Men’s Basketball: Newcomers for a new era

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It’s a new era for UConn basketball. The program is rejoining the Big East Conference after seven years in the American, a move that the team hopes will turn the page to a brighter future filled with NCAA Tournament runs like fans became accustomed to in the Jim Calhoun era. The team even introduced a new uniform design over the weekend to reinforce this new era.

But changing the uniforms and the aesthetic of the team can only get you so far. It’s the players who make the difference, and the Huskies have some new players who can absolutely help get this program back on top. 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of talented returning players on the team, including potential All-American James Bouknight and sharpshooter Tyler Polley. But it’s the four newcomers who are really going to give this team an extra edge. They include freshmen Andre Jackson, Javonte Brown and Adama Sanogo, and junior transfer Tyrese Martin. 

Martin is the most established player of this group, having played 63 games over the past two seasons at Rhode Island. As a sophomore, the 6-foot-6 wing started all 30 games for the Rams and averaged 12.8 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. After receiving a waiver that will allow him to play right away at UConn, he will look to make a big impact and will likely begin the season playing big minutes. 

“I feel like the experience is there and what to expect going into college basketball,” Martin said last Friday on a Zoom call. “But now, here being at UConn, it’s a higher level obviously, so I have to do things differently. The expectations are greater and higher from the coaching staff’s standpoint. So I feel like now it’s just all about doing what I have to do on the court and off the court to make sure I excel and to help the team be successful.” 

Martin originally committed to play for coach Dan Hurley at URI, but Hurley ended up leaving to come to UConn before Martin’s freshman year. Now the two are reunited, and Martin is really looking forward to finally playing for Hurley. 

“Definitely the passion and energy and excitement he brings every day to his players and to practice, and even off the court … that’s very important,” Martin said. “I feel like he does a great job of that and that really feeds off to the players.” 

Martin said he had a great experience at URI, but he decided to transfer because UConn gave him an opportunity unlike any other school to develop his game and prepare him for the next level. 

Jackson is another 6-foot-6 wing who will likely play a big role for the Huskies this season. After having surgery to fix up his meniscus a few months ago, he said he’s feeling really good now and is ready to make an impact. 

“I feel like the adjustment [to college] has been going pretty good,” Jackson said on a Zoom call. “I feel like it’s taught me how to get into a routine and really take basketball as a job. Being around coach Hurley and the other coaches really is inspiring, seeing their passion for the game and seeing everybody on the campus is so dialed into the game. It helps you focus.” 

Jackson said he is learning a lot from the older players on the team so far. Particularly, he said Bouknight and RJ Cole have been great mentors to him. Jackson has a similar skillset to Bouknight, and many people, including Jackson himself, believe he can have a similar impact that Bouknight had on the team last year as a freshman. 

“I definitely feel like I can make a big impact as a freshman,” Jackson said. “[Bouknight’s] scoring average was like 20 points or something like that. I’m not sure how many points I’m gonna be scoring, but I know I’m gonna make an impact whether that’s on defense, whether that’s rebounding. Whatever I need to do.” 

As for Brown and Sanogo, they are joining a solid frontcourt, where they will look to provide depth and versatility. Sanogo knows he and Brown are going to have to earn their minutes with so many options. 

“We have a lot of big guys, but I think we gotta keep listening to our coaches and do what they want us to do,” Sanogo said on the Zoom call. “I think we’re gonna do good.” 

At 6-foot-9, 245 pounds, Sanogo has an imposing frame for a freshman and could potentially hold down the paint in a smaller lineup. However, he said he still has to work on his defense and his jump shot. 

For Brown, he believes it’s his size and youth that make him stand out from the pack. 

At 7 feet tall, Brown is the tallest player listed on the Huskies’ roster, but he said he needs to develop his strength and his understanding of different schemes. If he develops the way he has the potential to, he is the center of the future. 

“I think I bring my length because we don’t really have a true 7-footer on the frontcourt,” Brown said on Friday’s Zoom call. “I bring in length and I bring youth because I’m a young player. I got into college at 17.” 

A native of Toronto, Brown wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to get on campus with the Canadian border shut down due to COVID-19. But he was able to get here, and he — like all the newcomers — is very excited to get started with full practices this week in preparation for the late November start. 

“It’s been something I’ve been waiting on a long while,” Brown said. “So hearing that [the season] is coming earlier than expected is definitely an excitement for me.” 

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