Much of it has to do with functions for donors, but the UConn AD will have decisions to make following the men’s basketball season and he is obviously making mental notes.
“We all know what the standards and expectations in men’s basketball are,” Benedict said as UConn was warming up on the court Sunday, “and it’s clear that, unfortunately, the last couple of years, we haven’t met that standard. ... Not having the personnel that we expected to have has definitely had an impact on that. But, listen, we’re going to get through next week and we’ll do a proper evaluation of where the program is headed.”
Paramount among the injuries to which Benedict referred, Alterique Gilbert, the highest rated recruit of the Kevin Ollie era, has been sidelined by recurring shoulder injuries, so UConn has not had a true point guard. “We’ve struggled without having a playmaker of that caliber the last couple of years,” Benedict said. The Huskies were 16-17 last season, and after a wave of transfers and eight new players came in, they are 14-17 going into the American Athletic Conference Tournament.
UConn had not had a sub-.500 season since 1986-87, Jim Calhoun’s first. Ollie, finishing his sixth season, is signed through 2021 and would have to be paid his full salary, roughly $10 million, if he were to be fired, unless some other agreement were reached. There is also an ongoing NCAA inquiry into the program’s recruiting, on which Benedict cannot comment.
Benedict’s evaluation process for all UConn’s athletic programs includes meetings with players.
“Last year I met with a lot of the kids,” he said. “I’m going to sit down and meet with the kids on the team and get their feedback directly, and certainly spend a lot of time with Coach. We had a long conversation [Saturday] night that went very well. But we’ve got to sit down and talk about all aspects of the program and how we see things moving forward. … The lifeblood of any program is recruiting and then, once you get the kids on campus, developing those student-athletes into players and a cohesive culture and if you do those things, typically, wins follow. What does it take to develop kids, recruit in a way that you can bring the type of kids to UConn that can impact winning? It comes down to recruiting, developing kids and putting those kids in the best position possible.”
Benedict signed Ollie to his current contract in 2016, following his fourth year. At that point, UConn had a 97-44 record under Ollie, with the 2014 NCAA title, the program’s fourth and second in four years, and the 2016 AAC title, and had a top-rated recruiting class. “Things were looking as they should in every way,” Benedict said.
The program was banned from postseason play during Ollie’s first season due to earlier sub-standard Academic Progress Rate (APR score), and had a graduation rate of 8 percent. Since then, UConn has posted perfect APR scores and its graduation rate has reached 67 percent.
“Of course it impacts [an evaluation],” Benedict said, “because you expect and want your kids to leave with degrees and Kevin has knocked it out of the park as it relates to his commitment to his kids going to class, putting time and effort into being successful on campus as students. The results speak for themselves in that area.”
But with attendance declining the last couple of seasons and the program’s fan base grumbling, it’s hard to get past the wins and losses with a program so accustomed to winning.
“When you come to a place like UConn, you don’t expect to hope to get to the tournament,” Benedict said. “You expect that it’s a foregone conclusion. Right now, it hasn’t been. It’s important we get that figured out because we need to be a tournament team.”
AAC Bracket Set: UConn Faces SMU
The Huskies are the No. 8 seed for the conference tournament, and will play ninth-seeded SMU on Thursday at noon at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. If UConn wins, it would play top seed Cincinnati at noon on Friday. If they reached the semifinals, No. 12 South Florida, No. 5 Memphis or No.4 Tulsa would be possible opponents. … Jalen Adams has scored 20 or more points in each of his last four games. He left the game Sunday, briefly, with cramps. “It happens in places where it’s really humid,” he said. … Rockets guards James Harden and Eric Gordon were at the game Sunday. Gordon played for Houston coach Kelvin Sampson at Indiana, and Harden joined the Rockets while Sampson was an assistant there. … Benedict said I-Heart radio’s anticipated bankruptcy filing should have “no impact at all” on UConn’s new radio agreement.
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