Remember how we found a whole bunch of new planets two weeks ago?
You won’t find a weirder sentence to begin a sports column, but stick with me. Imagine this: we send some stuff to spy on these new aliens, and they get ticked off. They send the mothership to Earth, but they leave the death ray at home.
Instead, they say “Assemble your best collection of UConn basketball players, magically brought back into their athletic primes by our advanced technology, and we will play a best-of-seven series for the fate of your planet!”
Yes, this is nearly the exact same set-up as Bob Ryan’s Martian Premise, later popularized by Bill Simmons in “The Book of Basketball.” Yes, it still doesn’t make any sense if you start to critically think about it – they’d just pull an “Independence Day” and we’d be done for.
But who are we picking?
Here are my picks for the UConn men
The Starting Lineup
PG: Kemba Walker '11
SG: Ray Allen '96
SF: Richard Hamilton '99
PF: Donyell Marshall '94
C: Emeka Okafor '04
Coach: Jim Calhoun '99
GUARDS: ’11 Kemba Walker (starter), ’96 Ray Allen (starter), ’14 Shabazz Napier, ’04 Ben Gordon, ’00 Khalid El-Amin
Walker, just barely, gets the nod over Napier as the starting point guard in the roster’s toughest personnel decision. With plenty of perimeter scoring coming from the other members of the starting line-up, I considered picking the better all-around player in Napier to run the point, but it just didn’t seem right to bring Walker off the bench.
After averaging 23.5 points per game his senior year and carrying his team through a laborious Big East Tournament and NCAA tournament to a pair of trophies, Walker projects as the team’s alpha dog, and likely the go-to option if we need a bucket in crunch time. Napier should be the first man off the bench, and he should play many minutes despite not getting the starting nod.
Allen, who shot 47 percent from behind the arc during his final season at UConn, is the designated sniper, and an apt partner for Walker.
Joining Napier on the bench are Gordon and El-Amin, who fill very different roles. Gordon represents instant offense off the bench, and brings a level of athleticism to the table that Napier and El-Amin just don’t have. If we absolutely need a shooter to come into the game and fire up shots because Walker and Allen can’t get it going, Gordon’s the man for the job.
As for El-Amin, there was no universe in which he wasn’t making the team that takes on the aliens. He’s the fifth guard, and with both Walker and Napier, we won’t need him much.
FORWARDS: ’99 Rip Hamilton (starter), ’94 Donyell Marshall (starter), ’02 Caron Butler, ‘06 Rudy Gay, ‘89 Cliff Robinson
Hamilton and Marshall, both named Big East Player of the Year during the seasons we’ve brought them back from, will join Walker and Allen in the starting line-up. Hamilton provides even more scoring from the perimeter along with a host of winning intangibles. Maybe we’ll bring the mask back too from his days on the Pistons to psyche the aliens out.
The starting power forward position could have gone a number of ways, but I settled on Marshall, a monstrous scorer (25.1 points per game) in his best season at UConn, but who also averaged 8.9 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game. He also help space the floor with his shooting, which will give our guards space to drive and open up a deadly pick-and-roll option if he’s playing with Napier. People forget that Marshall held the NBA record for 3-point field goals in a game for more than a decade before Curry topped it last year.
Butler will back up Hamilton, and truth be told, he could have easily started. A tenacious defender as well as a capable scorer, he will serve as both the designated stopper if an alien begins to cook and a great partner with Gordon.
Gay is an emergency guy; if we need him, he’s more than capable of serving as a primary option. Robinson’s the immediate back-up off the bench for Marshall, the premier outlet for lob passes and the main provider of recreational substances for the team under his “Uncle Spliffy” persona. The team will be seeing aliens during the day and potentially some more at night.
CENTERS: ’04 Emeka Okafor (starter), ’09 Hasheem Thabeet
Okafor’s senior year statistics: 17.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4.1 blocks and a National Player of the Year award. He’s the unquestioned anchor of the defense and a vital cog on the offensive end. When he sits, we could either go small or replace a good portion of production with Thabeet, a similarly dominant presence. Hopefully Okafor can stay out of foul trouble and remain on the court, giving the guards more leeway to press for steals.
COACHES: ‘99 Jim Calhoun (head coach), ‘14 Kevin Ollie, ‘76 Dee Rowe, ‘54 Hugh Greer
It was always going to be Calhoun running the show. Joining him are three of the program’s most notable coaches at the height of their powers.
There are a lot of tough rotational decisions to be made to balance out this treasure trove of talent, and these guys can handle the most difficult of those. My job is done. As long as Bill Pullman’s giving the pre-game speech, the world’s going to be safe, and we have the UConn men to thank.