Miami Meets Shabazz: ‘Each Level Gets Tougher and Tougher’

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The Miami Heat have a lot of work to do this off-season, but they took a moment to welcome Shabazz Napier into the fold. He was formally introduced to Heat fans in Miami at a press conference on Monday.

Here are some highlights:.

 “I’ve been playing basketball since I was 5 ½. Of course, each level it gets tougher and tougher. You have to expect that. You’ve got to prepare yourself for those opportunities at hand. I’m not nervous at all. I’m definitely excited to get it going. … [There will] be games where I’m the man and it’s going to be games where I’m not the man. That’s how it was in college. You have to understand it’s what the game asks of you that day. If that day it was my job to get 12 rebounds, so be it.”

Here is a full story from our sister paper, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

No More Questions: Daniel Hamilton Is On Campus

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STORRS – Caught up with Daniel Hamilton briefly as his workout ended at Gampel on Monday. He arrived from LA last week, and began summer classes:

“I feel pretty good, first day of summer school. Everything went well. I’m excited to be here, excited to work [Kevin Ollie’s] camp last weekend. It’s just been a good experience since I’ve been here.

“ I was out there in Houston with my brother [Jordan Hamilton] a week ago, and we were just working out with James [Hardin], with Dwight [Howard], playing pick-up and stuff like that. And they were teaching me new things that I could do, to transfer to the college level.”

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Introducing the New Huskies: Rakim Lubin

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STORRS - Rakim Lubin has been a kind of mystery man for UConn. Little was known of him when he came to campus last September, watched the grueling first practice, and committed.

He was rarely, if ever, quoted in the media and he did not sign a letter of intent in November. But Lubin went about his business, averaging 21 points and 13 rebounds per game for Buford (Ga.) High. He signed his letter in the spring and arrived on campus last week.

Lubin, who rooms with Daniel Hamilton, looks a little shorter than 6-foot-8, but he has a broad, strong upper body, a player in the Jeff Adrien mold, perhaps. He said he had reached 265 pounds in the spring, but was down to 248 when he weighed in on Monday, as he finished his first day of classes.

Lubin was covered in sweat after a workout at Gampel Pavilion, and he talked for a few minutes.

On why he chose UConn after watching practice last Sept. 28:

“The coaching, and the way the guys stuck it out together. No matter how hard it got, they kept fighting and stayed together, and that’s the type of player I am. So I liked seeing that when I came in that first day.”

On watching the Huskies win the title:

“I was telling people the whole year that we were going to win it because we had the best point guard in college basketball. No one believed it. They thought Florida was going to win it. It was pretty good to rub that in.”

Why he signed when he did:

“For some reason, I just wanted to sign during the last period, but I knew who I committed to and I knew where I wanted to be. …”

Why he changed high schools:

“My academic level wasn’t where it needed to be in Alabama, The school in Buford was a pretty good academic school and they helped me get it up to where I needed to be to be NCAA eligible.”

 

How he can help the Huskies

“Physicality and a lot of rebounding, that’s my main thing right now, coming in my freshman year and getting a lot of board,

I watched a lot of games. The one I noticed big-time was the Florida game in the tournament. The big guy, Patric Young, he was a big guy and I was like ‘I could body up with him pretty good, it would be a fun matchup.’ Continue reading

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. …

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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.”

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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