Husky new­com­ers ea­ger to com­pete

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - SPORTS - By David Borges dborges@nhreg­is­ter.com @DaveBorges on Twit­ter

STORRS » A year ago, UConn wel­comed in a much-bal­ly­hooed group of in­com­ing fresh­men so good — and so con­fi­dent — it gave it­self a nick­name: “Top Five.”

Now, only three of those five play­ers re­main with the pro­gram.

In part be­cause of that, the Huskies have an even big­ger group of new­com­ers this sea­son. Eight, to be ex­act — four true fresh­men, two ju­nior-col­lege trans­fers and a pair of grad trans­fers.

The Elite Eight? The Great Eight? Eight Ball? Nah, no nick­name nec­es­sary this time around. This group might not have the pedi­gree of the “Top Five,” but it’s an eclec­tic bunch of per­son­al­i­ties and tal­ents — some of whom will need to con­trib­ute right away.

“We all just need to keep work­ing and get­ting used to each other,” said David On­uo­rah, a

grad trans­fer from Cor­nell. “We have good play­ers here, we just need to keep jelling and push­ing to get gameready.”

There’s On­uo­rah, a 6-foot-9 shot-blocker who sat out at Cor­nell last sea­son for per­sonal rea­sons. There’s Ant­woine An­der­son, a grad trans­fer from Ford­ham with a knack for hit­ting buzzer-beat­ing shots.

There’s a cou­ple of big men who’ve had some per­sonal trou­bles in the past: Eric Cobb, who was dis­missed from the South Carolina men’s team two years ago af­ter be­ing ar­rested for fir­ing a BB gun at an oc­cu­pied ve­hi­cle, and Isa­iah Wha­ley, a fresh­man who was ar­rested on a shoplift­ing charge as a high school fresh­man.

There’s a pair of true fresh­man who might be a year or two away from ma­jor con­tri­bu­tions: Josh Carl­ton, a clas­sic, back-to-the-bas­ket big man, and Tyler Pol­ley, son of a for­mer NFL line­backer, known for his mid-range jumper.

There’s Sid­ney Wil­son, freshly ar­rived af­ter trans­fer­ring from St. John’s a cou­ple of weeks ago and hop­ing to get an (un­likely) waiver to play this sea­son.

And then there’s the kid from Alaska with the 45inch ver­ti­cal leap who has never played a sec­ond of D-1 col­lege bas­ket­ball, but is the old­est player on the team. Huh? Ladies and gen­tle­men, meet Kwintin Wil­liams, who may not be the most tal­ented of the eight new play­ers UConn welcomes to the pro­gram this sea­son, but could cer­tainly be the most in­trigu­ing.

Sto­ries of Wil­liams’s leap­ing prow­ess are leg­endary. He says he’s al­ready reached 12 feet on Ver­tiMax, and that his ul­ti­mate goal is to get his ver­ti­cal leap to 47 inches.

“It’s ab­surd,” Pol­ley said of Wil­liams’ ath­leti­cism. “In per­son, I’ve never seen any­body jump like that. It’s so ef­fort­less for him. He gets off the ground so quickly and ef­fort­lessly. It’s crazy.”

Wil­son was known as one of the most ath­letic play­ers in the Class of 2017. But even he is in awe of Wil­liams.

“He’s one of the most ath­letic guys I’ve ever played with,” said Wil­son, who, like Wil­liams, checks in at 6-7. “Me and him have had a lot of bat­tles. He re­ally gets up, so I’m re­ally im­pressed with his ath­leti­cism and he’s im­pressed with mine.”

Wil­son ac­knowl­edges, with a smile, that Wil­liams has him beaten in ath­leti­cism “right now. Just right now. I’ll get there.”

It’s been a cir­cuitous route for Wil­liams to get to Storrs. Born in Ok­la­homa City, he moved to Alaska with his mom at a young age. He moved back and forth be­tween Alaska and Ok­la­homa, where his dad lived, over the years, ul­ti­mately grad­u­at­ing from South An­chor­age High in Alaska, where he was an aca­demic non-qual­i­fier. (His mom was di­ag­nosed with colon can­cer dur­ing that time).

