The best time to be a freshman on the UConn men’s basketball team is in the offseason. Whether intentional or not, head coach Dan Hurley fed the frenzied masses last summer with hyperbolic comparisons for his latest crop of players. Samson Johnson is a ‘pterodactyl’. Jordan Hawkins has ‘wall’ potential. ‘Agent Sool’ was supposed to be the leader that brought it all together.
The cognitive dissonance between Hurley’s words and actual playing time this year was frustrating for fans who were excited about their shiny new toys. This offseason will be very different, with UConn fans glued to the portal for immediate help to fill the void left by RJ Cole, Tyrese Martin, Tyler Polley, and Isaiah Whaley on top of Jalen Gaffney and Rahsool Diggins transferring.
While the transfer portal is a pool Hurley’s staff will surely have to wade into, there are two promising youngsters on the roster that have their bearings and will be asked to step up next season in Johnson and Corey Floyd Jr.
Johnson played so sparingly that there’s no metrics to go on that could gauge future performance. His best game was five points and six rebounds in 20 minutes...against Grambling State. Just how sparse were Johnson’s time last year? His 5.2 minutes per game (mpg) is the lowest of any non walk-on in the last five years. Let’s look at some freshman who rode the pine their first year.
- Javonte Brown transferred out before January of 2021
- Brendan Adams in his freshman year averaged 12.7 minutes per game
- Isaiah Whaley played in 13.8 mpg his freshman year
- Mamadou Diarra appeared in 30 games and averaged 10 mpg
Those were all the players in the last five years who contributed the least their freshman season. Of course, a heaping pile of context is needed; in the brutal AAC years, most freshman received extended roles right away because of the lack of talent and/or experience ahead of them. Now, Hurley is consistently bringing in Top 50 guys, while the pandemic year awarded to the Isaiah Whaley made the depth chart at the four impossibly difficult to climb.
If the Huskies were Wrench-less last year, you can bet that Johnson would have gotten more reps. Plus, Hurley hyping aside, Johnson was considered the rawest of the 2021 recruits, but also the one with the highest ceiling.
Even when Adama Sanogo was injured and Johnson saw some brief time in the rotation, he simply didn’t look ready last year. And that’s okay! It takes bigs —especially stretch fours — a longer time to acclimate to the college game, let alone the Big East. If you’re fretting that Hurley and company whiffed on Johnson, you need to go outside and take a deep breath.
There is no reason to believe another offseason getting stronger, plus early non-conference reps building confidence against cupcakes next year, will accelerate Johnson’s arrival. This isn’t to say UConn should give up on Akok Akok, either (watch this space for more on his potential impact later). While the two have overlapping skillsets, if Hurley truly wants to return to a more four-out, one-in sort of spacing on offense, he has two talented players in Johnson and Akok that perfectly complement Sanogo inside.
No one is asking Johnson to make a meteoric leap to stardom. All he needs to do as a sophomore is protect the rim with his length on defense and stretch the floor on offense. That should be the baseline metric for Johnson next year. If he does that, he’ll find the court.
The door for Floyd Jr is even more wide open. While he’s not labeled a true point guard, he’s one of three (!) guards on the current roster. His college-ready build will make him an asset on day one next year, provided his ball handling is up to snuff. He’s had an entire year practicing with an experienced team, and look at what a redshirt season did for Akok Akok his freshman year.
It’s tough to gauge how Floyd Jr’s will complement the backcourt next year, with a transfer or two undoubtedly coming in. Whoever it is though, Floyd Jr’s reputed ‘feel’ make him a perfect for positionless basketball. You could plug him at the one, two, or three depending on matchups, and his ability to penetrate should make him a weapon anywhere on the court as long as there are shooters around him.
There’s no college tape on Floyd Jr, but remember his loaded AAU team that barnstormed Peach Jam in 2021. Floyd is the type of player that seems to thrive with more talent around him, where he can pick his spots effectively. With defenses keying in on Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins next year, there’s room for Floyd to become the three-level scorer that UConn desperately needs.
If there was one thing that hamstrung UConn’s potential last year it was the one dimensional facets of several key players. Tyler Polley was a sniper, yes, but that’s all he could provide. Whaley was a historically brilliant defensive savant but didn’t scare anyone on offense (ask Coach McDermott). If the scouting reports prove true, Floyd Jr’s all-around game will mean another player on the court without a glaring weakness that can be exploited.