The "Hungry Huskies," as defined by Shabazz Napier, won their championship. Next season, there will be a new team, a new theme, a new trophy to pursue.
Will the 2014-15 UConn men's basketball team be better? Could they be even hungrier?
Now that DeAndre Daniels, who is leaving for the NBA draft, and Ryan Boatright, who is staying for his senior season, have made their decisions, the roster and character of the next UConn team can begin to take shape.
Will there be a "hangover effect?" Players who did not play a big role this past season figure to be driven to make their own mark. "I see us getting back here," freshman Terrence Samuel said in the aftermath of the victory against Kentucky in the final.
Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander are graduating as seniors, Lasan Kromah's one-year hitch as a post-grad is over and Daniels is departing. That accounts for 64.5 percent of the Huskies' scoring this past season, 54.7 percent of the rebounds and 57.9 percent of the minutes across the 40 games. All that will have to come from somewhere else.
Among the newcomers, Rodney Purvis is the key. He started 23 games as a freshman at N.C. State in 2012-13, averaging 8.3 points and 25 minutes a game. After transferring to UConn, he had to sit out last season, and he had shoulder surgery. Coach Kevin Ollie has called him "a Ferrari in the garage I can't use," but that changes now.
If Purvis is healthy and ready, he would give the Huskies an elite player, hungry to prove something, without the freshman inexperience issues, to go with Boatright in the backcourt. Terrence Samuel, who found a niche late in his freshman year, comes in as a sophomore ready to compete for playing time, and Sam Cassell Jr., son of the longtime NBA point guard, arrives after two years, one season playing at the junior college level, not a freshman type, either.
So the backcourt should again be strong and smart, and deeper than this past season; it's just a matter of the guards establishing their roles and learning to play together. That doesn't figure to take long on an Ollie-coached team. It's a core that should have the Huskies in the national conversation from the start of the season.
The frontcourt will sorely miss Daniels, who came on in the tournament and caught Napier in the rebounding column, although he averaged a modest 6.0 for the season. The Huskies were very effective in the tournament when Ollie went to a smaller, three-guard lineup, but that works best when a coach wants to do it, not when he has to do it.
The Huskies will be counting on big-time improvement from Amida Brimah, 7 feet, who made an impact as a shot-blocker as a freshman. Brimah, though, had surgery Friday to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder and will lose the summer, an important time for a sophomore-to-be to develop his game. UConn will have to find a way around that. Phil Nolan, who split time with Brimah, continues to get better and more solid on defense.
In the postseason, the Huskies finally settled on Giffey on the wing, and his proficiency in shooting the three-pointer often gave defenses one thing too many to think about. How to replace that? Omar Calhoun can be that type of player, and more, if he makes a comeback from his frustrating sophomore season. Calhoun averaged 10.3 points a game as a freshman, but lost his starting job in late December of 2013 and by the end of the season barely played at all. He lost last summer, recovering from surgery on both hips; with this summer to work, Calhoun, who has said emphatically that he intends to return to UConn, can compete for his old job.
Daniels, though inconsistent for much of his UConn career, is a unique player, with the quickness and skills of a small forward, and he handled the power forward spot and was difficult to defend. Incoming freshman Daniel Hamilton, who has signed a financial aid agreement but not yet a binding letter of intent, seems to have the all-around offensive game to fill part of that void, although he describes himself as more of a shooting guard/small forward type. Kentan Facey, who did not play much as a freshman, could be the frontcourt player UConn will need, if he can develop his offensive skills. He did have 41 rebounds in 121 minutes on the floor.
The Huskies also have a commitment, but not a signed letter, from Rakim Lubin of Buford, Ga., who at 6-8 and 240, has the brawn they need, but if he comes will deal with the freshman's inexperience.
Just as Andre Drummond appeared after the Huskies last championship, there is no telling who might yet be on the team next year, given the program's current appeal. With Daniels' departure, and the possibility floating this week that Leon Tolksdorf could transfer to a mid-major for more playing time, there could be room if the coaches revisit remaining Class of 2014 recruits, or find a grad-student transfer to their liking. After Kromah and R.J. Evans the year before, they would undoubtedly be open to that idea.
One thing the Huskies should have next season is unquestioned leadership. Boatright returns as the lone senior, with the keys to the ignition all to himself and credibility that comes with all he did, especially as a defender, in the NCAA Tournament.
"The growth and maturity he has shown throughout his career has been wonderful," Ollie said last week, "and I expect that to continue."Copyright © 2015, CT Now