Forget about putting on a poker face. Coach Kevin Ollie is quick to reveal his hand when talking about his 2015-16 Huskies.
“This group is very, very talented,” Ollie says.
UConn returns all but three players and adds two highly regarded graduate transfers as well as a promising freshman class. The Huskies have improved in nearly every department.
Given his quality depth, Ollie’s biggest challenge may be figuring out a rotation. But that’s a good problem. “I think everybody is going to understand there’s a certain way we do things at the University of Connecticut,” Ollie says. “I think competitiveness breeds success. We’re going to practice hard, and we’re going to play hard. I think that competitive spirit is going to show.”
AAC predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
UConn’s frontcourt features a little bit of everything on the skill chart.
Rising star Daniel Hamilton may be the most versatile player in the country. He enjoyed a superb freshman season, earning American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year honors. If he can improve his shooting percentage (38 percent last season), he’ll really take off.
Amida Brimah, the AAC’s Defensive Player of the Year and leading shot blocker at 3.5 per game, is poised to take the next step. Ollie expects Brimah to vastly improve on his 4.4 rebounding average and do a better job staying out of foul trouble.
Do-it-all forward Shonn Miller, who led Cornell in scoring and had 11 double-doubles last season before joining UConn as a graduate transfer, is a major addition. He’ll help out in just about every area.
Phil Nolan, the team’s most experienced player with 97 career games, specializes in doing all the little things right. He led the team in taking charges last season.
Athletic Kentan Facey is searching for consistency that eluded him last season. Ollie wants Facey to provide energy, increase his productivity and be a physical presence. Freshman Steven Enoch, a promising 6'10" forward, needs time to polish his rough edges.
No. 18 UConn Huskies Facts & Figures
Record: 20-15, 10-8 American
Last NCAA Tournament: 2014
American Projection: 1
Postseason Projection: Second Round
UConn’s backcourt is stocked with playmakers. Yes, All-AAC first teamer, top scorer and inspirational leader Ryan Boatright is gone. And Terrence Samuel, a key reserve, transferred. But there’s still a wealth of talent.
Rodney Purvis is riding momentum from a fantastic finish that saw him average 16.7 points in his last nine games. Graduate transfer Sterling Gibbs, an All-Big East second-team selection at Seton Hall, will give the Huskies another perimeter weapon and tempo setter as well as add toughness and experience. Shooting guards Sam Cassell Jr. and Omar Calhoun are attempting to rebound from injuries. They’ll be fighting for spots in the rotation.
An exciting young player to watch is explosive Jalen Adams, who led Brewster Academy to a national prep championship.
Look for Ollie to rely heavily on a playmaker-powered attack, just as Jim Calhoun did during his Hall of Fame coaching career. “I’ve seen Coach (Calhoun) kind of formulate his team around that,” Ollie says. “That’s something I grew up watching and something I was a part of. That’s something I believe that works, and that’s how I’m going to organize my teams, too. I like facilitators on the court.”
Key Loss: G Ryan Boatright
Top Players: G Sterling Gibbs, G Rodney Purvis, G/F Daniel Hamilton, F Phillip Nolan, C Amidah Brimah
Guard Sterling Gibbs and forward Shonn Miller, two graduate transfers, will make significant impacts. Gibbs, an All-Big East second-team pick, averaged 16.7 points and 3.8 assists last season at Seton Hall. Miller, an All-Ivy League first-team selection, led Cornell in scoring in scoring (16.8 ppg) and rebounding (8.5 rpg). Developing forward Steven Enoch will add much-needed frontcourt depth. Dynamic guard Jalen Adams, a top-25 national recruit, will be a key member of the rotation.
UConn is determined to erase the sour taste still lingering from stumbling to a 20–15 record and settling for an NIT berth. “We don’t want that feeling again that we had on Selection Sunday,” Ollie says.
It’s highly unlikely UConn will be in that position this season given the team’s rich talent pool. Ollie addressed his biggest needs with his recruiting class, adding experience, depth and scoring punch. His roster screams versatility and athleticism.
Once again, UConn’s defense, which limited foes to 39.6 percent shooting from the field, should be as reliable as the sunrise. With more scoring options, the Huskies expect to be vastly improved offensively after averaging just 64.1 points last season.
“We want to play great defense, but we’ve got to score at the end of the day,” Ollie says. “We were holding teams under 60 (points) a lot of our games and we ended up losing 15 games.”
Two seasons removed from winning the 2014 national championship, UConn hopes to be a serious contender for American Athletic Conference title and make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. “We just want to be the best team once March comes around,” Ollie says.