Rough Offseason Has UConn Reeling, But Team Remains Hopeful in 2012-13Posted by EJacoby on June 21st, 2012
Breaking news surfaced on Wednesday when the NCAA released its Academic Progress Report (APR) for all Division I athletic programs, and a whopping 10 men’s basketball teams are now banned from the 2012-13 NCAA Tournament after failing to reach the required APR average score of 900 over the last four years. The biggest name on the list, and the only power conference school to ever receive a postseason APR ban, is Connecticut, which recorded a four-year score of 889. But none of this was news to the Huskies, a school which had already lost an appeal this offseason for inclusion. The postseason ban is just one of many pieces of bad news that UConn has received this offseason, which has put the future of UConn basketball in serious doubt. Your 2011 National Champions have struggled on and off the court since that wild run two springs ago sparked by Kemba Walker and company. Transfers, violations, firings, underperformance, and bans have dominated the news cycle around Storrs and 70-year-old future Hall of Fame head coach Jim Calhoun remains on the fence about coaching his team for much longer. Where does UConn go from here, and what can we expect from the Huskies on the court next season?
Connecticut basketball has been nothing short of a disaster since hauling the National Championship trophy two seasons ago. While that year’s historic run of 11 straight postseason wins is forever engrained in Storrs lore and perhaps fans can accept a few years’ grace period after winning a title, it’s still hard to believe how quickly things have fallen. UConn entered 2011-12 as the Big East preseason favorites but struggled to a 20-14 finish, playing through multiple suspensions and the extended absence of Calhoun due to rules violations and health reasons. The team lost its first round NCAA Tournament game to Iowa State in convincing fashion, and things have only gotten worse since that game in March. Top talents Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond both declared for the NBA Draft, and forwards Roscoe Smith, Michael Bradley, and Alex Oriakhi all transferred out of the program, leaving major holes in the roster. The team is ineligible for both the 2013 Big East and NCAA Tournaments after poor academic performances in the past four years. Recruiting has been understandably difficult, as the school remains a questionable short term destination for prospects. There’s a brand new athletic director (Warde Manuel) on campus who has yet to implement his long-term strategy. And perhaps most importantly, Calhoun remains uncommitted to his future on campus. The 70-year-old has two more years left on his contract and certainly does not want to leave the program in chaos, but the future Hall of Famer will probably not stick around much longer no matter what situation the team is in.
So what is UConn going to look like next year? For now, Calhoun is manning the sidelines with top assistants George Blaney and Kevin Ollie as well. While five top players have left the program, a decent starting lineup remains – Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Niles Giffey, DeAndre Daniels, and Tyler Olander. Depth is a major issue and the team is struggling to find 10 scholarship players for next season, but there’s still an experienced starting lineup of talent to compete on a nightly basis. Unfortunately, the team has very little to play for without any postseason next year. Given that Calhoun could soon retire and the team needs a major recruiting overhaul for the future, the program’s main focus remains on what’s ‘next’ rather than what happens now. Who’s set to become Calhoun’s replacement? How does the team plan to draw top recruits for 2013 and beyond? How does the school improve its academic standing so that another postseason ban doesn’t lurk in its future?
At present, things look pretty bleak, but the remaining team will try to bring some good fortune to the program by playing hard and surprising the detractors. Calhoun remains signed on for next season and has shown no desire to quit. The remaining starting lineup has some talent as well as plenty of pride on the line. “With everything going down the drain, everyone is coming together. Whoever is on the team in October, I’m going to fight with them,” said returning point guard and team leader Napier. On-court expectations will be low, but don’t expect UConn to fall apart. Perhaps next year’s team can fight even harder than it did during last year’s disappointing campaign. While UConn remains in turmoil off the court, an overachieving Huskies season would bring some necessary hope for the future.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him on Twitter @evanjacoby.