When UConn takes on Cincinnati Thursday night, they Huskies will do so without one piece of their perimeter rotation.
According to Neill Ostrout of the Journal Inquirer, sophomore guard Sam Cassell Jr. will miss the game due to a stress fracture in his right tibia and is expected to be sidelined “for a few weeks.” Cassell’s averaging 3.9 points and 1.3 rebounds per game on the season, but like many of his teammates he’s struggled from a percentage standpoint as he’s shooting 27.6% from the field and 26.5% from beyond the arc on the season.
With junior Omar Calhoun returning to the rotation (and ultimately the starting lineup), Cassell’s minutes have been inconsistent in recent weeks. While Cassell played 22 minutes in the Huskies’ loss at Stanford January 17 and 13 minutes in a win over USF on Sunday, he played a total of 16 minutes in the other three games in the five games prior to this injury.
With Ryan Boatright, Daniel Hamilton and Calhoun making up the starting perimeter trio and Rodney Purvis and Terrence Samuel coming off the bench, UConn head coach Kevin Ollie has the pieces to account for the loss of Cassell.
Two newcomers step forward in UConn’s exhibition win
While the biggest talking point this offseason regarding UConn’s hopes of defending its national title has been how they’ll account for the loss of a group of seniors led by point guard Shabazz Napier, head coach Kevin Ollie also has a perimeter rotation that’s expected to be among the best in the country. Sunday afternoon in the team’s 68-59 exhibition victory over Assumption College, two perimeter newcomers stood out for a team that hasn’t been as consistent as Ollie would like them to be in their two dress rehearsals.
Junior college transfer Sam Cassell Jr. scored 18 points off the bench and freshman Daniel Hamilton contributed in multiple areas (12 points, 12 rebounds and six assists), with senior point guard Ryan Boatright scoring 17 (and dishing out four assists) to join them in double figures. Both players were expected to be impact newcomers for the Huskies, so their play in the exhibitions isn’t a surprise.
The next step is to get NC State transfer Rodney Purvis going, as he committed five turnovers Sunday. UConn was able to create more opportunities in the open floor, thus establishing the distance needed to handle Assumption. And following the game, Ollie made note of his desire to see the Huskies play with more energy than they have.
“We had a couple of guys who played UConn basketball,” he said, “and a couple of guys who didn’t. … I want our energy to get better. Players have got to step up. We’ve got to step up together as a team. Hopefully, we’ll do that on Friday.”
UConn opens its season Friday night against Bryant, and the team has work to do ahead of that matchup with Tim O’Shea’s Bulldogs. Yet even with that being the case, the play of Cassell and Hamilton is a positive the Huskies can take out of their exhibition performances.
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 20 UConn.
Newcomers: Rodney Purvis (transfer), Daniel Hamilton, Sam Cassell Jr.
– G: Ryan Boatright, Sr.
– G: Rodney Purvis, So.
– F: Daniel Hamilton, Fr.
– F: Phil Nolan, Jr.
– C: Amida Brimah, So.
– Bench: Omar Calhoun, Jr.; Sam Cassell Jr., Jr.; Kentan Facey, So.
They’ll be good because … : UConn will enter the season with one of the nation’s most talented back courts. The face of this year’s group is going to be Ryan Boatright. One of the most athletic point guards that you’ll ever come across, Boatright was one of the most important pieces to UConn’s national title run thanks to the nightmarish on-ball defense that he provided for Kevin Ollie’s club. And while Shabazz Napier — and, late in the season, Deandre Daniels, commanded all of the attention, it’s important to note that Boatright averaged 12.4 points, 3.5 boards and 3.4 assists as the No. 3 option.
He’ll be joined by N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis, a top 20 recruit coming out of high school that spent last season sitting out as a redshirt, and top 30 recruit Daniel Hamilton. Purvis has a chance to be one of the nation’s most improved players this season while Hamilton, the youngest brother of Gary (Miami), Jordan (Texas and now the NBA) and Isaac (UCLA), is a wing forward with a reputation for being a big-time scorer. That trio could match up with any back court in the country. Throw in sophomore Terrance Samuel, who had some big moments during UConn’s national title run, as well as Omar Calhoun and JuCo transfer Sam Cassell Jr., and the Huskies legitimately go six-deep on their perimeter.
But they might disappoint because … : As good as their back court is, it will be downright impossible to replace Shabazz Napier. And I’m not just talking about his ability to score or his knack for making a big shot in a bigger moment, I’m talking about the leadership that he provided and his presence in the locker room. Napier was a coach on the floor, a guy that ran this team and commanded the respect of his teammates. Doug McDermott was the rightful National Player of the Year last season, but Napier was every bit as valuable as him.
