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Josh Boone came to UConn partly for the chance to play with Emeka Okafor, and he has since evoked plenty of comparisons with the former Huskies star. Like Okafor, Boone, a 6'10" junior from Mount Airy, Md., was an under-the-radar recruit who was an excellent student (1,200 on his SAT). Both started out as defensive specialists. Last season Boone led the Big East in blocks (2.9), was third in rebounding (8.4 a game) and was named the league's defensive player of the year--the same award Okafor had won the previous two seasons. Boone even worked on his game over the summer with Justin Evanovich, a UConn assistant who became close friends with Okafor through hundreds of hours of off-season workouts.
Now Boone, who was second on the team in scoring (12.4 points a game) but just sixth in attempts, hopes to continue tracing Okafor's arc by showing an improved offensive game. If he's successful, he could end his career the same way Okafor did--by winning a national championship and then going high in the NBA draft. "The coaches have been telling me to shoot more since last year," Boone says. "I get cursed at every time I pass the ball if I'm close to the basket. Hopefully, it's going to start clicking in my head."
Joining Boone on UConn's formidable front line are sophomore forward Rudy Gay, who might be the most talented offensive player in the country, and 6'11" senior Hilton Armstrong. UConn also has two experienced wing scorers in 6'5" Rashad Anderson and 6'6" Denham Brown, both of whom are seniors. The Huskies' biggest question is at point guard. Marcus Williams, a 6'3" junior, was third in the nation in assists last season, but he's been suspended for the first semester after getting caught last summer trying to sell stolen laptops; he was fined $150, has agreed to 400 hours of community service and is serving 18 months' probation. His backup, 6'2" redshirt freshman A.J. Price, was suspended for the season for his role in that incident; he has a court date of Nov. 15.
Still, Williams should have no problem getting up to speed by March. Given the cast around him, the Huskies have plenty of reason to set their goals high. " Coach Calhoun's favorite line these days is, 'This team can really do some great things,'" Boone says. "I saw my freshman year what it takes to win a championship, and I can see [the ingredients] here again this year. All of us can." -- S.D.
2005 tournament: Lost in 2nd round to N.C. State