UConn is the latest stop in Seth Davis' tour of college hoops camps.
STORRS, Conn. -- As UConn coach Jim Calhoun and I were walking together onto the practice floor at Gampel Pavilion on Tuesday afternoon, Marcus Williams, dressed in street clothes, was walking off of it. Williams, of course, is the 6-foot-3 junior point guard who is suspended for the first semester as a result of his role in trying to sell stolen laptops over the summer. He's still in school, but he's not allowed to practice with the team.
When Williams saw Calhoun, he brightened. "Hey coach," he said, "nice haircut."
Calhoun grinned and replied, "Thanks for noticing."
About 20 minutes later, with practice underway, Calhoun casually walked over to the bleachers and shook hands with Doug Wiggins, the all-state guard from East Hartford High who this week ignited a fire storm by de-committing from St. John's and saying he wanted to go to UConn. Coming just a week before the November signing period, the sudden switch has left St. John's coach NormRoberts fuming, while Calhoun has endured criticism about his recruiting ethics.
In other words, it was just another day at the office in Storrs.
If Calhoun was looking for a salve for his troubles, all he needed was to watch his Huskies in action. I saw more eye-popping plays in one hour of practice at UConn than in all my other preseason travels combined. Many of those plays were turned in by the Huskies' embarrassment of riches on the frontline -- 6-11 senior forward Hilton Armstrong, 6-10 junior Josh Boone and 6-9 sophomore Rudy Gay. Over the last decade, Calhoun has implemented an up-tempo system with tremendous results, and he now has what he says is his fastest team in more than 10 years. Scary thought.
Still, you don't win a national championship with highlight-reel plays, and this team is not without its concerns. Foremost is the question at point guard. It may surprise you to learn that redshirt freshman A.J. Price, who is suspended for the season because of his role in laptopgate, is the most talented point guard in this program. (And for the record, I am a long way from believing the rumors that Price is going to transfer. Associate head coach Tom Moore told me he spoke with Price's mother for two hours last week, going over the details of his return to campus in January.) Until Williams is eligible to compete in games in January, 6-3 freshman Craig Austrie will most likely be the Huskies' starter. Austrie has a good, strong body, and Calhoun has publicly professed confidence in him. But let's face it, if Calhoun were really that confident in either Austrie or freshman point guard Rob Garrison, he wouldn't have been so willing to take Wiggins -- especially knowing how much flak he would get for it.
The second concern with UConn is its best players are in the frontcourt. I noted the same thing when I visited Wake Forest last week. College basketball is a guard-dominated game, and outside of Williams and possibly Gay, UConn does not have a perimeter player who can consistently create his own shot and set up his teammates. Calhoun is hoping this is the year that seniors Rashad Anderson and Denham Brown show they're not just spot-up shooters, but until the games begin we won't know for sure.