The Big East's No. 2 assist man will be asked to score more for UConn this year.
Nov. 14 Western Carolina Nov. 17 Hartford Nov. 21-24 La Salle* Nov. 29 Bryant Dec. 1 Delaware State Dec. 4 at Buffalo Dec. 15 Stony Brook Dec. 20** at Gonzaga (in Seattle) Dec. 26 Fairfield Feb. 7 Michigan * Paradise Jam, in U.S. Virgin Islands (also Iona, Miami, San Diego, Southern Miss, Valparaiso, Wisconsin)
The Zags trekked East last season (and won by three); now the Huskies have to return the favor and fly West. The game features an intriguing battle of elite frontcourt duos: UConn's Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien vs. Gonzaga's Josh Heytvelt and Austin Daye.
Coach: Jim Calhoun (23rd year) 2007-08 record: 24-9 Big East record: 13-5 (4th) NCAA tournament: First round
*Returning starter **High school stats
A beleaguered guard, back from another injury, hopes his fifth try is the charm
In A.J. Price's college career, every season has ended badly. His firstat UConn, in 2004-05, was over before it started, when he suffered a nearlyfatal brain hemorrhage in October and was sidelined for the year. Price lost hissecond season after he was suspended following his arrest for attempting to sellstolen laptops. When he finally took the court in his third year, he was sorusty that, he says, "I had the worst season of my life," shooting just 27.3%from beyond the arc as the Huskies failed to earn even an NIT bid.
Last season, his fourth, Price finally started to deliver on his promise. Hewas second in the Big East in assists (5.9 per game), helped UConn earn aNo. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament and played well enough to spark talk ofearly entry into the NBA draft . . . before he tore his left ACL in afirst-round upset loss to San Diego.
In an April meeting with coach Jim Calhoun following his ACL surgery, Pricereceived zero sympathy. Says Calhoun, "A.J. felt bad for himself, and I toldhim, 'Tough s---.' Quite frankly, those things happen." Calhoun, who had battledprostate cancer in '03 and skin cancer in '07, had just been diagnosed with skincancer again, this time in his neck, and would undergo radiation treatment formuch of the summer. "I wasn't going to sit down and cry about [cancer]," saysCalhoun. "I fought it, and I wanted A.J. to do the same thing."
That took some convincing. When it came to hoops, Price was always a natural:He was a two-time high school state champion and a highly recruited point guardwithout spending untold hours in the gym or the weight room. Some of his badhabits remained at UConn. "That knee injury," says Calhoun, "made him stickaround and work for the first time." After six months of steady rehab Price sayshe's in the best shape of his life. He was cleared to play on Sept. 15,will not wear a knee brace and, remarkably, is quicker than he was beforetearing the ACL, according to numerous Huskies.
On occasion last season -- especially while shooting guard Jerome Dyson wassuspended for nine games in January and February -- Price simultaneously ran thepoint and served as UConn's lone offensive option, a far from desirablesituation. The backcourt is now stronger with the arrival of touted freshmanKemba (EZ Pass) Walker, who "can handle the point without us missing a beat," Price says. Calhounwill frequently use a three-guard lineup that gives Price the freedom to try toscore more than the 14.5 points he averaged last season. UConn is hopinghis offensive punch will help key a national title run -- which would give Price along-overdue happy ending. -- Luke Winn
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