While he was never an impact rebounder, Brimah’s shot-blocking skills, hustle and ability to finish off of the pick and roll gives him enough to eke onto the team.
On pure numbers, Vital deserves a spot on this list. He’ll finish the decade with nearly 1,400 points — already good enough for top-25 in program history — and could easily finish his career within the top 20. He’s already one of the top shooters in terms of 3-pointers made per game and is currently 11 threes behind Ray Allen for the sixth-most made all time in program history. As 2019 comes to a close, he leads the Huskies in scoring (13.5 points), rebounding (7.6) and steals (2.5) per game and is second in assists per game with 2.9.
The biggest knock on Vital is his postseason resume — or lack thereof. He’s the only player on this list without so much as an NCAA tournament appearance, but has played well enough for long enough to earn a spot on the all-decade team. And while his work this decade is already wrapped up, he still has a very legitimate chance of getting to the NCAA tournament and adding on to his overall legacy.
Alex Oriakhi - 2011 national champion, 9.6 points, 8.7 rebounds per game in 2010-11 title season.
Niels Giffey - two-time national champion, classic “3-and-D” player who shot 48 percent from 3 as a key bench player on 2014 title team.
Omar Calhoun - 11.1 points per game as a freshman, a great buzzer beater against Georgetown, this writer’s all-time favorite player.