STORRS — Watching UConn play the past couple of years, one area of need has stood out.
Freshman Rakim Lubin, who began classes this week, envisions himself muscling his way into the Huskies mix.
"Physicality and a lot of rebounding, that's my main thing right now, coming in my freshman year and getting a lot of boards," Lubin said. "I watched a lot of games. The one I noticed big-time was the Florida game in the tournament. The big guy, Patric Young, he was a big guy and I was like, 'I could body up with him pretty good, it would be a fun matchup.'"
Matching teams with big, physical post players was not often fun for the Huskies. Of course, they managed to do just fine, finishing 20-10 in 2012-13 and 32-8 last season, winning the national championship. But someone who can take up space and wrest the ball from opponents is a welcome addition, and Lubin, listed at 6 feet 8 and 248 pounds, can certainly fill up the paint. Everybody calls him "Rock."
"He's going to be a great building block for us," coach Kevin Ollie said. "Just a great rebounder, big in every way imaginable. We can't wait for him to get here, he's got a great personality, too, so he's going to fit right in our locker room and be a guy that's going to bring a lot of leadership and a lot of muscle."
The Huskies averaged 34.9 rebounds a game last season, opponents 34.5. On the offensive boards, UConn was outrebounded 492-387. Shabazz Napier, a 6-1 point guard, led the team in rebounding until DeAndre Daniels surpassed him after the championship game, finishing with 6.0 to Napier's 5.9 a game. Lubin, as he learns the nuances and adjusts to the speed of the college game, has the potential to change that.
"When they couldn't get rebounds, they evened it out with the other things they did well," Lubin said. "But I looked at a lot of games and thought I could help in the post.
"When they recruited me, they came and saw that I was a good rebounder. [Ollie] came to me and said, 'Hey, we need a rebounder,' and I was like — that's what I'm trying to do, anyway, trying to get the most rebounds on the court. So I felt that it was a great fit for me, because they were looking for what I bring to the table."
Lubin played three years of high school at Gadsden City, Ala., then relocated to the Atlanta area and enrolled at Buford High. The new school provided stronger competition and a chance to improve his academics.
"My academic level wasn't where it needed to be in Alabama," Lubin said. "The school in Buford was a pretty good academic school and they helped me get it up to where I needed to be to be NCAA-eligible."
He averaged 19.2 points and 9.6 rebounds as a junior at Gadsden City. At Buford, Lubin averaged 21 and 13, and led his team to the state championship game. His coach, Allen Whitehart, described him as a "quiet kid, but a monster on the court."
"I got a lot of accolades this year, a lot more than I got in Alabama, which was pretty funny," Lubin said. "I played in Alabama for three years and they didn't hand out half the accolades that Georgia was handing out."
One reason, perhaps, was his health. Lubin had a back problem in the spring and summer of 2013, and as a result, he was low on the recruiting radar. UConn caught on, though, saw him play late in the summer as he was getting healthier and invited him for a visit.
Lubin went to Storrs and watched the most grueling day of the year — Ollie's first practice on Sept. 28. It didn't scare him off — he told UConn's coaches that night he was in.
"The coaching," he said, "and the way the guys stuck it out together. No matter how hard it got, they kept fighting and stayed together, and that's the type of player I am. So I liked seeing that when I came in that first day."
As he was getting healthy and getting his academics straightened out, Lubin did not sign a letter of intent in November. He waited until spring, and by then he was signing on with the national champions.
"I just wanted to sign during the last period," Lubin said. "But I knew who I committed to and I knew where I wanted to be. I was telling people the whole year that we were going to win it because we had the best point guard [Napier] in college basketball. No one believed it. They thought Florida was going to win it. It was pretty good to rub that in."