Time for Ring Ceremony

Thursday night in Hartford, the University of Connecticut and fans of the men's basketball team will celebrate a season of unthinkable success. A dinner will be held at the Connecticut Convention Center to toast the 2011 NCAA national champions.

Kemba will be there. (The man will never need his last name again inside the Connecticut border.) And the 2010-11 team members who put together that unforgettable 11-game run through the Big East tournament and the NCAA tournament will receive their championship rings and try them on for size.

It's a celebration of the program's third national championship. And for coach Jim Calhoun, it will serve another purpose.

"That will be a closing for our kids," Calhoun said this week, "of what was a very special season."

Calhoun didn't become a Hall of Fame coach by living in the past. It's time to put the championship trophy in the rear view mirror because the Huskies will come together next week to start preparation for another season. There's already some talk of back-to-back championship for the Huskies. They will be highly ranked – with great expectations – when the season begins.

But it's never that easy.

Calhoun knows everything changes year-to-year. At the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast Monday, Calhoun spoke of his "mastermind coaching" from last season and how he would huddle his team during timeouts to say, "Give the damn ball to Kemba. . . . And get the hell out of his way."

That brought a sustained laugh from the crowd. But this new season does begin with replacing the leadership Walker and Donnell Beverly delivered last season. This season's team will be dependent on Jeremy Lamb and Alex Oriakhi for much of that. But Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, Tyler Olander, and Niels Giffey are a year older too and must perform with increased maturity.

"We've already put a lot of pressure on Shabazz and the other kids to start getting ready," Calhoun said. "By June, we were getting ready for this season. And I look forward to it. It's going to be very challenging.

"A lot of the problems last year, especially early, were solved by Kemba," Calhoun said. "So when I say, ‘Give the ball to Kemba,' during a game, George [Blaney] is going to remind me, ‘Coach, you don't Kemba any more.' This is a different basketball team. The chemistry has to change."

Three talented freshmen will be heavily involved in mixing that team chemistry. Thursday night is for looking back at the past. Here's a quick glimpse at the future, from what Calhoun had to say Monday about the UConn rookies from this influential incoming freshman class.

Guard Ryan Boatright: "He's about 5-foot-10 and right now he's probably the best athlete on our team. He dunks on people already and – I said 5-10. Some guys out there are saying, ‘I could do that.' No, you couldn't. He's an amazing athlete. He could be a point guard or kind of a Microwave like John Gwynn was many, many years ago."

Forward DeAndre Daniels: "He's about 6-9 and will play both the 2 and the 3. He's about 200 pounds and can really shoot the ball."

Center Andre Drummond: "Should have a terrific career for us. He has a great chance to be one of the better players in our program, if not the country. He's young and like any other player, it does take a little bit of time."

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