A Conversation With Sam Cassell Jr.

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 STORRS - Sam Cassell Jr. has been taking summer courses at UConn since early June. Here are some highlights of an interview with him at Gampel Pavilion on Monday. Story to follow later on Courant.com

 How things are going:

“Everything is good. I’m enjoying it. I’ve been here about a month now, so I’m enjoying everything about it. … It was good for me to come here early, meeting some of the guys, feel out some of the coaching staff. I like everything about it. I love UConn.”

 His experiences, growth at Chipola College, waiting to play at UConn.

The whole year (2013-14), I was wishing I could be out there playing with those guys.

[In JuCo] I improved a lot mentally, physically. I’m smarter, I can handle the ball better, shoot the ball better. I’m playing defense better. My footwork is better. My overall game has gotten way better.

I graduated with a 3.0. I made myself proud and my mother proud.”

On recruiting, and Kevin Ollie: 

“On my visit [to UConn], it just felt like home. When I first got here, I texted my dad and my mom – this is the place for me. They told me to finish my visits, but I knew deep down I wanted to be a Husky.”

“I knew that KO was going to take care of me, push me to be the best player I can be.”

“I knew he wasn’t going to leave. He was always saying ‘its husky pride.’ I knew that was just rumors.”

[Kevin Ollie came to Tallahassee, Fla. On the day he committed] He did that on his own. In my mind I knew that was the day I was going to commit, and that’s the day he came down.

I visited Louisville, here, Missouri, Marquette.

It was [Olie's influence] and the team. I knew a lot of guys on the team, instead of being teammates we were like family. [Seeing UConn win the championship] was a wonderful feeling. Even though I wasn’t on the team, I know I’m coming on the team next year.” Continue reading

Newcomers Daniel Hamilton, Rakim Lubin, Arrive In Storrs

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UConn fans can rest easy. Daniel Hamilton is on campus, as is Rakim Lubin, the Huskies’ other incoming freshman.

Hamilton, a 6-foot-7 combo guard, never wavered in his commitment to UConn. He made an oral commitment in May of 2013, but did not want to sign a Letter of Intent. His brother was not allowed to transfer from Texas El-Paso, so the family did not want to sign a binding letter. Instead, Hamilton signed a financial aid agreement.

So there was all kinds of speculation. …  But, again, he never wavered about coming to UConn, as long as Kevin Ollie stayed. And Hamilton kept his word, arriving from Los Angeles on Tuesday night and enrolling for the summer session of classes that begins on Monday. He has been tweeting pics of his new teammates and surroundings.

Lubin, the power forward from Buford, Ga., committed in September of 2013 and signed a letter in the spring. Sam Cassell Jr. has been on campus, taking classes since June 2.

Shabazz Napier’s Stock Soaring As NBA Draft Nears

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Been working on a story for the Sunday Courant on Shabazz Napier’s prospects for the NBA Draft, which is less than a week away.

This much is crystal clear – his stock is rising, and his performance in the NCAA Tournament is a major reason.

“Before the tournament, I would have projected him as a mid- to late-second round pick,” one NBA personnel guy told me. “But in the tournament – holy cow … ”

Another league executive told me that after watching Napier for the first time – in the games in Madison Square Garden – he went back to his college scouts and asked, “Why aren’t we talking more about this guy?”

Perceptions changed. A source in an organization picking late in the first round told me they do not expect to find Napier still on the board.

The Celtics, who pick No. 17, brought Napier in for a high-profile workout this week. LeBron James has called via Twitter for the Heat to draft him, and if he gets to them at No. 26. At the White House, the president told Napier “there’s room for him on the Bulls,” which is the prez’s hometown team, and they pick 16th and 19th.

On Friday, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Napier has accepted an invitation to attend the Draft in the Green Room, which means he will be in New York for the various pre-draft activities. The NBA has expanded its list of invitees.

