Point guards are on the court generals in basketball, directing plays and often having the ball in the biggest moments. They also face the most scrutiny. Alterique Gilbert is no different.
Gilbert started the year shooting 20.7% from the floor over five games, including a 14 point, 2-for-14 shooting performance in a double-overtime loss to No. 18 Xavier in the Charleston Classic. UConn fans took to Twitter to criticize the 22-year-old point guard. His head coach wasn’t going to have any of that.
“The reaction to his performance for me on social media from some people, some fans was shameful, despicable,” Dan Hurley said on Nov. 24, as reported by Neil Ostrout of the Journal Inquirer. “You’re not a fan of this program. You don’t even know what you’re watching. You haven’t spent enough time studying this game. You have no understanding of what makes a championship program.”
In the three games since, Gilbert has shot a stellar 50%, matching his total made shots from his first five games. In Wednesday’s 80-62 win over Iona, he scored 12 points on nine shots, including a 3-of-6 mark from 3-point range.
While those on the outside may have a lot to say, Gilbert only listens to those closest to him. Thanks to his teammates and coaches, his confidence has never wavered.
“I got a lot of good people around me,” Gilbert said. “A great staff and the guys I have around me in the locker room keep me uplifted, and I’m fine.”
Gilbert played in nine games between his first two seasons as a Husky before missing a chunk of time last year. As a “relatively inexperienced college,” according to Hurley, Gilbert has relearned the point guard position, better understands how he can impact a game and is improving game-by-game.
“I think it’s starting with practice though,” Gilbert said. “Just bringing a lot of energy, losing myself in the game and just having fun. I don’t have to have 30 points, 20 points or 15 shots. I can affect the game with my defense, my leadership, getting guys involved.”
Getting teammates involved is key for any point guard and Gilbert’s team-leading 37 assists back that up. Averaging 4.7 per game, Gilbert dropped 10 dimes against Iona while turning the ball over once.
“I love where it’s going with him,” Hurley said of Gilbert’s progression. “He’s so focused on his leadership and trying to make people around him better. It looks like he’s really starting to understand that position.”
Gilbert is starting to come into form. With his slow start behind him, his shooting percentages are on their way and he’s getting his teammates more involved possession-by-possession. For his backcourt mate and fellow senior, Christian Vital, he hasn’t seen much different in “one of the best point guards in college basketball.”
“I know who my point guard is,” Vital said. “I feel like we’re in a day and age where everyone has an opinion and they’re allowed to voice it, but me personally, I know who my point guard is. We understand each other.”
Gilbert’s next opportunity to prove the nay-sayers wrong will come on one of basketball’s biggest stages when UConn takes on Indiana at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 10.