When Tarin Smith arrived at UConn, he had a wall up around him. He describes himself as both an inward and outward person; he likes to read people first and wants to gain their respect before being a prominent voice on the court.
“Anywhere you go is tough to see where you fit in, tough to balance your personalities,” Smith said at Monday’s American Athletic Conference media day in Philadelphia.
And though his transition into the team hasn’t been seamless, he kept going back to one word to describe it: Fun.
“You know, you have your own insecurities, things that you kind of build up a wall around at first,” Smith said. “But day after day, the wall breaks down, you get to know guys for who they really are, you get to know coaching staff. That process has been fun in and of itself, and I think I can finally say now that the wall has really broken down. I treat these guys like they’re my family now, so it’s been a fun journey.”
Smith played against Dan Hurley’s URI team while he was at Nebraska and Duquesne. But how different is actually playing for Hurley?
“So much fun,” Smith said. “Practice every day is a war. You can’t go into practice lazy, halfway sleepy or you’ll get lit up. Practice has been fun every day, just competing, but it makes you better. I’ve only gotten better since I’ve gotten here playing against guys like [Jalen Adams], Alterique [Gilbert], [Christian Vital].”
Last season, the team’s guard depth was almost nonexistent. With Gilbert hurt, the rotation was limited to Adams, who averaged 38.1 minutes per game, grad transfer Antwoine Anderson, who averaged 7.4 points per game, and Vital. This year, assuming everyone stays healthy, there are five faces in the mix: Jalen Adams, Vital, Smith, Gilbert and Brendan Adams.
“I think everybody’s meshing well,” Jalen said. “At this point now, I think we’re clicking more than ever. I think our offense is looking great, defense is picking up. I think we’re clicking right around the right time.”
In the preseason coaches poll, UCF edged out Cincinnati for first place and UConn was fifth behind UCF, Cincy, Houston and Memphis. There’s a lot of room for movement in those rankings, which is why Hurley doesn’t really pay attention to them. He trusts his guards to carry the team.
“If Jalen Adams shows up as one of your best guards in the country, if Alterique Gilbert’s able to knock all that rust off, if Tarin and Christian Vital and Brendan Adams are able to form one of the best guard groups in terms of depth and play… what are we, fifth [in the rankings]? We may be able to be better than that,” Hurley said.
If one thing is certain about this UConn team, it’s that their guards will carve out the path that the rest of the teams follow. And Smith believes they’re ready for that responsibility.
“[Our guard depth] is gonna help us big time,” Smith said. “Our guard class is gonna be great. It’ll be really good for us to win a lot of games. We know that, we’re ready to prove that. We’re a hungry group, so we’re just ready to show that.”