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.
After tumultuous season, retooled UConn looking to turn things around
Calling the UConn Huskies’ 2016-17 season tumultuous would be an understatement.
In November, UConn lost two key players — Alterique Gilbert and Terry Larrier — to season-ending injuries.
After finishing 16-17, three players opted to transfer, two key frontcourt players graduated, a coach departed the staff and the program’s top recruit asked to be released from his Letter of Intent so he could go elsewhere.
That’s not the type of season they’re used to up in Storrs, Conn., where the Huskies have won four NCAA championships since 1999.
“Coach [Kevin] Ollie, we met and he we took some time and one of the things he constantly talked about was identifying what a UConn man was, identifying how we wanted to play and we also talked a lot about culture and trying to figure out the right guys that were going to fit,” UConn assistant Dwayne Killings said on The 4 Quarters Podcast.
“I think we put all our heads together and started to look at some players that were out there.”
The Huskies went out and added Eric Cobb, a 6-foot-9, 285-pound junior college big man, whom Killings called a “tough kid,” as well as 6-7 junior college forward Kwintin Williams, who averaged 18 points and 8.3 rebounds per game at Pima Community College in Alaska.
The Huskies also brought in two fifth-year transfers in Fordham guard Antwoine Anderson (11.1 ppg, 3.2 apg) and Cornell forward David Onuorah (4.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg).
“We brought in two fifth-year seniors who I think are going to give us experience,” Killings said.
UConn also added three freshmen frontcourt players between 6-9 and 6-10 in Josh Carlton, Tyler Polley and Isaiah Whaley.
“I think when [Ollie] identified what we needed, which is to find the right guys, I think we’re all excited about the team that we have and putting these pieces together,” Killings said. “I think we found the right individuals and now we’re making them a team.”
That team will be whole now with the returns of Gilbert and Larrier, along with junior point guard Jalen Adams.
Gilbert (torn labrum) and Larrier (ACL) both went down in November, but the 6-foot Gilbert (10.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg) has been cleared and the 6-8 Larrier (13.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg) will be “fully cleared for the season,” Killings said.
“[Gilbert] looks great, I mean just his energy and his presence,” Killings said. “He’s a guy that guys gravitate to, guys wanna be around all the time, it’s great having him back. He’s one of those guys that, once he gets cleared he’s going full tilt.”
Larrier, a Bronx native, will also be a huge part of the Huskies.
“He’s such a big piece,” Killings said. “He’s in here in the weight room working his tail off this summer. It’s been really good to see him getting back in form, getting his confidence back and getting back on the floor. He is what we wanna be, we want to get out and play in transition. I think he’s one of the best open-floor transition guys that are out here….He wants to hit the floor running, literally.”
Meantime, the 6-3 Adams could have a huge junior season after averaging 14.4 points, 6.1 assists and 4.3 rebounds a year ago.
“What happened last year wasn’t what we planned on but what happened with Jalen was he was put into a role where he had to lead us on and off the floor,” Killings said. “And he grew as a person and as a player.”
Killings says this year’s Huskies will be “versatile, tough and really aggressive on both sides of the basketball.
“We’ll play a lot of man-to-man defense, which coach prides himself on well,” Killings said. “But then [Coach Ollie] is going to give [them] a ton of freedom on offenese. We’re going to try to run a lot. We’re going to get out there and play a fun style of basketball that fans are going to like.”
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 whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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.