New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

A work in progress

Huskies boast great talent but must fix specific flaws

- By David Borges

STORRS — Adama Sanogo is a 6-foot-10, classic back-to-thebasket big man with great hands and a deft, inside scoring touch. He could be an NBA first-round draft pick next summer.

Andre Jackson is a freakish athlete, a defensive force and a beautiful distributo­r who could someday be a 6-6 point guard.

Isaiah Whaley is a multidimen­sional big man, Tyler Polley a serious 3-point threat. R.J. Cole a point guard who can really score ... we could go on and on.

Oh, and as for the freshmen? Put it this way: Dan Hurley has already practicall­y reserved space for two of them (Jordan Hawkins and Samson Johnson) on the wall of banners for UConn lottery picks.

The Huskies have talent. Lots of it. That’s why expectatio­ns are high this season. But, obviously, there are also flaws. There are no perfect players, and plenty of areas for UConn players to improve.

That’s why the Huskies worked out as a team all summer while many others weren’t, and why the official beginning of practices on Tuesday didn’t really feel all that different from the previous few months for Hurley.

“For us, I feel like the amount of effort we put in year-round to develop our players, to maximize every second we can spend with them,” Hurley said, “it gives us a greater advantage, hopefully, over other programs that don’t do quite as much as we do all year round.”

And so, while Sanogo has been the team’s best player, a “burgeoning great player,” per Hurley, he knows there are areas in which he must improve to become that NBA first-rounder.

He’s got to learn to pass better out of the double teams he’s sure to see a lot of this season. And, most importantl­y, he has to learn to stay out of foul trouble.

Sanogo averaged just 17 minutes per game last season, and while there are a few reasons for that, one of the main ones was a propensity to pick up fouls. He fouled out of two games last season and finished with four in five others. It’s an issue he must fix, and he knows how to fix it.

“Most of my fouls in the games (were) because I use my hands on defense,” Sanogo said

Tuesday. “So I’m working on defense without using my hands.”

And that, along with his positionin­g on the floor, is exactly what Hurley and his staff have been working on with Sanogo.

“You put him out in space more, work with him on his technique and fundamenta­ls of his defensive stance, being less handsy,” Hurley said. “Less handsy and moving his feet on the perimeter.”

“Every time I see him on the court, he’s getting better,” forward Isaiah Whaley said. “He’s getting more comfortabl­e passing out of double teams, and he’s making quicker moves.

He’s gonna be really good this year.”

With Jackson, the issue is even more obvious: shooting. More specifical­ly, 3-point shooting. He shot 41-percent from the floor as a freshman, but a mere 2-for-17 (11.8 percent) from 3.

“If he takes the right type of 3’s,” predicted Hurley, “I think he’ll make enough that people will have to respect him.”

But the fourth-year Husky head coach isn’t

overly worried.

“There’s like five, six, seven other things that this guy can do, at such an elite level, that the shooting kind of gets overstated,” Hurley said. “He should be one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. And he should be a playmaker at the defensive end, getting in passing lanes, big-time blocks, transition game. Offensivel­y, when this guy gets in the open court, you can’t load the paint against him. Offensive rebounder, elite-level stuff as a guy who can drive the ball, get downhill, see the floor and finish big at the rim. There’s so many things this guy can do, if he just sticks to the script on how he needs to play. Catch-and-shoot, rhythm 3’s, and stick to the script of these other things that he can do elite-level.”

Jackson appeared to have better form and a better touch in practice on Tuesday. His teammates have taken notice.

“He’s making shots,” Sanogo said. “If you don’t close out on him, he’s going to make shots.”

Making 3-point shots is a big theme for Hurley heading into the season. He wants — needs — his fourmen (Whaley, Johnson, Akok Akok, Richie

Springs) to hit 3’s and stretch defenses out.

Whaley has already shown the capacity to improve as a shooter. The 6-9, fifth-year senior didn’t even attempt a 3-pointer his first three seasons at UConn. Last year, upon urging from Hurley to stretch out his range, Whaley went 8-for-23 for a respectabl­e 34.8 percent rate.

How did he do it?

“Just repetition, coming in and putting a lot of shots up and continuing that,” Whaley said. “That’s what it takes to get better, just keep working on it. That’s what I’ve been trying to do every day, put as many shots up as I can and stick to it. That’s gonna help us, and it’s gonna help me.”

Whaley knows he needs to keep improving. As does Akok, a career 27 percent 3-point shooter who’s 18 months removed from Achilles tendon surgery.

Cole needs to be a better distributo­r and, after drawing Hurley’s ire in Tuesday’s practice, a better leader. Jalen Gaffney, a junior, needs to be more assertive and utilize his athleticis­m or risk being relegated behind younger players on the depth chart. Tyler Polley, once the program’s best 3-point shooter, needs to improve upon last year’s 35.5 rate, rebound better and not disappear for stretches of games.

Tyrese Martin, the team’s best rebounder, needs to finish around the rim better. A lot better. Richie Springs, who’s seen a mere 13 minutes of action over his first two years in the program, needs to do whatever he can to finally see the floor.

Oh, and as for those freshmen again?

“These guys are lost defensivel­y,” said Hurley, “and a lot of the toughness things, they’ve got to get better at in order for us to play them as much as they want to play.”

And that includes the “wall potential” duo of Johnson and Hawkins.

So much talent, so much potential ... yet still so much room for improvemen­t. That’s what the past four months were about, and what the next month will be about, as well.

“These next three, four weeks of practice, into the closed scrimmages, are going to determine roles to start the year,” Hurley said. “And those may even evolve, based on young guys coming along and what have you.”

 ?? Paul Doyle / Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? UConn men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley meets with his team during the Huskies’ first practice on Tuesday in Storrs.
Paul Doyle / Hearst Connecticu­t Media UConn men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley meets with his team during the Huskies’ first practice on Tuesday in Storrs.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States