G Jalen Adams (So.)
G Rodney Purvis (Sr.)
F Terry Larrier (So.)
F Juwan Durham (Fr.)
C Amida Brimah (Sr.)
Bench: G Alterique Gilbert (Fr.), F Kentan Facey (Sr.), F Vance Jackson (Fr.), C Steven Enoch (So.), F Mamadou Diarra (Fr.), G Christian Vital (Fr.)
It was a shot heard round the world from an unlikely source, and a shot that would birth the legend of the newest member of a lineage of greats. The American Athletic Conference planted its postseason tournament in Orlando. No matter where the AAC locates its version of March Madness, it will still inconvenience nearly all of the members of its collection of conference realignment odd-men-out. But the sparse Amway Center crowd on a Friday afternoon was treated to one of the dandies of Championship Week in the headliner matchup between Cincinnati and UConn. The lasting image, of course, will forever be a banked-in three-quarter court shot by Jalen Adams to force a fourth overtime as the Bearcats simultaneously celebrated a supposed game-winning trey from Kevin Johnson. That iconic heave was just a small portion of what proved to be Adams’ coming out party that day, going 8-16 from the field and dropping a career-high 22 points. Remember, the Huskies were no tourney lock at this point, and their at-large hopes were hanging in the balance. So essentially with the veteran UConn team’s season on the line, they repeatedly turned to their freshman point guard averaging 7 points a night at the most critical junctures. There wouldn’t have even been a third overtime without his difficult driving layup in the closing moments of the second extra period. Bottom line: Jalen Adams had staked his arrival in college basketball, and that March afternoon was a mere precursor to what we will witness throughout the 2016-17 campaign.
Probably not coincidentally, Roxbury, Massachusetts also produced Shabazz Napier. Adams will be following in the footsteps of what has become a UConn tradition and the vitality of its program. A.J. Price guided a memorable Husky team to a Final Four. He handed the baton off to Kemba, which goes without being said. Shabazz succeeded him, bookending his college career with national titles. Adams is next in line, and the ’16-’17 version of the Huskies will travel as far as the shifty Brewster Academy product will carry them. Toughness is a parallel in this lineage of Connecticut floor generals, but each, naturally, is equipped with a uniqueness to his game. What makes Adams click is his playground-aggressive mindset on the offensive end that takes a back seat to no one. The now-sophomore guard never messes around with the ball in his possession as he relentlessly attacks downhill directly towards the rim. Even if he can’t get by his defender completely, if he’s even, he’s won, thanks to proficient touch and unteachable creativity on his floaters and a Kyrie-like knack to avoid shot blockers by contorting his body, adjusting, and going high off the glass.
The jumper certainly remains a work in progress (27% from deep), but even with defenders’ sagging off and lack of respect for his outside shot, his perpetual downhill attack and quick crossovers were always too much too handle, with opponents constantly finding themselves on their heels. The likes of Amida Brimah, Kentan Facey, and Juwan Durham provide nice lob targets for the inevitability of the waterbug Adams drawing help, and penetrate and kick will be no issue with him initiating the offense. The entirety of the Huskies’ offense, and essentially their season, will begin and end with their lead guard once again. It’s Jalen Adams’ turn to make his imprint in the annals of UConn Basketball, and he may one day be thought of in the same light as the Kemba’s of the world.
We shift gears after the tangent on the lineage of UConn point guards. A 4-year starter and National Champion in 2004, Denham Brown is one of the many unsung heroes of Connecticut basketball of this millenium and was part of the original pipeline of Canadian college players. “BY GEORGE….THE DREAM IS ALIVE” was delayed 5 minutes by his reverse layup as time expired in the 2006 Elite Eight, which was nearly wiped out by Hilton Armstrong stupidity, in one of the most memorable games of my lifetime. Many stars spanned the career of Brown, but he was the glue that held Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, and Rudy Gay, among others, together. Please, allow Bill Raftery to ask, “What can Brown do for you?”