Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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UConn officially announced the signing of its four-man class on Friday.
Guard Alterique Gilbert (Lithonia, Ga.), power forwards Mamadou Diarra (Queens, N.Y.) and Juwan Durham (Tampa, Fla.) and small forward Vance Jackson (Altadena, Calif.) make up what is considered by most recruiting services as one of the top recruiting classes in the country. It is the first time UConn has had a recruiting class including four players ranked in the Top 100 since the incoming freshman class of 2006-07.
“I think each of these student-athletes brings something different to the program, in terms of their basketball skills,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. “They don’t overlap each other, which I like in my classes. I don’t want two players just alike, because that’s not fair to the players or the program. We really look at versatility, players who can do a number of things on the court.”
Gilbert, a 5-11 point guard out of Miller Grover High School, is rated among the top 30 players nationally by most recruiting services. An exceptional athlete known for his tremendous speed, quickness, and strength, he averaged 18.5 points, 6.2 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.3 steals as a junior.
“Alterique can play either guard position,” Ollie said. “He is a prolific scorer, but also a great facilitator. He’s fast, and we like all our guards to have some tricks and he comes with a boatload of tricks. He’s hard to guard and I think he’ll be a great competitor, a great teammate and a great leader for us.”
Jackson, a 6-8 forward with a deadly longrange shot, was named the 2015 Long Beach Press-Telegram Dream Team Player of the Year after averaging 19.4 points and 7.1 rebounds for St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.). As a sophomore, he was teammates with current UConn sophomore Daniel Hamilton on a Bosco team that won the state championship. Jackson, rated a top 50 player, will play his senior season at Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif).
“We know that Vance is an exceptional shooter, but he has so much potential to improve in a lot of areas and I think he is dedicating himself to that,” Ollie said. “He’s an underrated passer and an underrated defender. I think he’s going to be an exceptional all-around player for us, who is going to open a lot of people’s eyes.”
Diarra, a 6-8 power forward who attends Putnam Science Academy (Putnam, Conn.) is explosive around the rim and is an outstanding rebounder at both ends of the court. He averaged 10.0 points and 7.5 rebounds last year to help Putnam Science to a 27-8 record.
“Mamadou is a very hard worker and an exceptional person,” Ollie said. “He is a tremendous athlete whose rebounding is getting better and better as days go by. I love his motor and I love his work ethic.”
Durham, a 6-9 power forward out of Tampa Preparatory School, was rated among the top 30 players in the country, despite having missed the last few weeks of his junior season with a knee injury. Until he was injured in February last year, he was averaging 22.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.7 blocks per game. He is extremely long and mobile and a tenacious rebounder.
“Juwan is a Mr.Versatility in a 6-9 frame,” Ollie said. “He can play on the perimeter, put the ball down on the floor, and he’s a terrific rebounder and shot-blocker. I think he’s going to be a stat-stuffer for us.”
Taken as a whole, the incoming freshmen form the highest-rated recruiting class in Ollie’s four-year tenure as UConn head coach.
“I think all of them have the potential to come in and be great players here, but like I always say, potential has got to become reality based on hard work,” Ollie said, “and I think they all have the mindset of being detailed hard workers. I think it’s going to be a special group when it’s all said and done after they finish their playing careers here at Storrs.”
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.