There are also question marks along UConn’s front line. There is no four-man that will be able to stretch the floor the way that Daniels did last season. Part of the reason that UConn was so difficult to guard was because Daniels could play the four defensively, but he was more-or-less a guard on the offensive end of the floor. Phil Nolan has beefed up this offseason and Amida Brimah has a chance to be the nation’s best shot-blocker at some point during his career, but neither of them are the kind of player that will scare an opposing coach offensively. And if that wasn’t enough, their only back ups are Kentan Facey, who struggled to see the floor as a freshman, and Rakim “Rock” Lubin, an incoming recruit that is built like a bulldozer but that wasn’t ranked in the Class of 2014.
Outlook: Just how good will Ryan Boatright be taking over the reins of this team? He’s a tremendous talent, one of the nation’s best on-ball defenders and a kid that can score 30 on any given night when he gets on a roll offensively, but he’s also a kid that has had maturity issues during his career and a habit of forcing some tough shots.
UConn has won two of the last four national titles thanks to the play of Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier, two of the best point guards that we’ve seen in recent years. But both Walker and Napier had their growing pains early on in their Husky careers. Throw in the fact that Kevin Ollie — and, for that matter, Napier — is more or less the prototype of what it means to be a leader at the point guard spot, and Boatright has spent the past two years learning from the best possible people on how to be the player that the Huskies need him to be this season.
He’ll have talent around him, but if the Huskies are going to win the American this season, it will be on the back of Boatright. It will be interesting, over the next five months, to see if Boatright can live up to those lofty standards.
1. Kadeem Allen, Arizona: The NJCAA National Player of the Year tallied 1,425 career points in his two first-team All-American seasons at Hutchinson Community College (Kansas). While the 6-foot-3 power guard likely won’t be in the starting five, he will a key scoring option coming off the bench. This past season with the Blue Dragons, he averaged 25.9 points per game.
2. Cinmeon Bowers, Auburn: An NCAA show-cause penalty didn’t stop Bruce Pearl from landing one of the top JuCo recruits in the country this past spring. The former Florida State signee averaged 12.4 points and 8.9 rebounds last season at Chipola Junior College (Florida) The Tigers lose their top scorer and their top rebounder from last season’s 14-16 team. Bowers can help in those departments, especially on the glass, where Auburn had one of the worst rebounding teams in the SEC.
3. Josh Gray, LSU: No Andre Stringer and no Anthony Hickey this season for an LSU program looking to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009. At Odessa College last season, Gray averaged 33.8 points and 5.9 assists per game. The former Texas Tech floor general, who averaged 9.3 points a night in 2012-2013, is joined by UNC Asheville transfer Keith Hornsby. The brand-new back court should compliment the frontline of sophomores Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin.
4. Jordan Goodman, New Mexico: After three commitments and a stint in Harcum College (Pennsylvania), the 6-foot-9 Goodman is set to begin his first season with the reigning Mountain West tournament champion. Goodman, a first-team All-American, has yet to be cleared for full-contact drills after having knee surgery this summer, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
5. Stephen Hurt, Kansas State: The former Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year used a year at Northwest Florida State to catapult himself into a highly-sought after forward. After committing to K-State, he’ll join a team looking to push back up the Big 12 Conference standings. The 6-foot-11 center averaged 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in his lone season in the JuCo ranks after transferring from Lipscomb.
6. Trahson Burrell & Chris Hawkins, Memphis: Josh Pastner brought in several JuCo recruits who could be contributors this season. The 6-foot-7 Burrell was cleared last month after posting 25.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game at Lee College (Texas). Hawkins, a JuCo forward, averaged 12.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game for the Tigers in their four games in Canada this summer.
7. Ivan Cruz Uceda, Miami: At 6-foot-10 Uceda gives the ‘Canes an inside presence. The ex-Harcum forward made an immediate impact on the glass in Miami’s trip to Spain, pulling down 11.0 boards per game. Uceda’s debut with Miami will be delayed until the second semester due to an NCAA rule.
8. Octavius Ellis, Cincinnati: Mick Cronin needs to replace the production left behind by Justin Jackson on the Cincy frontline. The 6-foot-10 forward Ellis, back in Bearcat uniform, averaged 14.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks as a first-team All-American at Trinity Valley Community College (Texas). He arrives in Cincinnati with another JuCo big, Coreontae DeBerry.
9. Dwayne Benjamin & Michael Chandler, Oregon: Three players dismissed and two more failing to enroll leaves plenty of opportunities for newcomers to make an impact on this Oregon team. The 6-foot-10 Chandler, a former four-star recruit, is the projected starting center while Benjamin can help out on the wing along with freshman Dillon Brooks.
