Day 7: Connecticut | Traveling Violations
STORRS, Conn. – There has been plenty of controversy over the way Rudy Gay came to the University of Connecticut. There won't be any on the way he goes out – as the next, great Husky wing mega-star, which, if you ask him, is the real reason the Baltimore native came to play for Jim Calhoun.
Not, he claims, because UConn paid his summer team coach $25,000 to bring an exhibition team to Storrs a couple years back. The ensuing uproar (most it from the University of Maryland) pushed the NCAA to ban such games.
"I know why I came here," said Gay, a 6-foot-9 sophomore. "I came here because of Coach. Who doesn't want to be the best at their position?"
The best, as in the next in a lineage of UConn wing players under Calhoun that include Donyell Marshall, Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Caron Butler and Charlie Villanueva, each of whom wound up in the NBA lottery – three of them wearing NCAA championship rings when they shook David Stern's hand.
Make no mistake about it, Gay is that good. His speed for his size is unreal. His shooting touch makes him a viable face-up threat, his explosiveness allows him to get to the rim, and his strong hands and long arms make him a serious rebounder.
If this isn't the best player in the country, then someone is going to have to bring it. Big time.
"He is cut from the same cloth as Ray Allen," said Calhoun, who last week signed what will be his next great wing in 6-foot-9 Stanley Robinson of Alabama. "He is cut from the same cloth as Donyell (and) Caron. In some ways they are all different, but they are also the same. They have a sense of greatness about them.
"(Rudy) doesn't yet realize it, but he is unstoppable. If you put a real big guy on him, unless he is someone very, very special he is just going to be too quick for them. And that is going to take a NBA superstar to lock him up defensively.
"Conversely if you put someone small on him, with his jumping ability, with his reach, there is no way you are going to get near his shots."
The only question with Gay is his assertiveness. He spent much of his freshman season letting the game come to him, averaging good numbers (11.8 points, 5.4 rebounds) but not great. At USA Basketball last summer, NBA scouts called him easily the most talented player, but still with something to prove.
Calhoun insists that is changing quickly. The Huskies are absolutely loaded with talent, 11 true Big East caliber players, but it is clear that Gay is their best player. That, and a challenging schedule that includes the Maui Classic, has helped spark a newfound intensity in Gay.
If he plays that way, forget it.
"He is very young in a lot of different ways," said Calhoun. "Young as in only 18, young as in other ways, in a sense because of his mom and dad, (he has been) sheltered. He is a throw back. But I think he has just started to realize how good he is."
Gay agrees. He added muscle in the off-season. He says he understands his leadership role. During practice on a rainy Tuesday at Gampel Pavilion, he was assertive in every drill.
He knows that being the big-name Huskies wing player brings the highest of expectations.
"First, to be considered as one of those guys is an honor," said Gay, who played alongside Villanueva and had Butler host him on his recruiting visit. "It was an honor when Coach Calhoun started recruiting me, let alone to be here. I just have to go out and prove it night in and night out."
If anything, he wishes people would appreciate that this is the reason he is here in New England. He's heard all of the claims that his summer coach was bought off and just laughs. He may never convince the doubters, but it wasn't like he signed with the sisters of the blind, he points out.
"I just let it go in one ear and out the other," he said. "When someone makes a decision someone else is not going to be happy and says something. Any institution thinks it is the best institution when (it is) recruiting you."
He shrugs. He is here now, on the No. 2 team in the country, following in the steps as all those NBA stars before him. If he just plays to his abilities, it is all on the table. National player of the year. Lottery pick. NCAA title.
Who cares about the past? The future is all right in front of him.
- Rudy Gay