Kevin Ollie has received a crash course in just how hard it is to stay on college basketball’s mountaintop over the last two seasons. Ollie became one of the hottest names in coaching after Shabazz Napier willed UConn to its fourth national championship in 2014, but the Huskies have only won one NCAA Tournament game since.
The good news for UConn fans is that Ollie’s work on the recruiting trail has the program in position to again be in the national conversation. The Huskies welcome the country’s No. 8 recruiting class this year, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Alterique Gilbert. The class also includes 6’11 big man Juwan Durham, 6’8 shooter Vance Jackson, and bouncy forward Mamadou Diarra. It’s a badly needed talent infusion for a team that lost its best player (Daniel Hamilton) and two other starters.
The result is a team that aims to integrate youth with several key holdovers. Last time we saw Jalen Adams he was hitting a three-quarters court heave to save UConn’s season. As a sophomore, Adams will be expected to make a major leap as the team’s best player and potentially the biggest star in the American.
Center Amida Brimah also returns. A four-year contributor, Brimah is a long and athletic rim protector who would have finished with the best block rate in the country last season if not for a broken finger that limited him to 25 games. Rodney Purvis is back, as well. A McDonald’s All-American in 2012, Purvis led UConn in scoring last year and gives the Huskies a knockdown three-point shooter.
UConn will need its freshmen to step up and for Brimah and Purvis to fully realize the potential they’ve flashed throughout their college careers. If it happens, Ollie just might get the chance to show he hasn’t lost his touch in the postseason.
G Jalen Adams, sophomore
G Rodney Purvis, senior
SF Terry Larrier, RS sophomore
PF Juwan Durham, freshman
C Amida Brimah, senior
Key reserves: G Alterique Gilbert (freshman), F Kentan Facey (senior), C Steven Enoch (sophomore), F Vance Jackson (freshman), F Mamadou Diarra (freshman), G Christian Vital (freshman)
How UConn can succeed: Letting its guards lead the way with dribble penetration
UConn has always been synonymous with great guard play. From floor generals like Khalid El-Amin, Kemba Walker, and Napier to shooters like Ray Allen and Ben Gordon, UConn’s strength has historically been its backcourt. That will be the case once again.
Adams is in position to be the next great UConn point guard. He entered the program as the No. 25 recruit in the class of 2015 and made major strides as his freshman year progressed, posting a 20 percent assist rate and leading the team in steal rate. He’ll need to cut back on his turnovers and improve his outside shot, but those around the program believe he’s poised for big things.
The long-term expectations for Gilbert are similarly high. He’s a pinball of a point guard with elite top-end speed and the strength to bounce off defenders. If Adams and Gilbert each stay in school, this has the potential to be one of the country’s best backcourts for the next few years.
Purvis’ talent can’t be discounted, either. Once the "Ferrari in the garage" when UConn won the national title during his transfer year from NC State, Purvis’ fifth year in college could be the one that sees him put it all together. He should be the primary offensive option and get plenty of good looks with Adams and Gilbert feeding him the ball.
How UConn can go home early: None of the young big men are ready to step up
The biggest question for UConn coming into the season is who grabs the other frontcourt spot next to Brimah. There’s 6’8 VCU transfer Terry Larrier, but he’s more suited for the wing at 192 pounds. Freshmen Durham and Diarra, as well as the sophomore Enoch, all appear to be quality options, but UConn needs one of them to rise up and take the job.
Durham might be the most talented player in that group, but he hasn’t played basketball since February 2015 because of knee injuries, including a torn ACL. Diarra’s strength to battle inside is his biggest question mark, while Enoch averaged only 1.6 points per game last year.
Shooting is another concern. Larrier could be the shooter UConn needs, but only hit 26 percent of his threes at VCU. Adams got better from distance as the year went along but finished at only 27 percent from deep. UConn has the talent to make a run this year, but the Huskies will need things to break just right.