It all comes down to this: Napier is a winner, a take-charge guy on the floor, and once you get past the handful of truly elite players in a draft, the intangibles begin to matter. During the season, scouts could see that, but evaluation then is more about projecting a player’s physical skills and how they translate to the NBA. Napier, at 6-foot-1, wouldn’t have that “can’t-miss” look. But on the big stage, against the best competition, his mental toughness and other qualities become more prevalent. As Jim Calhoun said out at the golf course this week, “there’s no metric for seizing the moment.” For instance, Napier’s little shove of Ryan Boatright in the championship game caught some scouts’ eye. …

Continue reading

A Rematch With ‘Nova? Notes, Quotes From The Travelers

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I’m off at another assignment today, but our intrepid Colin McDonough was out at the Travelers for the Pro-Am event Wednesday and picked up some UConn basketball notes and quotes for me.

Here’s some stuff to chew on:

UConn has a couple of more out-of-conference games to fill, and there has been some talk that Villanova will be one, perhaps at a neutral site. The Huskies have long expressed interest in renewing some of the old Big East rivalries. Warde Manuel said, “Hopefully [the schedule] it will be finalized this week and we’ll be able to make an announcement, but we’ll continue to work…we always have had conversations with other Big East schools about playing and will continue to have those conversations and see what we do.”

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From Kevin Ollie:

“Duke [Dec. 18 at Izod Center] is going to be great, just like Florida, just like any other game. We love to play Duke, and get back into the New Jersey-New York area is always great. It’s going to be great to coach against Coach K, somebody I really respect.”

Continue reading

Duke Vs. UConn At The Meadowlands: Details Set, Game is Dec. 18, Tickets On Sale Friday

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Details are set for the UConn-Duke game at the Meadowlands, the Izod Arena

The game will be played Dec. 18, 2014 at 8 p.m., a Thursday night. Tickets will go on sale this Friday at 10 a.m. via ticketmaster and the Izod Center box office.

The chance to play Duke prompted UConn to do a lot of re-arranging, but it was too good to pass up. They ended up moving the trip to Stanford to the middle of the American Athletic Conference schedule on Jan. 17.

“We are very much looking forward to playing against Duke at the IZOD Center this December,” said UConn head coach Kevin Ollie. “Our series against Duke includes some of the most exciting and most meaningful games in UConn basketball history and we have the utmost respect for Coach Krzyzewski and his program. Plus, it will be wonderful to return to the IZOD Center, where UConn has a long history. It not only gives our fans in the New York-New Jersey area a chance to watch us play, but is close enough to allow our great fans from Connecticut to come and support us.”

From the Duke side:

“We are excited to have the opportunity to play Connecticut at the IZOD Center next season,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “We have a strong fan base in the New York / New Jersey area and I am sure Connecticut will have great fan support as well. It is always special to play in front of terrific crowds and it should be an outstanding game between two talented teams. Connecticut is obviously coming off a championship season and has excellent personnel returning. Coach Ollie has done a terrific job running the program and we look forward to the challenge.” Continue reading

Tickets For Jim Calhoun’s All-Star Basketball Game Go On Sale Friday

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Tickets for the Jim Calhoun Charity All-Star Basketball Game are going on sale Friday.

The game will be played at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Aug. 8 at 7:30 p.m.. The decision was made this past week to stay with the usual format, and have teams of former Huskies play one another. There had been plans to have a UConn team play alumni from other schools.

“With players from four national championship teams available – the traditional game format is back,” said Peter Gold, spokesman for the event.

The game has its NBA sanctioning, and a strong contingent of former Huskies is expected as always.

Tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m, priced $12 to $25. To purchase game tickets, call Ticketmaster at 1-800-345-7000, go to Ticketmaster.com, or visit the Mohegan Sun Box Office.

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This is from the press release:

 

Proceeds from the game and the entire Mohegan Sun / Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic will benefit The Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at UConn Health.

“Once again, I’m excited about bringing the Connecticut Basketball family back together for this game. It is a great way for me to reconnect with many of my former players, and I know they look forward to gathering together and playing in front of their longtime fans. As important, I’m so pleased that proceeds from the game will go to fight America’s No. 1 killer – heart disease,” Calhoun said.

Since 1999, the Mohegan Sun / Jim Calhoun Celebrity Classic has raised more than $6.5 million for cardiology research and life-saving care at The Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at UConn Health. The charity game’s title sponsor is Mohegan Sun and it is presented by Milestone Wines in association with XFINITY.

