Secret scrimmages aside, the UConn men’s basketball team will take the floor as a unit for the first time this season in an exhibition against Southern Connecticut State on Friday night at Gampel Pavilion.
As the final tune-up before the regular season opener next week, Friday’s game will provide a valuable look at head coach Dan Hurley’s squad. But perhaps more notable than who will be playing is who will not be.
Redshirt freshman Sidney Wilson was suspended on Wednesday stemming from an incident of violating university policy that occurred last season. His status is unconfirmed, though he is not expected to play. Senior Jalen Adams is also currently suspended from a separate incident, and Hurley said on Thursday that Adams will be a “game-time decision” for Friday’s game.
“If I allow the best player on the team to just cut corners and do what he wants to do, we’re going to have a really soft, weak, losing team,” Hurley said on Thursday. “Culture is something you’ve got to fight for every day. Our culture is not where it needs to be. When you win 30 games in two years, it’s not just a talent issue, it’s not just one thing.”
Adams, UConn’s lead scorer from a year ago, and Wilson, an exciting newcomer, both figure to be key parts of the Huskies’ rotation this season. If only one or neither plays, whoever steps up to pick up the slack will be telling for the year ahead.
Redshirt sophomore Alterique Gilbert is a prime candidate for that role, having suffered season-ending shoulder injuries in each of his first two seasons at UConn. The Huskies’ offense was visibly diminished when Gilbert went down last year, and all reports say he’s been one of the best players on the team throughout the summer.
“[We hope to] have fun, just create some energy,” Gilbert said. “It’s a new start for everybody. I think it’ll be a great night.”
Junior Christian Vital rounds out UConn’s backcourt veterans, a guard who has shown tremendous potential but has struggled at times to facilitate the offense. Senior center Eric Cobb has reportedly made significant strides in the offseason, but it remains to be seen how those will translate in game action.
SCSU, a strong Division II presence, is coming off a 16-12 season in which it reached the second round of the NE10 Tournament. The Owls are an experienced group, with all four of their top scorers returning, including Isaiah McLeod who averaged over 20 points per game. That experience will pay dividends against a UConn team still searching for its identity.
SCSU is coached by UConn legend Scott Burrell, who will be inducted to the Huskies of Honor before the game. His No. 24 jersey will be lifted to the Gampel rafters during the ceremony.
Exhibition games usually present a fairly low-pressure environment for UConn, but Hurley stressed his team has be ready to play Friday.
“They’re quick, aggressive, they can shoot, scrappy,” Hurley said. “We’re bigger than them, but slower than them, we’re going to be chasing them around. It’s going to be a real game, there’s going to be some adversity.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.