Kuran Iverson

Memphis freshman Kuran Iverson grew up in Hartford and played at Northwest Catholic High School. (Jim Cowsert / USA Today Sports / February 1, 2014)

HARTFORD – Kuran Iverson is coming home Saturday, home to play basketball with family and friends there in support.

"Playing at the XL Center, it's like two minutes from my house," said Iverson, a freshman at Memphis who is growing into the college game. "I'm looking forward to seeing my mom and my baby brother and my family, and have their support whether I play two minutes, or five minutes or 40 minutes."

Iverson, who played at Northwest Catholic where he helped his team reach the Class L title game twice and was The Courant's player of the year in 2012, learned to adjust to life away from home, playing a season at Fishburne Military School in Virginia. Now at Memphis, he is learning the speed of the college game.

"He's getting better every day," coach Josh Pastner said. "It may not show in the minutes he's playing right now, but he's working in practice and he's learning the right way to play. I think he's going to be a great player for us. … I know he wants to play, but he can't have a 'woe is me' approach. It doesn't happen overnight."

Iverson, who once considered UConn his No. 1 priority, is settling in. He has played in 17 of the Tigers 24 games, averaging 9.8 minutes, 2.6 points, 1.8 rebounds. He got in for a minute during UConn's 83-73 win over Memphis at the FedExForum on Jan. 16, but Iverson's minutes have been increasing over the past couple of weeks, and he could get more on Saturday because Pastner suspended 6-10 Dominic Woodson for using inappropriate language after Memphis' win over UCF on Wednesday.

"I've never sat on the bench this much in my life," Iverson said by phone after Memphis' practice on Thursday. "But I'm not going to complain about it. I'm going to keep working, stick it out until it's my time."

During his time at Northwest Catholic, Iverson's ranking as a recruit went high, low, high again. Iverson took unofficial visits to UConn and attended several games at the XL Center, but the recruiting match never seemed to be there, and interest waned on both ends. Eventually, he looked toward Florida and Memphis.

"Coach [Kevin] Ollie and I are cool," Iverson said. "We have a good relationship. UConn was my No. 1 priority at one time, because it was close to home. But then maybe it wouldn't have been good because it's close to home."

The year at Fishburne, a military school, helped Iverson with his academics and gave him discipline and structure. On the court, he averaged 17.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists to help his team reach the national prep school quarterfinals.

"This discipline there helped me," Iverson said. "When I got [to Memphis], I was more mature. I pretty much do everything on my own now."

Memphis' size could be a challenge to UConn, which is coming off an 83-40 win over South Florida Wednesday. Shaq Goodwin, Austin Nichols, Nick King and David Pellom like the up-tempo offense. At 6 feet 10, Iverson could become the fast, athletic big man to complement the others.

"I'm working to get in better shape," Iverson said, "so that next year, I won't have the ups and downs, I'll just be on track right from the start."

Ollie predicted the Tigers would come to Hartford with "revenge on their minds" after losing to the Huskies on their home court. Iverson said the team low-keys such things. UConn and Memphis are both 19-5, but UConn (7-4) trailed Memphis (8-3) by a game in the American Athletic Conference standings, so this is a pivotal game.

"We tell ourselves after every game, 'next game,' " Iverson said. "Life is too short to moan and pout, just get the next game."

Iverson expects to have about 20 family and friends at the XL Center to watch the game on Saturday. One who would have loved to see a Hartford kid play on that floor is Walter "Doc" Hurley, who died this week at 91. He had been planning to attend.

"I'd see him every time I went to Weaver," Iverson said. "I'd shake his hand every time I saw him. I never got to speak with him, but I heard so much. He was a great man, and he's in a better place now. I'll be praying for him and his family."

Naismith Cut

UConn's Shabazz Napier made the 30-man midseason cut for the Naismith Trophy, the player of the year award presented by the Atlanta Tip-Off Club.

Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick, Memphis' Joe Jackson and Louisville's Russ Smith are other AAC players to make the final 30. Four finalists will be announced in March, and the winner named on April 6.