From The Cabinet: Coaches’ Bonuses Should Be Tied To Academics

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WASHINGTON – Having gotten to the White House briefing room early, I attended a presser with the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

Duncan, 50, was captain of the Harvard basketball team, and an academic All-American, and later played pro basketball in Australia.

So his thoughts on college basketball are certainly relevant, on the day the UConn men and women were honored at the White House, and Duncan was asked Monday about the NCAA and various issues being debated right now.

Just passing it along :

  

“… I do think student athletes, again, should not just be going to the institution to make millions of dollars for the institution and have no degree to show for it.  And I grew up playing with a lot of basketball players back home on the South Side of Chicago who did exactly that – didn’t quite make the NBA, came home, had nothing to show for it and had very tough lives.  And that was something that’s sort of indelibly marked from my experience.

      So making sure young people have a chance – yes, to play, but to be students first, athletes second, and holding universities accountable for that; having them have the chance to come back and earn their diploma at some point if they need to do that; and looking at sort of their long-term medical needs, or whatever. I think there’s some commonsense middle ground that folks can and should get to.

… Where I challenge universities and challenge university presidents and athletic directors and coaches, where [athletes] are being used to generate revenue for the coach and his salary; where they’re being used to generate revenue for the university, and no sense is given to the importance of their academic success – it is absolutely using, and I would say abusing those young men and women. 

     And the most important thing – if they can get that college degree, that changes their life forever.  We know a tiny, tiny percent make a nickel professionally.  They get that college degree,they have this huge opportunity in front of them.  If they don’t have that, if they compete for a couple years and go back to the streets with nothing, they have absolutely been used [by the college] and that’s not acceptable.

     We challenged the NCAA a couple years ago to raise college graduation rates in order to compete in the NCAA.  We got that through, they were very good about that.  Continue reading

From The White House: Transcript of the President’s Remarks On UConn

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WASHINGTON – The small group of musicians, members of the United States Marine Band, played the UConn fight song, and members of the national champions, the UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams, entered the East Room of the White House. They took their places on the risers, Stefanie Dolson precariously near the edge.

Then the president was announced at 4:24 p.m.. President Barack Obama entered and took the podium. From the office of the White House press secretary, Here is the full transcriopt of his remarks Monday:

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     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)  Everybody, have a seat, have a seat.  I’ve just got a few things to say here.  Welcome to the White House, first of all. 

     AUDIENCE:  Thank you.  (Laughter.)   

     THE PRESIDENT:  You’re pleased to be here, aren’t you?  (Laughter.)  I think we should give it up for the men’s and women’s national college basketball champions, the Connecticut Huskies!  (Applause.)  Now, I have to say that, as President, one of my goals has been to eliminate waste and cut out duplicative programs to make things a little more efficient, but this might be carrying things a little too far.  (Laughter.) 

     We have, as you might expect, some big Huskies fans here today, including some outstanding members of Congress.  I also want to recognize your university president, Susan Herbst — (applause) — your athletic director, Warde Manuel, and Larry McHugh, the chairman of your board of trustees.  Give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  And of course, you’ve got a couple of great coaches in what I called when we were meeting back there the grizzled veteran, Geno Auriemma — (laughter) — and the new blood, Kevin Ollie, both in the house.  (Applause.)  I can make that joke now that I’ve got gray hair.  (Laughter.)  

     Only once before, in 2004, has one school won both the men’s and women’s Division I titles.  And of course, that was who? 

     AUDIENCE:  UConn.

     THE PRESIDENT:  It was UConn.  This is the women’s ninth national title, more than any other women’s basketball team in history.  (Applause.)  For the men, it is their fourth title in the last 16 years, which is twice as many as anybody else during that same span of time.  (Applause.)  Which makes me think, what’s up with you guys?  Why aren’t you sharing?  It is just a remarkable thing what these two programs have accomplished. 

