Husky newcomers eager to compete
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.”
• 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.