After redshirting his freshman year due to injury, this will essentially be Alterique Gilbert’s third year of action but it really feels like a senior year of sorts for the sharpshooting guard. Health has always been the biggest obstacle between Gilbert and stardom, having dealt with a slew of shoulder injuries that have caused him to miss time in all three seasons so far. Healthy Gilbert has the potential to be one of the most electric scorers in the country, able to both splash 3s from the outside as well as finish his trademark gravity-defying layups. Yet perhaps most encouraging from his play last season was his huge stride forward in playmaking, leading the team in assists (3.6 apg) and routinely showing some top-tier court vision. If Gilbert can keep the shoulder issues at bay and balance his facilitating and scoring, he will be one of the best guards in the conference.
The leading scorer amongst the returning Huskies, Chrisitan Vital is primed for a big year as one half of a dangerous backcourt duo. Nicknamed “Sniper,” the senior from Queens Village, N.Y. hit nearly 41% of his 3s a season ago en route to a 14.2 points per game clip. A lot of responsibility falls onto Vital’s shoulders, which is part of being a senior guard at UConn. He’s shown his ability to be a constant contributor in playing in 96 games as a Husky while climbing to 36th on UConn’s all-time scoring list. He was second on the team in rebounds and first in steals a season ago, so much of his focus this year will be finding a balance in growing as both a player and a leader. He was in Hurley’s doghouse for a portion of last season, but the two have since worked things out ahead of a promising final campaign in Storrs for Vital.
This season has the feel of a crucial year for Tyler Polley, as he looks to take the step from a role player to a primary contributor. As a sophomore last season, Polley started every game, averaging 8.4 points and 2.3 rebounds. But Polley’s involvement in the offense often hinged almost entirely on his outside shooting, and when his 3s weren’t falling, he often faded into the background, including the three-game stretch in the middle of season where he went 0-for-11 from beyond the arc. Though Polley may be the best pure shooter on the team, Hurley will ask him to be more than just a square-up shooter, and when Polley has used his size and driving ability, he has looked dangerous doing so. Though perhaps the least flashy name in UConn’s starting five, Polley taking the next step may be the most important piece to the team’s success.
Akok Akok made headlines across the state before he even played a minute of UConn basketball. He joined the program in January ahead of the rest of the 2019 recruiting class and has shown a tremendous desire to improve, according to Hurley. Between the extra time on campus, his work ethic and unforeseen circumstances surrounding the other three freshmen, Akok has progressed the furthest amongst the Husky rookies. He was expected to compete for a starting role when camp began and was amongst the starting five in both of UConn’s preseason exhibitions. The 6-foot-9 forward’s skills are still very raw, but he possesses great rim-protecting abilities (four blocks against St. Michael’s) and can stretch the floor with his outside shooting. Hurley said Akok will mostly provide “splash” plays (alley-oops, 3s) early on, but expects the young forward to become more involved in the offense as he refines his skills.
It was night and day for Josh Carlton from his freshman to sophomore season, doubling his point and rebound averages and earning co-AAC Most Improved Player honors. It wasn’t just that he got more minutes either – Carlton looked like a dominant force at times for the Huskies in the paint, and seemed to only get better as the season progressed. However, Hurley talked a lot about the need for Carlton to play with aggression and ferocity at all times, as opposed to in spurts. It’s been years since UConn has had an imposing inside presence, and Carlton certainly has the potential to be that. The arrival of Akok should relieve some defensive responsibilities on Carlton, but he’ll still be asked to take a major step forward defensively. Carlton has the potential to be UConn’s best center in years if he puts all the pieces together.