Steven Enoch. Associate head coach Glen Miller. Vance Jackson. Makai Ashton-Langford. Juwan Durham.
That’s the list of departures from the UConn men’s basketball program over the past couple of weeks (Ashton-Langford was an incoming freshman this fall) and, while some are bigger names than others, the sheer length of the list is baffling.
Three transfers, two of who just completed their freshman seasons, one highly-ranked recruit out and a respected assistant coach gone. Spend some time thumbing through Twitter rumors and you may find the names Alterique Gilbert and Christian Vital as well.
It’s not all bad news. Respected recruiter and former Washington assistant coach Raphael Chillious will take over Miller’s position going forward and 2017 All-American Athletic Conference first team member Jalen Adams will return to the program next season.
In Storrs, Adams is the last bastion of hope to truly remain competitive next year and news of his return is certainly reassuring for UConn supporters but when reports of a player choosing not to leave are headline news, that can’t be healthy for a program.
What is going on?
From an outsider’s point of view, the past two weeks have been disastrous. An extreme pessimist may go further and apply that to the entire 2016-17 season. UConn has followed up their worst season in decades with considerable personnel turnover resulting from the fallout of winning just 16 games as a storied program playing in a conference considered beneath it.
Maybe the insider’s version of the story is more positive. Maybe those involved with the team understand the difficulties involved with losing three important players for the season in November and are willing to write this one off. Maybe the players who are choosing to leave are doing so entirely of their own accord, harboring no ill feelings towards UConn or head coach Kevin Ollie and the fact so many players have left is simply awful luck.
Here are the facts: Next year’s team, as of Tuesday morning, features only eight scholarship players. Only two have played full seasons at UConn. Three more will be returning from injuries that kept them out for the entire season. The other three (Eric Cobb, Josh Carlton and Tyler Polley) are fresh faces that may not have a significant impact on the team’s outlook.
There will be several players added to the roster over the next few months from a variety of markets; transfers, graduate transfers, de-commits and JUCO. Chillious is already working to nab former Washington commit Mamoudou Diarra, whose addition to this team would cause significant problems for opposing frontcourts and spell-checkers.
Here are the opinions: With the graduation of seniors Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah, UConn lost their two best big men and the returning guys that would have likely taken their places (Durham and Enoch, respectively) are both gone. This is a significant problem that will not be fixed this offseason and will have lasting repercussions when the Huskies take the floor next year.
Adams is a great player and he will likely be even better this season. But the loss of senior Rodney Purvis will hurt more than UConn fans may like to admit and it remains unclear how much scoring Terry Larrier will provide from the perimeter as he works back from an ACL tear.
Gilbert will be fully healthy and he is an excellent talent. If Adams and Gilbert can figure out their strengths and play together in the backcourt, they will be UConn’s greatest strength.
These are substantial question marks and, together, they present the very real possibility that the Huskies will have an equally bad season in 2017-18 as the one they just finished. Zoom out, and the program’s post-2014 trend is even more distressing. Take away Adams’ miraculous half-court heave in the 2016 American tournament and UConn would be currently staring at three consecutive missed NCAA tournaments.
In the words of Louis C.K., that is a compressed area of bad thought. Bad news spawns bad thought. Maybe Ollie and company have everything under control but to the rest of us, the immediate future isn’t looking rosy.