Just eight short months ago, the UConn men’s basketball team was eliminated by Arizona State in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). The loss ended what was a miserable season by Husky standards following the team’s 2014 national championship.
From last year’s team, UConn’s major loss was senior Ryan Boatright, who now plays with the Detroit Pistons D-League affiliate at Grand Rapids. The Huskies also lost Terrence Samuel and Rakim Lubin, who both transferred.
But since then, the Huskies have reloaded with freshmen and graduate transfers. And they should be geared up for a run at a fifth national championship.
Head coach Kevin Ollie has brought in two of the most sought out graduate transfers in Sterling Gibbs and Shonn Miller. Both will be starters this season.
Gibbs, a transfer from Seton Hall, averaged 16.3 points and 3.8 assists per game last season. Miller, from Cornell, averaged 16.8 points and 8.5 rebounds.
Ollie also brought in a nice recruiting class that should see action right away. Jalen Adams, a Top 25 recruit, will come off the bench for the Huskies this year. And Steve Enoch, a 6’10” forward, should provide the Huskies with some depth in the frontcourt.
Returning for the Huskies is Daniel Hamilton, the reigning American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year, Amida Brimah, the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, and Rodney Purvis, a player Ollie calls the “best player in the country from foul line to foul line.”
Phil Nolan, Omar Calhoun, Sam Cassell Jr. and Kentan Facey all bring back experience and should provide Ollie and the Huskies with positive minutes off the bench.
"I love this team so much," Purvis told the Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore after the team’s 40-point exhibition win over Division II New Haven on Nov. 7, "we're just enjoying the moment. We understand with guys like Phil and Omar, and Shonn and Sterling, they've only got one year with this team, so we want to make it the best for each and every person on this team. We're all blessed with this opportunity right here, and we're going to take advantage of it."
UConn, ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press preseason poll, has perhaps one of the deepest teams they’ve had in a while.
Last season, the Huskies relied heavily on Boatright to carry the offense. This season, they don’t have to rely on one player. On any night, anyone can lead the team in scoring.
In the first two preseason games, Ollie has played 11 guys (not counting the walk-ons) and has produced a multitude of different lineups on the floor. Ollie can go big or small with confidence that the Huskies will be successful.
“Just to see the balance that we had, to see 24 fast break points, 56 points in the paint, that’s what I want to see,” Ollie said after the win over New Haven. “I put on the board that I want to have a return on our investment and I think our guys have really invested in the summer and are working tremendously hard in practice. It was good to see everyone out there having fun and being able to get in the books and score the basketball."
You can call it a championship hangover, or whatever you want to call what last season was. But the Huskies don’t belong in the NIT. Everyone knows that.
This team, with a nice mix of different scoring weapons, is going to be dangerous if they can put their talents together and gel on the court. If they can do that, this team should win a lot of games and go deep into the NCAA tournament.
“There is no ceiling for this team,” Purvis said.