      Of course, this season the women went a perfect 40-0, won their games by an average of 34 points — so there was not a lot of suspense during their season.  (Laughter.)  In a championship game billed as one of the biggest in women’s basketball history, the Huskies routed the previously unbeaten Notre Dame — and gave me bragging rights — it gave me bragging rights to pick them in my bracket.  This was not hard.  (Laughter.)  I mean, me and 95 percent of the country.  And this marked the 5th time that UConn has finished a season as undefeated national champion. 

 

     Of course, a lot of this success belongs to Coach Geno, who has cemented his place as not only a legend in women’s basketball, but one of the best coaches that we’ve ever seen at any level and any sport, period.  (Applause.)  So we are grateful to have you.  Congratulations.  (Applause.) 

 

But I think Coach Auriemma would be the first to tell you that the credit goes to the players.  And these were just some outstanding young ladies.  You’ve got Breanna Stewart named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player two years in a row.  You’ve got Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who overcame injury and illness during the season, and came up big — as she is prone to do — during the tournament.  You’ve got Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley, who went on to become top-10 picks in the WNBA draft. 

And Stefanie, I did not forget that you challenged me to a dance-off last year.  It is going to happen.  It is going to happen.  (Laughter and applause.)  Don’t think that I — don’t think that you’re going to beat me on that.  (Laughter.)  I also appreciate that you told the world about it after the title game.  I have daughters in junior high and high school, and for their sake, I will not be dancing too much while the cameras are around.  (Laughter.) 

     Now, I also have to confess, I did not pick the men to win in my bracket.  (Laughter.)  Of course, neither did anybody else unless you went to UConn.  (Laughter.)  Look at these guys, they’re all raising their hand.  (Laughter.)  Come on now, tell the truth.  We were not counting on Shabazz Napier leading the way as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, and hitting big shot after big shot and locking down the perimeter defensively.  The Huskies also had huge contributions from guys like Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels, and Neils Giffey, who’s not here because he’s playing overseas. 

After the tournament wins over Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State, Florida, and Kentucky, UConn became the first seven-seed ever to win the title.  (Applause.)   And afterwards, Coach Ollie said, “Somebody told me we were Cinderellas” and I said, “no, we’re UConn” — that’s “what we do, bred to cut down nets.”  That’s Coach Ollie.  He’s always confident and calm and collected.  In fact, a sportswriter once referred to him as “our future President.”  (Laughter.)  I don’t know with a name like “Kevin” whether that’s possible.  (Laughter and applause.)  But who knows, anything could happen. 

     Now, Coach Ollie is doing one other important thing — he’s making sure his team hits the books as hard as they hit the boards.  And this season, both the men and the women ranked among the nation’s best academically and that’s worth applauding. (Applause.)

 

     Both teams have also done tremendous work in the community.  They’ve raised awareness for cancer and autism.  They’ve volunteered at senior centers, spent time with underprivileged youth.  Coach Ollie and Coach Auriemma spoke at the Pentagon last month as part of our Hoops for Troops program.  And last year, after the tragedy in Newtown, the men put on a clinic for kids at a local rec center — and they asked the media to keep it under wraps so the kids could just have a good time. 

 

     Finally, I want to take a moment to single out the women here, because I could not be more proud of the example that they present for my daughters.  They’re showing that just like the boys, girls can be tough, athletic, beautiful, successful, competitive and make fun of me, which is what my daughters do all the time.  (Laughter.)  So thank you guys for the outstanding example.  (Applause.) 

 

Congratulations to your championship Huskies.  (Applause.)  And this really isn’t goodbye probably, because I suspect I’ll see some of these folks again before I leave office.  So let’s strike the podium.  We’ll take some good pictures.  Come on.  And I know we’ve got some jersey presentations here.  Where’s my jersey?  (Laughter.)  

 

Bittersweet Farewells: Notes, Quotes From Outside The White House

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 WASHINGTON – After the UConn men’s and women’s teams were honored by President Obama in the East Room of the White House, they spoke for a few minutes in what they call the “stake out area,” outside the West Wing.

It was the first chance to catch up with DeAndre Daniels, since he announced his decision to leave UConn on April 25 and go to into the NBA Draft.

