This preview and more on Connecticut and the American are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 21 Connecticut Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-10 (10-8 Big East)
Coach: Kevin Ollie (20-10 at UConn)
American projection: Third
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 32
Connecticut spent last season on a mission to make a statement in a season without postseason eligibility. Now the Huskies are determined to launch the program back among the elite in the nation.
They return their entire starting lineup and several key reserves from a 20-win team and added some quality recruits. They enter a brand new landscape as a member of the American Athletic Conference.
“They know they’re good,” coach Kevin Ollie says. “But they know they’ve got a lot of work to do to prove that each and every day. They know climbing up the ladder takes one step at a time, but to fall off the ladder just takes one step.”
The Huskies are injecting some much-needed depth to their front line. Only one starter — junior DeAndre Daniels — averaged more than 4.9 points last season. Rebounding was a major issue, as UConn lost the battle of the boards in 19 games and ranked among the worst in the league in rebounding percentage.
Ollie will count on promising newcomers Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah to contribute right away, especially in the shot-blocking and rebounding departments. Facey, a New York native, was a 4-star recruit who picked UConn over Louisville and Florida.
Daniels, a smooth, athletic small forward, is poised for a breakout season. He’s added muscle to his wiry frame and has potential to emerge as a Player of the Year candidate in the American. He increased his scoring from 3.0 points as a freshman to 12.1 as a sophomore.
Ollie is optimistic that Tyler Olander, who’s coming off a disappointing junior season, will finally live up to expectations and make a consistent impact. The 6-9 Connecticut native has yet to average more than 5.0 points per game in his career.
Veteran Niels Giffey has the ability to contribute in a variety of ways. Improving Phil Nolan showed flashes of his potential down the stretch last season. Fellow sophomore Leon Tolksdorf will likely play a limited role as a big man who can shoot from the perimeter.
The Huskies boast one of the most talented — and deepest —backcourts in the country. Returning starters Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun combined to average 43.6 points per game last season — 62 percent of UConn’s scoring.
No one means more to the Huskies than Napier, the heartbeat of the team. He led UConn in scoring (17.1 ppg) and late-game heroics while ranking second in rebounding (4.4 rpg) and earning first-team All-Big East honors. He’s fully recovered from a foot injury that hampered him near the end of last season.
The confident Boatright, already a lethal offensive weapon and defensive pest, worked on improving his all-around game over the summer. Boatright and Napier were two the 12 collegiate guards invited to attend the Nike Point Guard Skills Academy in New Jersey in June.
Calhoun, who had offseason surgery on both hips, should take another significant step forward coming off a productive freshman season. The former 4-star recruit averaged 11.1 points, highlighted by two games of at least 20 points in Big East play.
“From a scoring standpoint, from a leadership standpoint and a facilitator standpoint, all of our guards have gotten better,” Ollie says.
Ollie also will be able to turn to freshman Terrence Samuel, an unselfish New York City product blessed with size and toughness, and versatile swingman Lasan Kromah, a George Washington transfer, for minutes on the perimeter.
Kentan Facey, an active 6-9 forward, will likely see major minutes and contribute on the boards. A long shot-blocking center, Amida Brimah plays with great energy but needs to add muscle to withstand physical pounding inside. Terrence Samuel is a strong guard with great court vision. Transfer Lasan Kromah, who averaged 11.0 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists in three years at George Washington, has the tools to play several positions.
Factoid: 4. In UConn’s final four games last season, emerging star DeAndre Daniels played his best basketball, averaging 21.2 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.3 blocks.
The talented and tough-minded Huskies have improved in several areas, especially depth, which will give Ollie more flexibility and create more competition for playing time.
With a lethal backcourt leading the charge, UConn should challenge for the American championship. Their final destination this season may depend in part on the development of their young frontcourt players.
The upbeat and demanding Ollie is pushing his Huskies to play with the same grit, heart and attitude as last season.
“Hopefully, we have that same mindset, especially with the talent that we have coming back,” Ollie says. “If everybody comes back with that level of unity, playing for one another, everything else will take care of itself — championships, whatever follows that. Everybody will be able to have the opportunity to shine individually. So I hope we have that same attitude. I’m pushing for that.”
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