Day 10: Connecticut | Traveling Violations
STORRS, Conn. – The huge banners hang from each side of the Gampel Pavilion roof – four on one side, one on the other – all representing NCAA basketball titles.
The Connecticut women own four of them (1995, 2000, 2002, 2003). The men won it all in 1999. Which means four of the last five years, someone in here was crowned national champion.
Is this the year both do it?
Both teams should enter the season ranked No. 1 in the nation.
The women will seek a three-peat behind national player of the year favorite Diana Taurasi. The men will look to reclaim glory with national player of the year favorite Emeka Okafor leading perhaps the most talented and deepest team out there.
A double championship?
"I don't know if UConn can handle that," Okafor said. "The campus might fall apart."
The two head coaches, Jim Calhoun of the men and Geno Auriemma of the women, famously don't exchange Christmas hams, but that is the case at a lot of schools. It's just both programs usually aren't this good.
And no matter the rivalry, certainly both coaches would take a double title.
"It (would be) a great thing to do," Okafor said. "It would be great for the school."
• Of the 11 tour-stop schools, UConn unquestionably has the most talented team. Okafor and guard Ben Gordon are both bigger and better than last year and could both wind up as first-team All-Americans.
Senior point Taliek Brown looks uniquely equipped to manage all this talent. Wings Denham Brown and Rashad Anderson are terrific. Sophomore big man Hilton Armstrong has emerged as a major talent; Calhoun said he might wind up starting at center allowing Okafor to move to the four. And we could go on.
There is so much talent that plenty good freshman center Josh Boone may wind up redshirting.
Then there is the X factor, freshman Charlie Villanueva, a dynamic 6-11 talent. He is still learning to compete and play but he has the most pro potential on the team.
"I thought Charlie Villanueva had his best day today," Calhoun said Monday. ""When he comes here to (play against all) those kind of players, all of a sudden life isn't easy. But give him credit; he has done everything we have asked him to do."
All of which means the Huskies should enter the season ranked No. 1.
"I don't back a way from being 1 or 5 or 7," Calhoun said. "One is nice because it gets Emeka's picture on the cover of things."
• On the trip from Philadelphia to Storrs we stopped at the Vince Lombardi rest area in Jersey, where using the facilities isn't everything, it's the only thing.
• The closer a Dunkin' Donuts is to its corporate headquarters in Massachusetts the better the coffee is.
• Iona coach Jeff Ruland checked in, coincidentally as we rolled through New Rochelle, N.Y., and reports that Syracuse transfer DeShaun Williams looks extremely impressive in practice and should be a major force in the Metro Atlantic this season. "He is at another level," Ruland said. So expect Iona to give defending champion Manhattan a run for its money.
• Valued Reader email of the day (proving the players at Butler are, indeed, a classy bunch):
I just wanted to thank you for the nice piece that you did the other day at Butler. It was good to meet you and talk about Hinkle Fieldhouse along with Butler basketball. Thanks for all your interest in the program – we truly appreciate it. Have a great year, hope to see you in March.
• It hasn't been the best of times for Red Sox fans but at least Monday brought two items of solace.
First, you could drive right through the South Bronx and know that no victory parades were being planned. Two, the radio said Grady Little was (finally) fired. Like Pedro, he should have been given the hook sooner.
• How sweet was the drive up the Merritt Parkway in Southwest Connecticut? Not only does it allow you to avoid the hand-to-hand combat of I-95, but with peak foliage the scenery was incredible. We even passed three wild turkeys on the side of the road near New Haven.
• Campaign Stops Tuesday: LaGuardia Airport; home.
• Total Mileage: 2,108.5 miles.
- Emeka Okafor
- Charlie Villanueva