Men’s Basketball: Three Huskies, last players from 2014 championship team, leave big shoes to fill

Senior Rodney Purvis completes a layup during the Huskies 64-49 victory over UCF on Sunday, Jam 8, 2016. The Huskies fell to SMU rival  69-49 on Thursday evening. (Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

There isn’t a whole lot going for the UConn men’s basketball team anymore. Three players transferred, their top recruit de-committed and the team finished with a losing record for the first time in 30 years. And on top of that, the graduating seniors—Amida Brimah, Kentan Facey and Rodney Purvis—are the last remnants of the revered 2013-14 NCAA championship team.

While Purvis never played that season due to the transfer rule, the contributions that Brimah made were the difference between a national championship and a slow slip into mediocrity for UConn.

Brimah began his UConn career in 2013-14, appearing in all 40 games and starting 17. His team-leading 2.3 blocks per game was 44th in the country that year, and his defense only continued to improve. While he never evolved into the best offensive player, he finished his college career at 10th in the country in blocks, averaging 2.64 per game. His three-point play in the final minute of the first round of the NCAA tournament against St. Joseph’s propelled UConn into overtime before they eventually pulled out a win.

His sophomore year was his breakout offensive year, scoring double-digit points on 15 separate occasions. His career 40-point performance against Coppin State, where he went 13-for-13 from the field, is the best shooting performance in UConn history. He averaged 10.5 points per game in 2014-15 and held a team-best 64.7 field goal percentage. His 4.4 rebounds per game was fourth on the team.

In his junior season, Brimah missed 11 games with a broken finger, effectively putting a halt on his progression as a player. Although his field goal percentage was at 66.3 by season’s end and his rebounds per game was up to 4.6, his points per game went down to 6.5 and it was clear that his injury hampered his development.

This season, though he was streaky, Brimah gave just about all you could ask for a player in his senior season. He averaged 7.6 points per game, recorded 87 blocks, pulled down 6.1 rebounds per game and had a 57.3 field goal percentage on 157 shots. In the mayhem endured among the injury-stricken Huskies, Brimah was the one stable force on the team, as he was the only player to start all 33 games.

Facey was not in the limelight much during his time at UConn. He appeared in 23 games his freshman year and even saw some time against Villanova in the NCAA tournament, but he was not an integral part of the run the Huskies made. He started 22 games his sophomore year, but only averaged 4.4 points per game.

Kentan Facey charges toward the basket during UConn's 73-59 win over Temple on Wednesday, Jan. 11 at Gampel Pavilion. (Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

His playing time dipped in his junior year, but it’s no secret that Facey’s senior season was his best. He averaged a career-best 8.5 points per game, a team-best and career-best 7.1 rebounds per game and recorded seven double-doubles. His performance dipped in the conference tournament, but his breakout year helped keep the Huskies afloat during a troubled season, keeping them in contention with his steady presence on the floor.

Perhaps one of the most bittersweet goodbyes will be to Purvis, a staple of the UConn offense since joining the team in 2014-15 after transferring from NC State. Purvis was a streaky player who took a lot of shots, but his propensity to shine in tournament play made him invaluable, especially to head coach Kevin Ollie, who constantly sang nothing but praise for him as a player and as a person.

In his redshirt sophomore year, he started 24 games and was second on the team in points per game with 11.6. His points per game shot up to 17.8 in conference tournament play, bolstered by a 29-point performance against SMU in the 2015 championship game, though the Huskies ultimately lost. He was the team’s best offensive player in 2015-16, averaging 12.8 points per game, and scored 34 points in three games in The American tournament to help lead UConn to their first ever American Athletic Conference title. He scored 36 points in two NCAA tournament games.

Purvis was a streaky player who took a lot of shots, but his propensity to shine in tournament play made him invaluable.

His senior season was full of ups and downs. He finished second in points per game behind Jalen Adams with 13.8, a career-best, but held a team-worst 37.2 field goal percentage and a 34.1 3-point percentage. His best games of the season came first against Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, going 6-for-15 from the floor and 5-for-12 from three to notch a team-best 21 points in UConn’s two-point victory, and then against USF in the first round of the conference tournament, scoring a career-high 30 points on 9-for-17 shooting, bolstered by a 9-for-10 day at the free throw line.

As Ollie and the rest of the Huskies are tasked with saving the program by bringing it back into relevance on the national stage, the three departing seniors will be leaving behind tough roles to fill.

Brimah undoubtedly has the biggest shoes to fill, as his presence in the post and his shot-blocking ability was a luxury UConn probably won’t be able to afford come next season. Purvis, while streaky, provided a wealth of senior leadership and contributed vastly to character building, which is something that Ollie is particularly big on. Facey was a pleasant surprise this season, and with the Huskies already struggling on the glass, Facey’s departure will make it that much more difficult to bring the team to the level that they need to be on.

With the last pieces of the 2013-14 championship team leaving for good, the performance of the 2017-18 team is critical to the future of UConn men’s basketball. The knowledge the team has gained from the seniors on dealing with adversity both on and off the court should give Ollie hope that the team will be healthy and ready for the coming season.


Stephanie Sheehan is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus, covering men’s basketball. She can be reached via email at stephanie.sheehan@uconn.edu. She tweets @steph_sheehan.