Daniels:

“It’s great to go out on top, win a national championship, and great to come here. But it’s another sad part. I definitely did not want to leave UConn, but I had to [make] the best decision. Just moving forward and take this whole process. I’m ready to make the next step in my life.”

“[After] sitting down with my family and the coaching staff and trying to figure out what was the best situation for me, me and my family kind of felt it was the best decision for me to leave.”

Daniels said he’s had seven workouts for NBA teams, and has seven more to go. Next up is Cleveland. He flew back to Connecticut on Sunday to be able to join his former teammates for the trip to Washington.

“I’m just enjoying this whole process,” he said. “It’s tough doing all this flying, all these workouts back to back, but this is basketball, this is what I signed up for.”

Shabazz Napier is going through the same process, with the draft a little more than two weeks away, on June 26.

“I’m just kind of taking it in stride. Not looking for best feedback. No, it’s never about [where you ate picked]. At the end of the day the point is to put myself in the best position possible. Continue to work hard and do the things I’ve done that got me here.”

As the players were leaving the East Room, Napier said, The President whispered to him that there is room for him on the Bulls, which is Obama’s favorite team.

 

At the podium, Obama lauded Kevin Ollie for having his team “hit the books as hard as they hit the boards.”

 

From Ollie:

“That’s what we want for our identity, coach Calhoun wanted that same identity. We want to go out and try to be special people, not just on the basketball court but in the classroom, being special in what we have to do. That’s what those guys do, it’s what makes them great student athletes and makes me proud to be their coach.

… President Obama is a person that always responds with courage and these are the kinds of things I tell them in practices, being steady in games, responding to adversity. President Obama does those things, and his humility, you see that each and every time he speaks he is always thanking others. That’s what we want our kids to understand each and every day they walk on our campus, when we are away visiting another team – it’s what they represent. They are doing a wonderful job of it so far.

… Growing up in Crenshaw, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be in the presence of the president of the United States, shaking his hand, doing the things I’ve been able to do. But it’s real simple, it’s w-o-r-k. When you work and do it the right way, great things happen to you, opportunities happen to you, doors open that you didn’t [think of], but you create it by doing everything right. That’s what we pride ourselves on.

And our guys looked sharp today. That brings a smile to my face, to see them in ties, representing the University, but also representing their parents and where they come from. It was a beautiful day. This is going to be the last time this group is going to be together and it’s sad, but also good, because it was a great group and a great time that we were able to perform throughout the season.”

(Updated) Report: Diamond Stone, But Not Malik Newman Making Unofficial Visit To UConn This Weekend [Scout.com]

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The “package deal” continues to be a target for UConn. The package includes a big man, Diamond Stone, from Milwaukee, and Malik Newman, a combo-guard from Jackson, Ms., who have expressed interest in choosing a college together. Scout.com recruiting analyst Evan Daniels originally reported, via Twitter:

“Diamond Stone tells me he is taking an unofficial visit to Connecticut with Malik Newman this weekend.”.

However, it now appears it will just be Stone. More from Daniels:

 “Just received a text message from Malik Newman in regards to visiting UConn this weekend: “I was, but I can’t now.” … It looks like it will be just Diamond Stone at UConn this weekend. Still a big deal for Kevin Ollie …”

Either way, it is, indeed, a positive development. UConn has invested a lot of time with both, considered  “five star” recruits, including in-home visits this spring. Kevin Ollie also squeezed in a trip to Milwaukee last season to see Stone play. They are both rated near the very top of the 2015 recruiting class, so if the Huskies were to land both, to go along with Will Jackson, they would be in excellent shape there.

Newman, 6-foot-3, and Stone, 6-10, became close friends playing on USA Basketball’s under-16 team in Uruguay last summer. Here’s a nice read on their relationship from the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

 

Another guard/big duo visited UConn earlier this week, guard Jalen Adams from Boston, who came to First Night last year, and big man Josh Sharma, 7-0, from Northfield Mt.Hermon. They are teammates on Rivals Basketball Club in New Hampshire.

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On another front, freshman Daniel Hamilton and Rakim Lubin are expected to start classes at UConn on June 30. I had the wrong date here the other day, my bad.