Men’s Basketball: Freshmen coming together ahead of 2020

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James Bouknight dunks at First Night. Dan Hurley brought in a four-man recruiting class that included a pair of top-100 players in Akok and Bouknight.  Photo by Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus

James Bouknight dunks at First Night. Dan Hurley brought in a four-man recruiting class that included a pair of top-100 players in Akok and Bouknight. Photo by Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus

The future of UConn basketball lies in its youth and boy does the future look bright.

Ahead of his second year running the show in Storrs, Dan Hurley brought in a four-man recruiting class that included a pair of top-100 players in Akok and James Bouknight. With Jalen Gaffney turning a corner against Saint Peter’s, and continuing so against New Hampshire, the group has seemingly found its stride.

“Because they both come off the bench together, they’re going to be playing together and they’re going to be playing together a lot the next couple of years,” Hurley said on the young guards. “So they better get used to each other.”

Gaffney had a slow start to the season. An ankle injury sidelined him for all of the preseason and was averaging just north of 10 minutes, 1.7 points and 0.8 assists per game heading into his break-out night against Saint Peter’s. He put up a career-best 10 points and came a basket short from matching it against UNH. He was able to step into and make the first three-pointer of the day that got the Huskies back on track. The 6-foot-2 guard tallied five assists in each of the last two contests while playing roughly 20 minutes.

“We knew this was coming for him,” Hurley said. “It’s about patience and letting his body mature and mature as a person.”

Akok knew his classmate was going to have a big day.

I told [Jalen] he’s going to have a great game today,” Akok said. “It’s always great having contributions from everybody on the team.”

Bouknight was sidelined due to a suspension for the first three games of the year, but announced himself to the UConn Nation in the Charleston Classic. He’s since averaged 9.3 points and 3.0 boards per game and is continuing to elevate his game. Against UNH, Bouknight was one of four Huskies to reach double-digit points (14) and his total rebounds (7) looked more like his per-40 minute mark (6.9). He played a season-high 22 minutes.

The Brooklyn, N.Y. native is long and lengthy at 6-foot-4 and can jump out of the gym, which he nearly did on first-half block, his first block of his collegiate career. The most efficient shooter on the team (58.1 percent), Hurley says consistency is key for the young guard and is something Bouknight is starting to understand.

“I think what you see now is hopefully more nights like tonight,” Hurley said. “He had that incredible start, came back down to Earth a little bit and now I think he’s a lot more dialed into the way he needs to show up.”

Akok Akok was put on the fast-track to success when he enrolled a semester early. He earned a starting spot to open the season and has only gotten better with each game. The 6-foot-9 forward joined Bouknight as one of four double-digit scorers in the win over New Hampshire, matching a career-best with 12 points. 

Akok’s 27.7 minutes per game is the second-highest mark on the team. With his ability to block shots at a 3.20 per game clip (10th in the country heading into the game) and 4.6 per 40 minutes, it’s hard for Hurley to take him off the floor.

“He changes the game with the game with his defense, his energy, his length,” Hurley said. “It affects our opponent in so many ways.

The trio will have another opportunity to showcase their talents before the new year when the New Jersey Institute of Technology makes its first-ever appearance at the XL Center on Sunday Dec. 29.


Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kevin.arnold@uconn.edu. He tweets @karnold98.

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