10. Jeff Newberry, Oklahoma State: Phil Forte is back, but Marcus Smart and Markel Brown leave big holes to fill. Insert JuCo guard Jeff Newberry and LSU transfer Anthony Hickey. The 6-foot-2 Newberry could end up playing either guard position this season for Travis Ford’s new-look perimeter.
TEN MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON
Sam Cassell Jr., UConn: Son of the longtime NBA point guard adds depth to the UConn back court. Cassell was a first-team All-American in his only season at Chipola.
Gary Payton II, Oregon State: The son of the Hall of Famer enrolls as his father’s alma mater, where after a coaching change he will be looked upon to contribute right away.
Kevin Punter, Tennessee: The State Fair Community College product committed to Tennessee and new head coach Donnie Tyndall. Punter averaged 20.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.
Torian Graham and Devonta Pollard, Houston: The two-time N.C. State commit is joining Kelvin Sampson at Houston. Graham was once ranked No. 67 overall by Rivals. Former McDonald’s All-American and Alabama forward Devonta Pollard is also an addition for the Cougars this season.
Carlos Morris, Minnesota: The 6-foot-5 combo guard averaged 14.7 points 5.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game for Chipola. The former Rivals 150 guard can crack the Golden Gophers’ starting five.
Tom “Bush” Wamukota, Wichita State: The Shockers have a pair of All-American-caliber guards, but the 6-foot-11 Wamukota could be a lift on the frontline alongside Darius Carter.
Keith Thomas, St. John’s: The nation’s leading rebounder this past season at Westchester Community College (New York) hauled in 15.7 boards per game in addition to his 15.3 points a contest.
Willie Atwood, Arizona State: A season after returning to the NCAA tournament, the Sun Devils will bring in seven newcomers, four of whom are from the JuCo ranks. The 6-foot-8 Atwood was a All-American honorable mention selection, averaging 20.8 points per game for Connors State College (Oklahoma).
UConn losing senior point guard Shabazz Napier to graduation will absolutely hurt the Huskies’ chances at repeating for a national title next season. That much is obvious. But even though Kevin Ollie’s team is losing Napier to the Miami Heat next season, UConn could be in better position in terms of backcourt depth for next season.
The beginning of UConn’s semi-new-look backcourt is rising-senior guard Ryan Boatright. The 6-foot, ultra-quick guard averaged 32 minutes a game last year and turned up his play significantly in March and was a big reason UConn was able to make a run to the title. For as great as Napier was in the Tournament, he needed running mates like Boatright and another NBA Draft-defect, DeAndre Daniels, to play better and they did.
Boatright is a no-brainer to return to the starting lineup for UConn, but he’ll have a deeper amount of talented players around him this season than the minutes-heavy backcourt that had to play last year. Remember, Shabazz Napier averaged 35 minutes a game last season and UConn didn’t have many reliable options behind Boatright and Napier.
North Carolina State transfer Rodney Purvis redshirted last season after coming to Storrs after one season in the ACC. A former McDonald’s All-American, Purvis should be able to score and do damage off-the-dribble from game one next season. Neither Purvis or Boatright is a reliable point guard, but good luck stopping both of those guys from getting to the rim.
Replacing Napier in the point guard ranks will be junior college transfer Sam Cassell Jr. The 6-foot-4 son of former NBA veteran Sam Cassell, Cassell Jr., is already on campus and Kevin Ollie had positive things to say about him to Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant.
“Sam is doing excellent. He’s a hard worker, very mature kid. He’s embracing coaching. From all the things I’ve seen on and off the court, he’s going to fit right into our program,” Ollie said to Amore.
When you put those three guards together with a more experienced Terrence Samuel and UConn has a very deep backcourt heading into next season. They have four guards that have experience in college basketball and as Cassell Jr., noted to Amore, “We’re all different in some kind of way so we all can fit in.”
UConn is never going to replace Napier with one player but they’ll have two new pieces and two veterans returning and their backcourt should still be in great shape heading into next season.
UConn made a nice pickup on Wednesday morning as Sam Cassell Jr. announced that he had committed to Kevin Ollie and the Huskies.
“Blessed to say that I have committed to the University of Connecticut,” Cassell tweeted.
Cassell is, obviously, the son of former NBA star Sam Cassell. Originally a Maryland-signee, Cassell was a non-qualifier coming out of Notre Dame Prep. He’s spent the past two years at Chipola Junior College down in Tallahassee.
With Shabazz Napier graduating after the season and Ryan Boatright scheduled to be a senior in 2014-2015, UConn needed a ball-handler out of this class, and they got one. Coming out of high school, Cassell was the No. 146 player in the Class of 2012.