I am a die-hard UCONN Huskies basketball fan. The women are great as usual,perfect even. The men… just lost to Louisville last night. If this was last year or the year before I would be outraged none other than for the ways they have lost. After some deep thinking, I have come to accept that this is a “transition year.” Losing players to the NBA or graduation hasn’t affected the program that much in past years because of stability at 1 position. I truly believe that this is the first time in a few years that Uconn doesn’t have a seasoned point guard. You might say Kemba Walker played last year as a freshman on a Final Four team. Why this is absolutely true, Kemba Walker was not the starting point guard. When Jerome Dyson went down with an injury last year, Walker started with AJ Price in the backcourt. Price was the primary ball handler and the floor general. Walker was able to play off the ball and attack and occasionally run a set. He wasn’t fully handed the keys to the team, this year the team is his to run. Dyson who is back for his senior year after last year’s injury is projected to be a combo guard on the next level. In college he is Uconn’s shooting guard, Dyson is needed to carry the load offensively with this year’s team. Walker has the tools to exceed on this level as well as the next. He just needs some “seasoning,” this year is going to be an integral part in his development. Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien’s departure hurt more than people think. The starting center and power forward this year are true freshman, TRUE FRESHMAN!!! Yes Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards are seniors, but they are not enough to make up for what was lost. Edwards hasn’t started in his Uconn career, Robinson has just fully reached his potential this year. That leaves Alex Ohriaki and Ater Majok to fend for themselves in the post. Those two are both 6’10 and both very very “raw.” They need this year to develop.I believe this “down” year as some are calling it is great for the program. When so much production has been lost, it takes time to rebuild.
The big knock on this year’s team is the lack of perimeter shooting. Dyson and Robinson are slashers with the ability to shoot on the perimeter. Price was the perimeter threat last year, his perimeter oriented mentality allowed Uconn to stretch the floor. I read a blog the other day saying that Jim Calhoun does a terrible job recruiting shooters and that nothing was truly gained in the 2009 recruiting class. I strongly, I repeat strongly disagree. Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, Jamal Trice and Darius Smith can all stretch the floor. Coombs at 6’7 and 210 pounds plays the same position as senior small forward Stanley Robinson. Jamal Trice a 6’6, 220 pound shooting guard plays the same position as senior Jerome Dyson. Darius Smith’s development at the point guard is not only stunted by Kemba Walker, but combo guard Donnell Beverley. So it’s not that those kinds of players weren’t recruited, it’s the limited opportunities available to them. How can they prove their worth if there’s barely any minutes for them to play?
My anticipation for next year is driving me crazy. Trice and Coombs will get the opportunity to start alongside Walker(as long as he doesn’t leave for the NBA) with Oriahki and Majok. The 2010 recruiting class is headlined by small forward Roscoe Smith(6’9, 195 pounds), who has already been compared to fellow Baltimore native Rudy Gay. Jeremy Lamb (6’4, 170 pounds) a lanky shooting guard has unlimited range and a knack for scoring. Michael Bradley and Cleveland Melvin are supposed to bring depth to the front court. What has me salivating is the sheer size and length of next year’s team. Oriahki already has an intimidating body as an 18 year old, another year in the weight room would make him a force in the post. Coombs is a do it all small forward who will surely benefit from being in this year’s rotation. Most importantly Walker will be the upperclassman point guard that the program is used to, I believe he will flourish next year and then hand the reins over to Darius Smith.
The folks over in Chapel Hill are going through similar growing pains, hopefully they can find the silver lining in this “transition year.” Who do you think is going to regroup quicker, UNC or UCONN? I’m not going to share my biased answer.