Huskies’ depth at guard a huge plus
STORRS — The point guard is a former McDonald’s All- American, a shifty ballhandler and elite playmaker who draws some comparisons to Kemba Walker.
The shooting guard is as hot and cold as anyone around — but when he’s hot, look out! And he’s pretty good on the boards, too.
Then there’s the savvy grad transfer who provides veteran leadership and can truly fill up a box score, and a freshman who doesn’t play like a freshman at all.
Oh, and of course, don’t forget Jalen Adams — the best player on the team and probably the entire American Athletic Conference, as well.
UConn, which hosts UMKC on Sunday at Gampel Pavilion ( 5 p. m., SNY) has the deepest backcourt in the league and one of the deepest in the country this season. It’s a huge depar-
ture from a year ago, when injuries and other factors left the Huskies with just three true guards for most of the season.
This year’s depth is imperative for Dan Hurley, who had one of the deepest backcourts in the country last season at Rhode Island.
“It’s huge for us,” said Hurley. “It’s rare in the first year of a rebuild where you get to have the depth at such critical positions. My particular style of play ... is guardoriented. So much of it’s predicated on putting pressure on the opponent’s offense, extending the defense and getting the ball down the court quickly. To be able to have that in the first year, and to have older players, too, it’s a key.”
When Alterique Gilbert, the aforementioned former McDonald’s All- American point guard, went down with a shoulder injury last season, the Huskies’ guard depth took a hit. All that was left was Adams, Christian Vital and grad transfer Antwoine Anderson, who was brought in to be a role player off the bench but wound up playing more than 31 minutes per game. Adams led the league with 38.4 minutes per game and Vital wasn’t far behind at 34.4 in league play.
It all added up to a hot mess ( and certainly helped hasten Kevin Ollie’s dismissal).
Now, with five talented guards healthy and at his disposal, Hurley can allocate the minutes better. And that will allow the Huskies to play an uptempo style more, and not have to worry about players wearing down come February and March.
“It definitely takes a lot of pressure off us,” said Gilbert, “knowing that we’ve got a lot of backcourt mates that can make plays and create opportunities for each other.”
In Thursday night’s season- opening, 80- 70 win over Morehead State, Gilbert and Vital each played 30 minutes and freshman Brendan Adams played 20 off the bench. Jalen Adams dealt with foul trouble all night and played just 22 minutes, which forced grad transfer Tarin Smith to
play 31 — about five more than Hurley would have liked, the coach confessed afterwards.
Smith certainly made the most of his minutes, scoring 12 points, doling out four assists and grabbing four rebounds. The 6- foot- 3 guard also picked up a charge and played intense defense.
Hurley knew what he was doing when he wooed Smith to finish his career with a season at UConn. Smith had played for Bob Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony High in New Jersey and played against Dan Hurley when Hurley coached URI and Smith was at Duquesne. Smith was named the Atlantic- 10’ s Sixth Man of the Year last season.
“He’s a winning player,” Hurley said. “He does so many things for you. He’s got a nose for the ball, he’s strong, he’s athletic, you can put him on the other team’s best perimeter player. He can get in the paint, spray the ball around, finish at the rim.”
Brendan Adams hit just two shots Thursday night, but they were both welltimed 3- pointers in the second half as UConn kept pesky Morehead State at bay. Adams initially pledged to Hurley at URI but de- committed and joined him in Storrs after Hurley replaced Ollie in March.
Vital didn’t shoot well on Thursday but grabbed eight rebounds. He’ll continue to be a spark. And Jalen Adams, despite his limited minutes, still scored 16 points.
Then there was Gilbert. He began the game with a pretty feed to Josh Carlton for a fast- break layup and had four assists within the first 10 minutes. That’s all he finished with, but he also hit a pair of 3- pointers, finished with 15 points and showed the sellout crowd what it’s been missing the past two seasons, when Gilbert’s been limited to just nine total games due to shoulder woes.
“It felt great, just to have the opportunity to be back out there,” Gilbert said. “I felt blessed. I thank my teammates for giving me a lot of energy and picking me up.”