The 2017-18 UConn men’s basketball team is dealing with significant turnover. Head coach Kevin Ollie will only have two scholarship players that played the entire 2016-17 season in guards Jalen Adams and Christian Vital.
Alterique Gilbert, Terry Larrier and Mamadou Diarra, who combined to play just seven games last season, round out the roster’s returning scholarship players.
The rest are newcomers, and all were introduced to the media Thursday at the Werth Family Basketball Champions Center. Two are graduate students: guard Antwoine Anderson from Fordham, and forward David Onuorah from Cornell.
Two are junior college transfers: forwards Eric Cobb and Kwintin Williams. The other four are freshmen, and all forwards: Josh Carlton, Tyler Polley, Isaiah Whaley and Sidney Wilson (guard/forward). Wilson’s eligibility remains up in the air, as he decided to transfer from St. John’s just a few weeks ago.
With seven new forwards in tow, and a massive gap in the frontcourt with the graduation of Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah, many of the newcomers should be pushed into action early. Several will carve out significant roles. The question is: Which ones?
“We’re all basketball players, and we’re all still learning how to play with each other day by day,” Onuorah said Thursday.
Onuorah seems like a good bet to earn a lion’s share of the minutes at either the four or the five-spot. He’s entering his fifth year of Division I ball after four years in the Ivy League and comes to UConn for his graduate year from Cornell, like Shonn Miller did two years ago.
“I think I bring a sense of hard work. I’m a fifth-year [player] so I think I have that leadership, leading by example,” Onuorah said.
Joining him are junior college (JUCO) transfers Williams and Cobb. Williams has gone viral for his tremendous vertical leaping ability; he said Tuesday that’s working towards a 46-inch vertical. He’ll bring athleticism to both the perimeter and paint, and should replace some of the alley-oop production with Brimah gone.
“We have really good guards here this year, and I’m really looking forward to the season starting and catching those lobs,” Williams said. “[The guards] said they’re coming.”
Cobb emphasized a different kind of quality that he could potentially bring to the table.
“Toughness. That’s the main part. Just toughness,” Cobb said.
The four freshmen joined the program at different times. Carlton and Polley were a part of the initial three-man class with Makai Ashton-Langford, who requested a release from his letter-of-intent with UConn and decided to sign with Providence instead.
Both players are ready to get to work and try to earn time on the court.
“It doesn’t deter me at all [that I’m the youngest guy competing for minutes],” Carlton said. “If anything, these older guys are looking out [for me] and giving me advice. We’re all here now and we’re all competing for the same thing.”
Polley is quietly confident in his ability to stand out from his fellow newcomers and make an impression on his coaching staff.
“I think I’m kind of underrated in the class of 2017. I think I should be recognized more, that’s my opinion. But I like the competition in the class and I think our class is one of the best right now,” Polley said.
Whaley committed later, choosing to join the program in May after a season at Mt. Zion Prep. That hasn’t stopped him from settling in quickly, and despite the competition for playing time, he emphasized the program’s sense of community.
“Everybody’s like a big family and I wasn’t really expecting that. Especially coming off the year UConn had last year, I didn’t really know what to expect. Everybody’s just here and determined for a way better year, and everyone wants it way more,” Whaley said.
Wilson is the wild card. He decided to leave St. John’s at the very end of August for personal reasons. About a week later Wilson was enrolled at UConn, with the school ready to work with the NCAA to see if they can work out a waiver to grant him immediate eligibility to play in Storrs. As of Thursday, even Wilson was in the dark.
“I’m going day-by-day, being open-minded about the process,” Wilson said. “I may or may not have an interview with the NCAA, I’m just not sure.”
If he does join the team this season, he’s ready to make things happen immediately.
“Things are going real well [since I got here]. Getting acclimated, all of the coaches have been great, my teammates have been great. My teammates push me on and off the court, so I’m feeling like they’re doing a good job,” Wilson said.