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UConn men’s basketball seniors embracing leadership roles on ‘closest team’ of their time

Tyler Polley, Isaiah Whaley and Josh Carlton spoke with media members on Monday.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

The college basketball season is more or less hanging in limbo, with little direction from the NCAA outside of a vague statement from senior vice president Dan Gavitt Wednesday – which said they would make a determination by mid-September.

Despite the uncertainty on the season, the elder statesmen of the UConn men’s basketball team – Tyler Polley, Isaiah Whaley and Josh Carlton – spoke with the media via Zoom Monday. They offered some insight into how their summers have gone, as well as a look into the team’s new dynamic.

Injury and conditioning updates

Without a confirmed schedule, teams have been left to decide when to ramp up their workouts, as UConn women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma described last Monday.

Over the summer, though, the team has seemingly made real changes to their physiques, partly credited to new director of sports performance Mike Rehfeldt.

All throughout the summer, head coach Dan Hurley was adamant that Polley was staying on track on his way back from an ACL tear he sustained in practice in January. Polley re-affirmed that Monday.

“Rehab is going good right now,” Polley said. “Just taking it easy, taking it slow because we don’t know when the season is going to start, so it’s no rush right now, but I’m making great progress I think.”

Polley said he’s been mainly focused on getting shots up during workouts, rather than the live work that some of the team has been doing.

Before his injury, Polley was having the best season of his college career. He averaged 9.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, and was shooting 40.5% from three-point range – all career highs. He scored in the double-digits in nine of his 15 games played, including a season-high 19 points against Tulane on Jan. 8 – the game before his injury.

In addition to Polley’s rehabilitation efforts, both Whaley and Carlton have rebuilt themselves physically. Whaley said he asked Carlton to come work out with him in West Virginia for a period of time this offseason.

“He was down with us for a couple weeks, we worked out every day, we worked out sometimes three times a day,” Whaley said.

Aside from taking the weekends off for rest, the two worked out in the mornings before doing an evening lift, Whaley said. They were on different programs, though, with Carlton looking to lose weight and Whaley looking to add some.

Carlton said he dropped about 20 pounds and Whaley lost three pounds, but it was all body fat, according to his Instagram story from July 18.

Carlton struggled last season after winning AAC Most Improved Player the year before. He hit just 50.2% of his field goal attempts after putting away 63.1% in 2019.

Team chemistry

Despite the social distancing protocols the team has had to follow, Whaley said this is the closest team he’s been a part of at UConn.

“This is a team where everybody is together, where everybody is on the same page with the coach,” Whaley said.

Looking back to his freshman season, the last under former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie, Whaley said the mood around the team was dark and uncertain. He also said team members had separated into factions of small groups at times, only hanging out with one another rather than as a large group.


A piece of that team chemistry now falls on this group of seniors, leading a young cast of basketball players. All three said they’re trying to shift into a leadership role.

“It’s surreal to me, because I remember being a little freshman and coming to campus nervous, bright-eyed,” Polley said. “But now I’m a senior, and it’s time to take on more responsibility, more leadership.”

Polley added that he’s excited to take on the challenge and act as an example for the younger players.

Whaley said he used to turn to Christian Vital, Jalen Adams and Mamadou Diarra when he had questions as a freshman, but now it’s the freshmen, and even returners like James Bouknight and Jalen Gaffney, who look to him for answers.