Prelude to the Madness, Part I

Husky Madness is just around the corner, but the Gampel Pavilion was alive with excitement Monday afternoon. If you weren't aware of the calendar, you might have thought the season had already begun. Unlike UConn teams of the past that always seemed to have a solid core of returning upperclassmen, this team is young and hungry.

With so much playing time up for grabs, no one is taking even scrimmage minutes for granted. One would imagine that this would be the perfect elixir for selfish play, each athlete trying to distinguish himself above the rest, but things couldn't be any different. Rarely did a shot go up before at least a half dozen hands touched it on most possessions .

It's not that no one wants to shoot. It's not that the defense resembles that of the Chicago Bears, though baskets didn't come cheaply. Rather everyone seems to have caught a virus called team basketball. Even when the players have a good shot, it's not unusual to see them give it up to a teammate for an even better one. Early on, the teams actually ran some set offense, which is unheard of as far as pickup game etiquette is concerned.

Now for those who are concerned that Coach Calhoun is about to deploy the Princeton offense, rest assured. There was plenty of high flying, end to end action, plus the usual take-your-man off the dribble offense.

The first to make his presence known was Jeff Adrien, who has clearly stepped up as one of the leaders of this young team. Adrien's physical play has been contagious, especially with the front court players. He hit his first two shots. The first was a one handed half-hook in traffic followed by a tough baseline fade-away J with the defender in his face. Through out the afternoon, Adrien overpowered and outwitted most who tried to stop him. There's a lot more to his game since we last saw him score 17 points against George Mason on 7 for 8 shooting. One moment he's knocking down a ten foot turnaround Js, the next he's out muscling someone in the paint, finishing with one hand flush.

Playing next to Adrien is the hard-to-miss Hasheem Thabeet. It seemed like there wasn't an inch in the paint that couldn't be reached by the 7-foot-3 space eater. Hasheem made the opposing unit to think twice when driving it to the basket. He also had a half dozen or so backboard shaking dunks throughout the afternoon. Partway through the second game, Thabeet got a big of advice from the visiting member of the UConn All-Century Team, Donny Marshall. After tossing up a soft lay-up that bounced off the rim and over the end line, Donny appeared to exhort the ever towering post player to apply a little more force to those shots inside the paint. In other words, destroy anything and anyone who'd be dumb enough to get in his way once within dunking range. Thabeet seemed to heed his advice by pretty much doing just that, the rest of the afternoon when getting the ball in the blocks.

After a slow start, AJ Price must have decided to make up for lost time all in one afternoon. What Rashad Anderson did over the past four years electrifying the crowd with a floury of dagger 3s, AJ will do likewise except with a variety of trifectas. He started out with a couple spot up 3s, then took his man off the dribble, stepped back and drilled another. AJ was just getting started. Add a bunch of catch and shoot 3s, catch and curl 3s…well you get the idea. Just about everything was falling for AJ. When he wasn't scoring he was setting up his teammates, such as the nice no-look, off dribble penetration to Hasheem Thabeet, who put an exclamation on the play with a stanchion shaking jam. To round out his arsenal, on one of the more memorable plays of the afternoon, AJ caught the ball in traffic, readjusted in midair and kissed it off the glass for the game one winner. If there was any rust to his game, most of it got dusted off this past Monday afternoon.

AJ's backcourt partner on what may be a glimpse of the early season first team was Craig Austrie who had a quiet afternoon. Austrie won't necessarily give you the flashy play, but always has a steady effect on the team, rarely making the costly mistake. He did a nice job of getting the ball to his teammates and hitting the open shot when it was there for the taking. In the fourth game, Austrie cut to the hoop and laid down a nice soft bounce pass to Jeff Adrien for an easy two as the help D tried to rotate over to stop his dribble penetration.

Marcus Johnson, aka MJ, who appears to be the front runner for the wingman on the first team, came out of the gate in full throttle. He is the most exciting Husky in the open floor. After hitting a lefty scoop in traffic early in the first game, he showed his quick hands stealing the ball on two consecutive plays, resulting in a pair of easy transition baskets. In the second game, Johnson must have had a more famous MJ in mind when he knifed through the paint and exploded for an acrobatic drive where he switch hands midair, but couldn't quite finish off the play as the ball rolled off the side of the rim. Johnson quickly put that miss behind, by tallying his team's last basket on a transition dunk. But it wasn't enough to keep his team on the floor for the third consecutive game, being done in by a Donny Marshall J from the left corner. Not to be out done by Marshall, MJ tallied the game winner on the forth game with a transition lay-up and also in the fifth and final game with a ten foot J he drained off the dribble.


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