Friday, June 16, 2006
Updated: June 20, 10:42 AM ET
Six Huskies could be selected June 28
By Andy Katz
Connecticut will dominate this year's NBA draft. The Huskies could have six players selected, with as many as four going in the first round alone.
Sophomore forward Rudy Gay has a shot to go No. 1 to Toronto. He might not fall past Charlotte at No. 3. Junior point guard Marcus Williams is expected to land somewhere in the lottery, with senior center Hilton Armstrong somewhere in the middle of the first round. Junior forward Josh Boone, the one player who didn't have the coaching staff's endorsement to leave early, is expecting a promise from a team in the first round -- possibly New Jersey (Nos. 22 and 23) or New York (Nos. 20 and 29).
In addition, senior guards Rashad Anderson and Denham Brown have played well enough this spring to warrant serious second-round looks.
This is why the Huskies were referred to as the most talented team last season. That they didn't win the national title shouldn't be a strike against this lot. UConn still went 30-4 and was a Brown shot away from going to the Final Four. The Huskies also won a share of the Big East conference title with Villanova.
"The same thing happened to Duke when it didn't win against us in 1999," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said of a Blue Devils roster that had the top overall pick in Elton Brand, No. 11 in Trajan Langdon, No. 13 in Corey Maggette and No. 14 in William Avery.
Conversely, that Connecticut team had one player -- Rip Hamilton -- who ended up in the draft. The next year, two players off the 1999 team -- Khalid El-Amin and Jake Voskuhl -- went in the second round. Voskuhl is still in the NBA; El-Amin is playing overseas.
"Clearly, how much talent you have isn't just how the game is played," Calhoun said. "The talent has to fit together. I wouldn't trade any of the kids. It was a terrific year and enjoyable year, but we missed the ability to transport the basketball."
The 1999 team had three players -- Hamilton, El-Amin and Ricky Moore -- who could handle the ball. Calhoun contests that he had one only last season with Williams, albeit the top point guard in this draft.
"We had so many frustrating moments offensively, but we won 30 games and lost only four," Calhoun said.
He said if the Huskies had had A.J. Price as a backup to Williams, who was suspended until January, "We could have run the table. We started out 11-0 [without Williams]."
While Williams was suspended for half the season, Price was gone for the full year for his role in the the theft and attempted resale of laptops. On top of that, Price wasn't cleared medically until last month after he suffered a brain hemorrhage that kept him out his freshman season.
Calhoun said the Huskies' season changed when they got to New York for the Big East tournament. That's when the high-profile Huskies became infiltrated with too many thoughts of the NBA. Connecticut lost to Syracuse in the quarterfinals.
UConn then struggled to get by Albany in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, slogged past Kentucky, then had back-to-back classic overtime games against Washington and George Mason in the regionals in Washington, D.C.
"I thought it was difficult in this day and age to keep them happy and motivated," Calhoun said. "But the team achieved an awful lot."
Now he will watch as his players march on to the NBA. He won't attend the draft -- he never does -- but he certainly has his thoughts on where these guys stand.
Gay is the one player Calhoun couldn't say enough about the past two seasons. He constantly wanted him to be the best in the country and was trying to get it out of him. Gay said last week in Orlando that he didn't listen to the hype regarding his preseason status as the possible No. 1 overall pick. He hasn't ducked anyone this spring, choosing to work out with Gonzaga's Adam Morrison in Portland on Thursday and again Wednesday in Toronto.
"I'll face up against anybody," Gay said. "I think I can be aggressive, and it's one of the things I want to show."
Calhoun said that Gay had a terrific year but that what was lost came from having to deal with two other players at his same position. Calhoun said Gay's sharing time with Brown and Anderson meant he averaged 15.2 points instead of maybe 20 a game.
"It's amazing what those four or five more points would have done for perception," Calhoun said. "I still don't think he grasped how good he is. He had a lot of similar talent around him but only one guy getting him the ball.
"I knew that as soon as someone got him in a workout, that they would be blown away with what he could do," he said.
Sitting a table away from Gay at Saturday's media session in Orlando was Williams. He was the only point guard in the room of the top dozen draft prospects. (Villanova's Randy Foye wants to be a point, but he didn't play the position for the Wildcats.) A year ago, there were three in the room: Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Raymond Felton.
"Coach told me the only reason I should come back was to win a national championship," Williams said. "I thought I was the best point guard [in the country]."
Calhoun said Williams is the best passer he has coached and has an incredible feel for the game. But Williams never had a chance to get in shape fully last season because he wasn't allowed to practice from October to December.
It helped that he had so many options, such as Armstrong and Boone inside and Gay, Brown and Anderson on the perimeter.
Calhoun also can't say enough about how much Brown and Anderson will be "great locker room guys and winners." Both shoot the ball extremely well, something that should allow them to get tabbed in the second round.
No one around Armstrong thought the first round was possible when the shy, lean 6-11 center arrived from Peekskill, N.Y. Armstrong played behind Emeka Okafor and Charlie Villanueva before shining in his senior year. He went from averaging 3.8 points a game to 9.7 and was the Big East defensive player of the year with 107 blocks (up from 36 as a junior).
Calhoun waxes on about how naive Armstrong was when he arrived, how he didn't know who Calhoun was when Calhoun went to watch him in a game at Western New England College or, before his freshman year, how he wanted no part of a USA trip to China.
But Armstrong has crawled out of his shell, with his quickness around the block becoming his calling card.
While Armstrong's stock was soaring, Boone's sank because of his own lack of confidence. His scoring (12.4 to 10.3 a game), rebounding (148 to 132) and blocks (90 to 69) all declined from his junior to senior year.
"He had the lowest self-esteem of any player I had, and I'm not sure how it developed," Calhoun said. "When he would get down on himself, it almost paralyzed him. I told him that when he goes to the NBA, he's going to have to realize that he has to play through that. The tools are there. Josh is a tremendous kid. And he tries like crazy to win. But I haven't seen in 35 years of coaching a kid that wasn't near anywhere the best he could be. But he made the decision to go and said he felt it was his time. But he can't get down on himself."
Getting selected in the first round certainly should boost any lagging confidence. Being one of six Huskies picked in the draft also should make Boone and the rest of them realize just how much talent was assembled on this past season's roster.
|Williams' jump shot can be spotty, but his floor game is not.|
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.