Basketball season is finally here.
On Friday night, UConn will hold its annual “First Night” in which both the men’s and women’s basketball teams will come together on the same floor in a showcase of each squad’s top talent.
This year will be a bit different than in past years. The event will feature a glow-in-the-dark theme and the first 8,000 fans will receive glow-in-the-dark sunglasses.
Per usual, there will be an inter-squad scrimmage, coached by Kevin Ollie and Geno Auriemma. There will also be a light show, dunk contest, 3-point shooting contest, performances by the Pep Band along with prize giveaways, according to UConn.
So with all that said, basketball season is right around the corner. The women’s team will look to win their fourth straight national title with senior’s Breanna Stewart and Moriah Jefferson leading the way. And the men’s team will look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing it a season ago and losing in the first round of the NIT.
Here are some things to watch out for on Friday night.
UConn fans will get their first look at a few new players to the men’s team.
The first player to watch out for is Sterling Gibbs, a graduate student transfer from Seton Hall. Gibbs will play a pivotal role on this year’s team. He will likely start at point guard position and he will be one of the leaders on this team. Gibbs will be the guy to run the offense, much how Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier did in previous years.
Next is Shonn Miller, a graduate student transfer from Cornell. Miller started all 30 games for Cornell last season and led the team in scoring with 16.8 points per game.
Jalen Adams and Steven Enoch are the incoming freshman. Ollie has compared Adams to Napier and Boatright, so the expectations are already high for the freshman from Roxbury, Massachusetts. Look for him to come off the bench for UConn this year.
Enoch is a Norwalk, Connecticut native. At 6-foot-11, 245 pounds, Enoch will provide the Huskies with some size in the post. Look for some thunderous dunks from Enoch.
Also, watch out for Terry Larrier, a transfer from VCU who will have to sit out this season due to NCAA rules. Other than in practice, Larrier will be on the floor with his teammates for the only time this year.
Along with all the new guys, look out for the guys who played last season. Rodney Purvis, Daniel Hamilton, Amida Brimah, Omar Calhoun and Phil Nolan are all back for a shot at the program’s fifth championship.
The 3-point contest was supposed to be revived last year, but it never happened. So, if there is one this year, I’ll take Sam Cassell Jr. from the men’s side. As for the dunk contest, give me Purvis. He can fly.
For the women’s team, expect much of the same from last year. Head coach Geno Auriemma and company will be bringing out a national championship trophy for the third straight year, and star forward Breanna Stewart returns for her senior season with her eyes set on an unprecedented fourth-straight title.
Standout guards Moriah Jefferson and Kia Nurse are back as well Morgan Tuck, Gabby Williams, Saniya Chong and Courtney Ekmark. As usual, Jefferson should be one of the most exciting players to watch Friday night with her speed and excellent ball handling.
Never one to be outdone, Auriemma has big-time transfer of his own in center Natalie Butler. The 6-foot-5-inch Butler sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules after transferring from Georgetown, where she won Big East Freshman of the Year in 2013. Butler’s presence will help ease the loss of Kiah Stokes, who was one of the best shot-blockers in the country last season.
Like usual, Auriemma’s freshman recruiting class ranked as one of the best country. Katie-Lou Samuelson, Napheesa Collier and De’Janae Boykin were all McDonald’s All-Americans, with Samuelson coming to Storrs as the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2015.
These three all have the potential to contribute right away, but none more than Samuelson, who broke the single season 3-point record at Mater Dei high school with 117, more than former Husky sharpshooter Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who also went to Mater Dei. Samuelson finished second in Mater Dei history behind KML in career 3-pointers made, but should be able to at least partially fill the void created by Mosqueda-Lewis’ departure.
Boykin and Collier should provide more depth down low for the Huskies, allowing Williams to shift back to guard. As these three freshmen adjust to the speed of the college game, they should be able to make a meaningful impact this season and form the next core of great UConn players.
For the 3-point competition, I’m going with Samuelson or Calhoun from the men’s team. The dunk contest is Stewart’s to lose. After posting numerous dunks on Instagram, I’m excited to see her throw one down in person. It could be a preview for a possible in-game dunk this season.