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Joey Calcaterra proving to be invaluable sixth-man for the No. 3 Huskies

The sweet-shooting senior is leading the Big East Conference in 3-point percentage through 11 games

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

It’s the beginning of summer 2022 and all of the feelings of disappointment and confusion from UConn’s first-round NCAA exit start to turn into renewed hope and excitement. The Huskies just picked up their third high-major guard commitment courtesy of the ever-expanding transfer portal in the span of about a month. UConn diehards start to envision what this re-tooled roster would look like alongside locked-in starters Andre Jackson, Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins.

Not Dan Hurley, though. Not yet at least. It’s now mid-June and he’s still busy trudging through the immense yet depleted landscape of the portal, trying to uncover any hidden gems that might be tucked away. He snags a commitment from a grad-transfer two-guard hailing from the University of San Diego, Joey Calcaterra.

Most shrug this off — there are already too many cooks in the kitchen. Minutes will just be too hard to come by for him to be relevant. Who is this fifth-year senior from the WCC anyway?

The most obvious area Calcaterra could immediately contribute was helping bolster the 3-point attack of the Huskies, though when you took a closer look at the roster makeup along with the statistics, that became much more grainy.

While a team can never have enough shooting, especially one that struggled with long-range consistency last season, this backcourt before Calcaterra picked Storrs was already looking claustrophobic. RJ Cole’s departure also left a gaping hole for primary ball-handling duties, a role that is not suited for Calcaterra’s game but has been vital to Hurley’s offensive system. So where did that leave Calcaterra? Add a meager 35 percent 3-point stroke and a 39 percent field goal mark over four years against West Coast Conference competition to the equation and it was easy to wonder if these so-called “strengths” were actually what they seemed.

There were lots of questions that kept piling on all off-season. Once the season started, it didn’t take long for any of these concerns to become mere afterthoughts and for the West Coast native to earn his fan-favorite nickname, Joey California.

Compared to the expectations, Calcaterra truly has been a revelation for the Huskies this season. He’s always had immense confidence in himself and carried a chip wherever he went, which could be traced back to his time going from Marin Catholic High School’s all-time leading scorer to a two-star recruit with minimal Division I offers.

“I’ve always been someone who’s been underappreciated, and so just having an opportunity to even come here and be on the roster was big time for me,” Calcaterra said. “And it obviously gives me the chance to come out here and show showcase my skills.”

His teammates also don’t see this as a surprise. To them, this is just how Calcaterra has operated since day one.

“He just knows how to balance himself and he knows what he has to do,” Jackson said about Calcaterra. “It’s also just his swag - he just knows how to carry himself on the court.”

Dan Hurley had similar words to say about the Californian when asked when he became sold that Joey could play at this level. “You [could] see the confidence, and just that pedigree. He’s just a sharp guy that believes in himself.”

The immense impact Calcaterra has made on this UConn team cannot be understated. Aside from his absolutely blistering start from 3-point range (56.8 percent to lead the Big East), he’s also shooting 55.9 percent from the floor, far and away the best mark in his career. Tack on 9.2 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists and an 83 percent conversion rate from the foul line in only 20 minutes per game, and it’s clear that “Joey California” legitimately is one of the top sixth-men in the entire country.

Dig a little bit deeper and the advanced analytics also sing his praises. He ranks No. 25 nationwide in KenPom’s Offensive Rating (ORtg) metric when not accounting for the percent of possessions used. Calcaterra also ranks top 10 in Adjusted Team Efficiency Margin per EvanMiya, which is the difference between adjusted team offensive and defensive efficiency when that player is on the court. The No. 1 player in these rankings is none other than UConn’s own Andre Jackson. In fact, UConn has seven top 20 players in Adjusted Team Efficiency Margin. Translation: The Huskies play extremely well together on both ends of the floor and Calcaterra has been right up there with the top performers on the squad.

While Calcaterra was expected to bolster UConn’s perimeter shooting game, leading the Big East in 3-point percentage was certainly a surprise, but not the most significant one in his game. He’s not just the one-dimensional, run-off-a-down-screen-and-hope-his-shot-falls type of player. It’s evident that he is comfortable handling the basketball quite a bit — even against pressure — and has been able to create opportunities for his teammates both off of set pieces and from his general basketball savviness and feel for the game.

Watch him take Jackson’s monstrous block and ignite the break himself, stopping at the elbow to freeze his defender and throw a beautiful lob right over the top to the streaking Clingan.

“[If] Donovan’s got a hand in the air, I’m throwing up to the hand. It’s pretty easy,” Calcaterra said of throwing lobs to Clingan.

Another facet of his game that he’s been able to showcase is the ability to take his defender off the dribble and convert some tough acrobatic finishes or assist his teammates for easy buckets once the help picks him up. This was not something that many thought he would have in his arsenal, but it’s been an absolute game-buster for UConn this year. Hurley already has four to five guys who are able to generate these type of plays, and having yet another player that can create legitimate opportunities off the bounce is a nightmare for opposing coaches, especially when that player is shooting over 50 percent from outisde.

There is no doubt teams had Calcaterra tagged as an occasional 3-point threat earlier in the year, but those scouting reports are going to have to be completely overhauled with how he’s been playing for the Huskies. That just opens up the court even more for this team, which seems impossible with how spaced it already is.

Calcaterra isn’t thinking about that right now, though. He’s living in the moment and taking it one game at time.

“I’m definitely not satisfied, though, you know, we still got a lot of work to do, a lot of things to improve on,” Calcaterra said. “I’m just trying to do what I got to do to help the team be successful.”