On a blistery, cold December day in Storrs, Connecticut sophomore forward
Rudy Gay chuckled as he swore that the rural campus gets colder than anywhere
else he's been in his lifetime. Despite being less-than-thrilled about the
weather – rest assured Rudy is very comfortable at the
As a high school star out of the D.C. area when it was Rudy's turn to
make a decision regarding his basketball future, many thought he would follow in
the footsteps of some of his fellow classmates and go directly to the NBA. But
fans and media quickly learned Rudy Gay was not like all the rest. NBA riches
were not enough to entice the McDonald's All-American. The
"I felt as though Coach had a lot of things he could show me that I needed before I became a professional athlete," said Gay.
So Rudy's professional career would have to wait. But for how long?
In his first year at UConn Rudy reached double-figures 22 times, good enough to lead the team, but not good enough for the star frosh. After a freshman campaign that featured glimpses of enormous potential, he was again faced with the decision whether or not to turn pro. There were murmurs about being a lottery pick and a can't-miss prospect but the Big East Rookie of the Year turned a deaf ear to the "talk" and determined he had more to accomplish as a college athlete.
"I think he (Coach Calhoun) had more to teach me and I think I had more to show," proclaimed the sophomore. "Last year I was limited a little bit because you had me coming into a different situation and also coming in here and playing with guys who've already won championships. That was also hard to do. It was just different for me last year. This year I'm more comfortable."
After last season concluded Gay was not the only Husky weighing the pros and cons of entering the NBA draft. Charlie Villanueva departed but forward Josh Boone, who was an integral part of the 2004 National Championship run, determined staying was his best option. Boone was excited at the idea of another championship and the idea of playing alongside Rudy for another year.
"I was excited about another year playing with this guy…because he's great. He's such a great player and he's such a great teammate," Boone raved. "He's so good on the floor because he can do things that not a lot of people can do – create shots for himself and also get his teammates shots. He makes everybody on the floor better and that's the mark of a great player."
Over the summer Gay set out to get better with every possession and was a
member of the U-21 USA Basketball team that fell short at the World
"It added a lot. I got to play against a lot of great players – a lot of players that are doing really good right now at their schools. Basically I learned a lot from those guys and hopefully they learned something from me. I take something from every person from my roommate Mardy (Collins) to Justin Gray," stated Gay, who also led the team in blocked shots (12).
Gay's performance in
So the somewhat passive sophomore returned to
"I'm definitely ready (to take over)," Gay professed. "Coach has basically put it out there and when he needs me to score he just tells me ‘Rudy, you can go out there and score and just do what you can,' I think coach has helped me a lot with being more dominant."
Being labeled the "next great one" at UConn is not easy. With star potential comes the relentless focus of a Hall of Fame coach. Calhoun makes it his priority to get the best out of each and every one of his prized recruits and Gay is no different.
"He (Coach Calhoun) has his own way of motivating people," Rudy continued. "In practice he works us -- he works us but then even during the game he yells at us and he tries to get his point across. The thing that happens is he lets us know why he did what he did."
Calhoun remains Rudy's biggest fan and his toughest critic. The UConn head coach has used his motivational tactics to the fullest with Gay trying to bring out the greatness he knows resides within the talented small forward. Whether it's giving him the quick yank to send a message, or making him the subject of a halftime speech Rudy has responded favorably to Calhoun's button-pushing.
"He says I dribble too much. I didn't practice today and somebody else was dribbling too much and he said ‘well, we got Rudy out of the game – are you still doing that?' so he has his little ways of putting it out there," Gay said with a smile.
So far, Rudy has confidently and maturely led this group to an 8-0 record
and is the team's top-scorer at just over 17 a game. He still tantalizes you
with games like the unforgettable 28-point performance vs.
Rudy has a "look" this season, one of unbridled determination. Gay has learned from the great one's before him – with greatness comes responsibility and that means being a leader. It's a task that Gay has embraced with open arms.
"I believe that if you lead by example, then if you say something it will be more important than if you just put your voice out there. Basically I want to go out there and limit my mistakes so people want to play like me," Rudy continued. "It's kind of hard coming into a situation with people that already won championships that you kind of try to take the role. Other people I think have the ability to take that role also so I just try to go out there and limit my mistakes. If you limit mistakes then people will see that and try to follow your path."
Remember, Rudy's greatness is still a work in progress and he has plenty of areas he wants to improve on. One area the national player of the year candidate has struggled in is valuing the basketball. The athletic sophomore has 15 assists on the season and 22 turnovers.
"(I want to improve my) decision-making. I think that only comes with experience. The more I go out there and the more I get put in certain situations the better I'll be," said Gay.
Rudy is also focusing on the other end of the floor. Though he leads the team in steals and is second in blocks, he's not yet a great defender. His length allows him to overcome some lapses in concentration but Gay would be the first to tell you – he's ready to assert himself on defense.
"I think it's getting better. It's a big difference to come in to college from playing mostly people that may or may not go to college. If they go to college they may not go to the highest level as you. Sometimes it gets hard adjusting to the speed and speed at different heights. Some people have the same kind of talent I do and sometimes it's hard to jump into that. But I feel as though I'm getting a lot better and Coach is helping me with that too," said the 6-9 sophomore.
The length he possesses makes his jumper nearly impossible to block, it allows him to reach for steals that are seemingly out of his area, and it affords him the ability to rise above and block shots.
"I think it's just something that comes along with my length. Coach always prides us as being one of the top shot-blocking teams in the country," Gay stated.
Though the versatile forward is looking for improvement on "D" he has a chance to do something no other player in the history of UConn basketball has accomplished – averaging over 2 blocks and 2 steals for a season. Gay's quest for a UConn "first" is currently on pace – he's averaging 2.5 steals and 1.8 blocks per game thus far.
The Preseason All-American candidate possesses unrivaled length and can also hurt a team offensively in a variety of ways, a quality Gay sees as the most valuable weapon in his arsenal.
"Basically my versatility (is my biggest weapon). You don't see a lot of 6-9 small forwards out there," according to Gay. "I like to take advantage of everything I have. If I have somebody small I'll post them up and if I have somebody bigger I can go past them."
And when he does go past them….it usually leads to a jaw-dropping dunk.
"It just kind of happens. Some points of the game where you just get a fast break and you don't know what to do so you just kind of just cock it back and dunk it real hard or like in New York (in the Big East Tournament) when I did that I just wanted to get the team pumped up. We always get pumped up that way in practice. I guess next time I have to have one dunk that I'm going to do when I have a fast break," Rudy concluded with a smile.
While Rudy will again leave us all wondering what he'll do next – that's when he has the ball alone in the open floor AND when he concludes his second season at UConn – he's focused on doing his part to help lead this team to its third national title in the last eight years.
KC: Now take me back to when you and Rudy both decided to stay. I guess there really wasn't a lot of conversation with each other per say but you both decided to return so how did you feel when you knew you were both coming back?
JB: I was excited another year playing with this guys…because he's great. He's such a great player and he's such a great teammate. He's so good on the floor because he can do things that not a lot of people can do – create shots for himself and also get his teammates shots. He makes everybody on the floor better and that's the mark of a great player.