UConn's Midnight Madness!

As it is every year, UConn's late night festivities did not disappoint. As soon as the clock struck 9:00, Joe D'Ambrosio began his introductions of the coaches and players. After six months of champing at the bit for some Husky hoops, the hour had come.

The first event was the Slam Dunk competition. Interestingly the biggest surprise was not the competition itself, but the introduction of a surprise guest and judge, none other than the 2005 Super Bowl MVP, Deion Branch of the New England Patriots. Now it's no easy task to get a football player who's half the size of Josh Boone, but they managed to do so. Although he was a fitting choice since both the Patriots and Huskies don our nation's colors, Red, White and Blue, Deion must have thought he was judging a contest for the Boston Celtics since he was clothed head to toe in Shamrock Green.

All the dunkers struggled to complete their dunks. The dunk of the day though, was thrown down by Ed Nelson, who was swarmed by his teammates who were clearly surprised that Ed had such a dunk in him. I wish I could tell you exactly what he did, but it's all a blur now. It was bench clearing worthy, though! In the end it came down to the long armed Rudy Gay, who was bested by the high flying MJ…Marcus Johnson, of course. Rudy had a couple of the most impressive dunks of the evening, such as his length of the court run, capped off by a two handed Tomahawk slam from just below the foul line. But it was the more consistent performer, Johnson, who came away with the crown.

Next came the 3 point contest. Surprising the veterans, Rudy Gay and Rashad Anderson, were sent to the bench after the first round by the freshman Craig Austrie and Robert Garrison. Both young players displayed a solid deep stroke, but in the end Garrison out shot Austrie by a couple treys.

Finally, the long awaited scrimmage began. For six long months fans have waited for this night and they didn't leave disappointed.

Denham Brown picked right up where he left off, dropping multiple 3s, nailing some pretty midrange jumpers and unselfishly dishing out a few nifty interior assists. My guess is he was the high scorer of the evening.

Rashad Anderson had a quiet scrimmage. As it was in the three point shooting contest, his J was just not falling. I believe he did knock down one deep ball. Like Denham, he looked for other ways to contribute, and he had at least one nifty interior pass that resulted in an easy basket. It was fun seeing him back out there after all he went through last season. I don't think he's back to where he was, but he's on his way to becoming the player we saw two season's ago. As we've heard time and time again, Rashad will be there when the lights shine brightest. I expect him to knock down late daggers that will propel UConn to many victories this upcoming season.

Rudy Gay was very assertive but struggle early missing many of his shots including a breakaway one hander the careened off the back iron. He did get it going midway through the 2nd ten minute scrimmage where he hit a couple of back to back baskets. One was a step back, 180 spin, fall away jumper that got nothing but net. It doesn't take long for someone to see how special a player he is. Even though he missed a great deal of shots last night, he consistently created some good scoring opportunities that few could muster. Rudy clearly spent some solid hours in the weight room this past summer, which did not go unnoticed by Donny Marshall, who co MC'ed the event with Joe D'Ambrosio. Donny joked that Rudy's arms were almost as big as his.

There were a few notable battles that took place throughout the scrimmage. Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong were locked up in a physical battle down low. Like Rudy, both players look bigger than last year. Josh was very active scoring frequently on put-backs and shot jumpers. Hilton had one of the most acrobatic moves of the night where he slashed across the baseline with the ball, brought it up, down, then swung it around while twisting in the air for a nice soft kiss of the glass. I know I shouldn't be shocked since I've seen him make some very difficult shots in the past, but Hilton shows us these flashes of athletic ability and shot making that makes me believe he has the chance to be an outstanding college player. Now in his final season at UConn, it will be his time to shine.

The second of the three battles was between Ed Nelson and the muscular long-armed Jeff Adrien. Ed is clearly moving a lot quicker than he did last year. Apparently dropping 20 pounds has paid off. As always he played hard and battled for lose balls and rebounds. Ed did a nice job of finishing around the basket, though did struggle to get his short J off over taller defenders, especially the long reach of Adrien. Jeff was fun to watch. He showed some nifty ability to put the ball on the floor and create in the paint. He even surprised me with a couple nice dump-down passes to his fellow low post teammate for some easy buckets. Although he reminds me physically of John Selvie, all it took was one pass to realize he's a different player. The one play that is still stuck in my mind was this turn-around, fall away J he took in the middle of the paint that floated over the outstretched hands of the defender and softly dropped in for 2 points. Jeff was relentless on D, getting his hands on a number of risky passes in the paint. He's going to be a good one and a Coach Calhoun favorite.

The third and last notable battle was between the two freshman point guards. Although Austrie won the points battle, it was Garrison that really caught my eye with a number of very creative passes that set up solid scoring opportunities, leading his team to victory. Between the two, Austrie looks like the better defender. He does a nice job of staying close to his man without fouling him. He also showed some very quick hands coming away with some steals and near steals throughout the scrimmage. Both players handle it very well and I'm growing more and more confident that the two of them will do a solid job of leading this team until Marcus Williams returns, which we all hope will happen. Now neither of them are capable of leading this team as well as Marcus can, but both appear to have the ability to do what is needed to get the team into their offense and defend the perimeter. Austrie is stronger than Garrison, who might be prone to getting pushed around. Both young points have different things to offer and should be able to lead us to many victories the first half of the season. How quickly they develop through that stretch will have a lot to say about the success of this team in the 2nd half when facing Big East competition.

It was fun to Ryan Thompson back on the court. He hit a couple back to back 3s. It will be interesting to see if he picks up more playing time this season, especially when we are in need of some zone busting three pointers.

Lastly, UConn has its own Slash. Marcus Johnson is a fun player to watch. He's got a charismatic smile that makes you want to root for him all the more. Few wings split seams in the D off the dribble like he does. He finished off a few nice drives resulting in some and-ones, nailing most if not all his free throws. He also did a nice job of creating for himself, but is still not consistent with his jump-shot. If he can ever develop a more consistent J, he will be an extremely hard player to stop. As we saw in the slam dunk competition, he's a high flyer who plays well above the rim. Expect an ally-oop just about every game from him. He really knows how to go up and get ‘em ala Deion Branch.

If tonight was a taste of things to come, we have a lot to be excited about. Coach Jim Calhoun had kicked things off stating their goal was to win another national championship. Last night was a solid beginning that will hopefully end next March with #3!

UCONN Playbook Top Stories