Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lightning in a Bottle

As UConn fans sulk as the top tier high school basketball players traverse to other campuses, be assured that it does not spell mediocrity for the Connecticut basketball program. Sure, talent is a major piece to winning, especially at the highest level, but the last several years have shown that parody has indeed equaled out the playing field. No longer can a team cruise through regular season and tournaments without coming up against a team with equal or better talent on the court on that particular day. There are so many talented basketball players that aren’t ranked on some scouts lists, that a team like Butler can make it through a field of 64 and get into the Championship game.

The top 100 recruits are based on individual statistics but basketball isn’t about the individual, it is about the team concept. The United States has the best talent of basketball players in the world, but even when they were assembled, they had a tough time beating more experienced and well rounded teams. It wasn’t until they understood that they were lacking the team chemistry developed through countless hours of practice and game experience that had that propelled them back into the number one spot. As with the one and done players, the talent alone can not take you over the top.

If you mix the top level with a solid core of experienced players, then you have a recipe for a championship caliber squad. The team that UConn has built is one of a semi-experienced frontcourt that has yet to live up to everyone’s expectations. The backcourt has an NBA prospect in Kemba Walker and an experienced role player in Donnell Beverly, but other then that the team is a total unknown. From afar and by what we do know, this team is not a championship caliber squad yet. They look to have a mix of players that when they are juniors and seniors will be among the best in their conference.

Another aspect that UConn fans must consider is Jim Calhoun’s track record at finding those hidden gems. The Emeka Okafor and Hasheem Thabeet of the basketball world that can elevate a team to the next level. Maybe Roscoe Smith, Michael Bradley, and Maurice Harkless are one of those talents that Calhoun can mold into a super star.

But the greatness of sports in general is the “lightning in the bottle” season, like the one that Syracuse had. Maybe Majok develops into an elite frontline player like Curtis Kelly did last season, maybe Coombs-McDaniel finds his jumper consistently and develops into a ten to fifteen point scorer, or Oriakhi becomes the beast inside that his frame suggests he could become, and Smith and Trice might show an ability to contribute off the bench. Sure there are a lot of questions among this team, but all the answers aren’t going to be ‘none of the above’.

If this team can find it's identity, which it struggled to do last season, then they have a good chance at grinding out games. They’ll definitely need to lean heavily on their defense, keeping games in the low seventies as much as possible. They have enough talent, though unfulfilled at the moment, to compete in the conference. They just need to show it on the court. An one and done caliber player could put this team into contention from the start, but they have enough room for improvement to be there by the end of the year. In this day and age of college basketball, you don’t need a handful of McDonald’s All-Americans to make noise in the post season, you just need a solid core, great coaching, and a little lightning.

No comments: