As is tradition for the UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams, the Huskies will celebrate the start of their season with “First Night.” The event is designed to be centered around the players and the students, with only students and season ticket holders having access.
The festivities will begin around 2 p.m. on Friday, when students will first be able to line up outside of Gampel Pavilion to gain entry. At 5 p.m. UConn will be hosting a block party on Jim Calhoun Way, which will likely include food trucks and lawn games. An hour after the food trucks, doors will open. At 6:45 p.m. the show will begin, with a broad set of events. They typically start with player introductions to help the students get to know the players a bit better ahead of the season.
After, there will be a mix of a student half court challenge to win $10,000, a three point competition and a dunk contest that includes guest judges and potentially a mixed scrimmage.
Last year, there were supposed to be full-court scrimmages, but this did not happen because of a malfunction with the basketball hoops that prevented them from standing up, putting a considerable damper on the event.
The frontrunners for the three point contest are Azzi Fudd and Jordan Hawkins, both of whom are absolute sharpshooters. Fudd shot 43% from deep last year, which was with an injury that hampered her ability to get into a rhythm. Although that figure puts Fudd into the upper echelon of shooters, there’s reason to believe she could eclipse the 50% mark this year if she’s able to minimize her injuries. Hawkins only made a third of his threes last year, but his stroke from deep is pure enough to think that he should be able to hit around 40% this season. Similar to Fudd, consistency will be key for the sophomore breakout candidate.
For the dunk contest, Hawkins is the leading contender to take home the hardware on the men’s side, while women’s freshman Ayanna Patterson should raise some eyebrows with her ability to punch it home. Andre Jackson would have been right there too had he not injured his pinky. Hawkins was on the better end of some filthy posters last season, so students should get an in-person look at what he’s been working on over the summer. Although Patterson is yet to dunk it in game, she’s shown an ability to consistently do so in practice, a testament to her insane athleticism.
Looking ahead to each of the team’s outlooks for the season, the projections are as similar as they’ve been in several years.
For the men’s team, there are several question marks surrounding the Huskies. With so much turnover and four new transfers on the roster, the talent is there, but it’s unknown how well the team will gel together. Jackson and Hawkins look poised for breakout years while Adama Sanogo looks to extend the magic he had throughout the first portion of last season all the way through this year. Perhaps the biggest factor will be what Samson Johnson can do. The Togolese forward has all the tools but is yet to make an impact. If he shines, so will the Huskies.
The women’s team will be without former National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers, which lowers their ceiling considerably. There’s still plenty of talent on the team to make another championship run, but having Fudd and Caroline Ducharme step up will be key for any magic to happen. Fairfield transfer Lou Lopez-Senechal should also be able to make a jump with the increased competition level, but the biggest key? Finding a center who can rival South Carolina star Aliyah Boston when the teams play. Junior Aaliyah Edwards and freshman Ice Brady are contenders to do so, but only time will tell.
Regardless of anything else, as long as the hoops are able to stand and there aren’t any injuries, it should be a good night for all involved. The players will get to bring excitement to their respective teams, giving students a brief glimpse into what’s in store this season.