UConn kicks off basketball season with First Night

Shonn Miller dunks over Sterling  Gibbs as part of first night's dunk contest (Bailey Wright/The Daily Campus)

The men’s and women’s team both gathered in front of sold-out crowd to officially begin the season. After introducing all of the players and coaches, Sterling Gibbs, Courtney Ekmark and an UConn intramural All-Star took home the shooting stars crown, where players had to make a layup, a free throw, three-pointer and half-court shot. After Moriah Jefferson won the 3-point contest, making 20 shots in the final round, Shonn Miller took home the dunk contest, leaping over Sterling Gibbs to seal the win.

In the scrimmage, Team Geno defeated Team Kevin 63-56. Team Geno’s Phil Nolan led all scorers with 14 points, while Shonn Miller and Steven Enoch added 12 points each for Team Kevin.

Before the night started, the UConn men’s team got a commitment from Vance Jackson, the No. 49 ranked player in ESPN’s Top 100 for the class of 2016. Jackson joins Alterique Gilbert, Juwan Durham and Mamadou Diarra in the Huskies’ 2016 class.

Here are some thoughts about the night:

From the men’s team

Matt Zampini: Although it’s a glorified scrimmage, First Night has never disappointed in my first three years at UConn. This season, along with the inter-squad scrimmage held every year, they finally brought back the dunk contest and 3-point contest, which I loved and thought was a great move for the fans.

It’s the start of basketball season here at UConn. And you can just tell how hyped up the fans get for basketball season. It was a sold out crowd Friday night and Gampel and UConn showcased its new lighting system. Although the scrimmage can get boring sometimes with the minimal effort put forth, it’s still a fun night for the players and the fans to kick off the season.

For me, I use First Night to get a first look at the new players that will be playing this season, so the players that stood out most to me were Shonn Miller and Jalen Adams.

Miller, a transfer from Cornell, started out the night by winning the dunk contest and then he added 12 points in the scrimmage. Most of Miller’s point were on dunks, but they were mostly highlight-reel dunks. He gives UConn some size this year and should help the Huskies out this season in the post.

Adams, a freshman from Roxbury, Massachusetts, had seven points, four rebounds and four assists. He comes into this season as one of the most hyped freshmen to come to UConn since Andre Drummond in 2011, the year after the Huskies won the national championship.

Adams showed that he has some of the best handles on the team and that he can get up above the rim and produce some acrobatic dunks. He didn’t compete in the dunk contest, but he promised that he would be in it next year.

“It was amazing, just coming out to all those people, my first team officially putting on the uniform and stepping on the court it was just unreal,” Adams said about First Night. “Dream come true.”

Elan-Paolo DeCarlo: Shonn Miller, a graduate transfer student, was the clear standout at First Night. After spending four years at Cornell, Miller expressed excitement about being at a program like UConn.

“[I’ve never experienced] anything like this. We didn’t have a ‘First Night.’ This whole experience was new to me, I enjoyed it,” Miller said.

Miller, a 6’7” forward, showed off a wide array of skills throughout the night, demonstrating how he was able to average 16.8 points and 8.5 rebounds a game just a year ago. Athletically, Miller clearly looks like he belongs at a major program.

Much of First Night is devoted to showing off the brand and then a sham of a basketball game. Yet, there are always obvious highlights. For the first time in four years, the dunk contest was a part of the night’s festivities. Miller competed against freshman Steven Enoch and transfer redshirt Terry Larrier. Amongst the judges were former UConn stars Ray Allen and Donny Marshall, alongside Breanna Stewart and other players from the women’s team.

After lobbying for a second round, Miller stole the show. He used his fellow transfer teammate, Sterling Gibbs, in a stunt that was sure to give Kevin Ollie a nervous feeling. Gibbs was seated in a chair at the edge of a key, holding a ball high above his head. Miller took off from the 3-point line, grabbed the ball and slammed home a thunderous dunk. The judges awarded him a 57 and the evening’s only perfect 10 rating.

Miller now has the chance to introduce himself to the elites of college basketball. The excitement of UConn is an allure to him.

“It was amazing to get in front of the Gampel crowd. The people here love the basketball teams,” Miller said. “I knew that coming in, but it’s different when you see it.”

From the women’s team

Dan Madigan: Out of the three freshmen, Katie Lou Samuelson impressed me the most tonight. She shot the lights out in the first round of the 3-point contest, taking down Breanna Stewart before falling to Moriah Jefferson in the championship round. Samuelson showed why she was the top recruit in the country for 2015, draining a multitude of 3-point shots in the 3-point contest and holding her own in the scrimmage, putting in a layup for her two points on the night. Samuelson’s size and shooting ability should help fill the void created by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis’ departure.

“I played with her in the summer and throughout practices this fall and she’s a great shooter,” Stewart said of Samuelson. “That’s something I don't think is going to fluctuate with her. She’s going to make those shots, it’s a great way to impact the floor. She’s very confident in that and it’s only going to help her.”

Samuelson wasn’t the only freshman to shine in the scrimmage. While De’Janae Boykin sat out the game as she recovers from an injury, Napheesa Collier had eight points and a rebound for Team Kevin.

Collier could be an important piece for the Huskies this season, providing meaningful minutes off the bench in the frontcourt, something the team rarely had last year. Collier’s ability to come off the bench and make an impact would allow Gabby Williams to shift back to guard after playing in the post last year. Even if Williams doesn’t transition back, it still gives the Huskies even more depth and flexibility as they strive for their fourth-straight national championship.

Spencer Mayfield: The biggest standout in my opinion was senior guard Moriah Jefferson, who won the 3-point shooting contest. It is no surprise that UConn is an elite shooting team, but having a senior point guard like Jefferson that can keep the defense honest with her shooting ability will be extremely valuable for the Huskies. Jefferson’s quickness and savvy playmaking ability is going to create a lot of shots for her teammates this year, and defenses will not be afforded the luxury of giving her space if she is knocking down the long ball.

As far as the scrimmage went, it was mostly consisted of highlight play lobs to big men like Shonn Miller and Phil Nolan. Kia Nurse was the brave soul who decided to challenge the trees in the lane during the second half. Unfortunately for Nurse, she had her layup swatted into the stands by Amida Brimah who was also not afraid to let her know about it afterwards.

“We talked about not blocking me and not dunking on me before we started the game but apparently we don’t keep promises around here,” Nurse said. “I heard ‘block party’ as soon as I got in the lane and I was like this is not going to go over well.”

In all seriousness, Nurse will not be seeing anyone with the wingspan of Brimah this season. Nurse’s aggressive style of play earned her six points, three assists and two rebounds in the scrimmage for Team Geno.