He would even­tu­ally land at Pima Com­mu­nity Col­lege in Ari­zona two years ago, av­er­ag­ing 18 points and 8.3 re­bounds per game. Wil­liams tried to trans­fer to Ari­zona Western, an­other ju­nior col­lege, but wasn’t able to en­roll. So, he re­turned to Pima, where he didn’t play last sea­son and in­stead con­cen­trated on his stud­ies. In Au­gust, he earned his de­gree from that school.

Wil­liams ar­rived at UConn about 2 ½ weeks ago.

“Ev­ery­thing’s great,” he said. “I didn’t re­al­ize how big of a pro­gram it was un­til I got here. It’s real se­ri­ous. I kicked into work­outs as soon as I got here, haven’t had much time to re­lax. It was straight to work­outs.”

Wil­liams is up­beat and well-spo­ken, al­ways mak­ing eye con­tact with his in­ter­viewer. What he can con­trib­ute on the floor re­mains to be seen, as he re­ally only has one year of JUCO ball un­der his belt. There is, of course, at least one thing he’ll be able to con­trib­ute — put-back dunks.

“It gets the whole team fired up,” he noted. “It’s a great feel­ing. It gets me fired up. I feel like it’s def­i­nitely worth more than two points.”

Iron­i­cally, this will be the first year in a long time that UConn won’t have a First Night, and its req­ui­site dunk con­test, due to ren­o­va­tions on Gam­pel Pavil­ion’s roof.

“I’m so up­set,” Wil­liams said, with a grin. “They didn’t tell me ‘til I got here.”

Would that have changed his de­ci­sion to come to UConn?

“Maybe just a lit­tle bit,” he added, tongue firmly in cheek. “Might have been a lit­tle bit of a deal-breaker.”

In truth, Wil­liams, who is room­ing with red­shirt ju­nior Terry Lar­rier and An­der­son, couldn’t be hap­pier where he is right now.

“We’ve got a bunch of great guys. We’ve got a lot of height, they’re clog­ging the lanes. It’s re­ally hard for me to get up the floor ev­ery now and then. I’m re­ally ex­cited. I’m happy I’m not the only new­comer. Ev­ery­body’s new with ev­ery­body, so I’m pretty much start­ing all over again, bond­ing. So far, they’ve wel­comed me with open arms and acted like I’ve been here a year or two. It’s def­i­nitely a good feel­ing.”

RIM RATTLINGS

• Wil­son is hop­ing for an NCAA waiver af­ter en­rolling in sum­mer school at St. John’s and be­gin­ning a course. He orig­i­nally pledged to the John­nies to be closer to his Bronx home. But Wil­son, whose mother passed away two years ago, quickly re­al­ized he needed to get fur­ther from home.

“The NCAA’s some­thing I can’t con­trol,” he said. “If they give me the waiver, I’m happy. If not, I’m gonna cheer my team­mates on this year and play next year.”

He added that he has not yet in­ter­viewed with the NCAA and isn’t sure if he will have to.

• Cobb, who checked in at 295 pounds a year ago, is down to 270. He said he lost much of it at Chipla Col­lege (a JUCO) last sea­son. As for his past trans­gres­sion, he said watch­ing South Carolina ad­vance to the Fi­nal Four last April taught him a les­son.

“It made me think, ‘You’ve got to stay fo­cused,’” he said. “I hum­bled my­self. I learned from my mis­takes, and it’s not gonna hap­pen again.”

Cobb added that Kevin Ol­lie has “sup­ported me and told me I’m good, and he’s got my back through ev­ery­thing. He’s ba­si­cally on my side, and I need that.”

• UConn’s an­nual Husky Run will be on Sept. 27. The team can of­fi­cially be­gin prac­tice two days later, but will in­stead start (per usual) the fol­low­ing Satur­day, Sept. 30.

• Gam­pel’s roof is near­ing com­ple­tion, but even when it’s done, it will likely take a cou­ple of weeks to clean the gym out and put down a new floor. It is ex­pected to be ready by the time UConn be­gins ex­hi­bi­tion games in early Novem­ber.

• UConn’s 2017-18 sched­ule will be re­leased on Fri­day at 11 a.m.

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