Graduate transfers put UConn back in title conversation
STORRS, Conn. (AP) UConn has added experience to an already veteran team, which is looking to bounce back from a disappointing season and perhaps make a run at a second national championship in three years.
After winning it all in 2014, the Huskies missed the NCAA Tournament last year, lost in the first round of the NIT and finished 20-15.
Coach Kevin Ollie responded by bringing in two graduate transfers who are expected to play major roles this season - guard Sterling Gibbs from Seton Hall and forward Shonn Miller from Cornell.
Gibbs, who began his career at Texas, is being asked to fill the point guard spot left vacant by the graduation of Ryan Boatright. Gibbs averaged 16.3 points and 3.8 assists at Seton Hall last season.
Miller, who won the team's annual slam-dunk contest, is expected to provide some help down low. He averaged 16.8 points and 8.5 rebounds last season and was named first-team All-Ivy League.
''Coming in with two fifth-year seniors is really going to help us,'' Ollie said. ''They've been through the wars.''
The Huskies also bring back a wealth of experience, led by 6-foot-7 sophomore swingman Daniel Hamilton, guard Rodney Purvis and 7-foot shot-blocking center Amida Brimah.
''We're really strong,'' Purvis said. ''We've got a whole team full of guys that can go get it and we all got better.''
Here are some keys to watch for during the Huskies' 2015-16 season:
NEWCOMERS: In addition to Gibbs and Miller, the Huskies also boast one of the nation's top recruiting classes. Guard Jalen Adams, who hails from Shabazz Napier's hometown of Roxbury, Massachusetts, has been pushing Gibbs during the preseason and is expected to see a lot of time at the point. He was picked at the conference's annual media day Tuesday as the preseason Rookie of the Year. But the biggest surprise of the offseason has been 6-foot-11 freshman Steve Enoch from Norwalk. ''He's big and he's skilled,'' said Ollie. ''He can shoot it outside, poised and he's a sponge. He wants to get better.''
BEACH TRAINING: Hamilton spent part of his summer back home in California playing pickup games with former Husky guard Marcus Williams and NBA players including Reggie Jackson, Chase Budinger and Trevor Ariza. ''Marcus Williams was showing me different stuff,'' he said. ''Chase Budinger was showing me how to come off down screens. I really learned a lot from those dudes.'' Hamilton averaged 10.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.7 assists as a freshman to become the AAC's Rookie of the Year. He said he has become more vocal in practice and is taking on a leadership role this season. ''He's going to be on everybody's list to stop,'' Ollie said.
RECOVERED: Guard Sam Cassell Jr. is hoping to become a consistent contributor after his first year at UConn was derailed by injury. The son of the former NBA star played in just 18 games in 2014-15 and was diagnosed in January with a stress fracture in his right tibia. Ollie is counting on him to be a 3-point threat this season.
DISTRACTIONS: Ollie acknowledges that last season was a tough one for him both professionally and personally. While the Huskies were struggling on the court, Ollie and his wife Stephanie, whom he met while both were UConn students, were going through a divorce after 16 years of marriage. Ollie credits his coaching staff with helping him get through the tough times.
SCHEDULE: UConn has again put together a tough out-of-conference schedule to help make up for being in a relatively weak conference. The Huskies will play in November in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament against Michigan, with the potential of facing former Big East rival Syracuse in the next round. Gonzaga, Washington, Texas A&M and Texas are on the other side of the bracket. The Huskies also face the Longhorns in Austin in December and have games scheduled against Maryland, Ohio State and another former Big East rival Georgetown.
This story has been corrected to show that the UConn's center's last name is spelled Brimah, not Brima.