By Jackson Daignault ’18
University of Connecticut men’s basketball fans expect nothing but greatness.
From a team coming off an improbable 2014 March Madness run, and then an improbable American Athletic Conference championship, this team and their fans have nothing but high expectations.
Coming into this season, Huskie fans had championship hopes for their team, being ranked 18th in the country, but devastating injuries to VCU transfer Terry Larrier and four star recruits Alterique Gilbert and Mamadou Diarra have dampened these expectations.
Their opening record of 2-4 was the worst 6 game record for the Huskies since 1971, according to ESPN. The Huskies opened up with rough losses to unranked Wagner and Northeastern, as well as a scare against Division II Chaminade.
Since these close games, the Huskies have also escaped a close one against Boston University, putting their record at 3-4.
Although the team was young, the Huskies still believed they had a shot to win with senior leaders Amida Brimah and Rodney Purvis.
Despite this Huskies poor initial start to the season, it is far too early to give up on them.
Kevin Ollie is only in his fourth year of coaching at UConn, with one national championship under his belt. Ollie has yet to finish out a recruiting class, which is very important to the success of UConn. Although the Huskies have struggled out the gates this year, it is important for UConn fans to realize the brilliance of their current head coach. Ollie has coached UConn legends Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, among others. Ollie has consistently gotten the most out of his players, which is evident in his use of Deandre Daniels during the Huskies 2014 Tournament run, where Daniels averaged only 13.2 points per game during the regular season, but excelled in the NCAA tournament where he averaged 18.7 points and 6.3 rebounds.
If Ollie is able to replicate his success with Daniels with the rest of the 2016 Huskies squad, it will be a strong point of optimism for their season hopes.
On top of Kevin Ollie’s brilliance, this current Huskie team has plenty of other reasons for optimism. One of these is the strong recruiting class, which has been deemed as one of the best in UConn history.
Although the injury of Gilbert hurts the potential success of “Top 5” there are plenty of other strong candidates in this 2016 recruiting class. One of those players is Vance Jackson, who has played great to open his college basketball career.
Jackson has averaged 7.7 points per game in only 19.5 minutes a game. Although these numbers seem unimpressive for the four star recruit, he has thrived in games against Loyola Marymount, where he led the team with 14 points on 50% shooting, and against Chaminade, with 16 points on 55% shooting.
Jackson was not originally expected to contribute this year, but injuries to Gilbert and Larrier opened up time for him to succeed.
This window for Jackson is crucial to the Huskies success. Jackson is only a freshman and has had success in his limited playtime. It is very important for Kevin Ollie and the Huskies coaching staff to continue to develop him into an elite scorer and perimeter defender. If they can continue to coach him to his full potential, the Huskies could seriously turn around their season.
The most important factor in the Huskies season is the potential stardom of Jalen Adams. Many fans may know Adams from his full court shot against Cincinnati in the AAC tournament to send it to a fourth overtime in 2015.
Adams, only a sophomore, has absolutely torn it up this season, averaging 19.8 points per game, including a 34 point performance in a loss to Oklahoma State in the Maui Invitational. Adams was named to the All-Tournament team at the Maui Invitational, leading all players in points and assists.
It is very important for Adams to keep up his dominant play for the Huskies to turn their season around. Captain Rodney Purvis has shot 38% from the field, a disappointment for a UConn team who is relying heavily on its senior leader.
Adams has taken over that leadership role from Purvis, and will continue to do so in order to turn the Huskies season around.
If Adams can continue to shoot 54% from the field and keep his turnovers down, there is no reason the Huskies cannot be competitive this season, and ultimately turn their otherwise woeful season around.
Although there are definitely causes for concern with this young Huskie team, all hope is not lost. This season was supposed to be a building year for Kevin Ollie’s program, developing his young players and integrating them into his system. Although so far this season has been a disappointment, there is also plenty of reason for optimism, and ultimately the Huskies should be able to turn it around.
No matter the circumstances, never count the Huskies out. If they haven’t taught you so already.