There’s no real pattern to how these things work out. Logic suggests a player enrolling in college early will profit from his few months working with the team, but at UConn the concept has been hit or miss.
Alex Karaban made the decision to accelerate his graduation from IMG Academy and enroll last January and so far it has been a hit. Karaban, the Big East’s rookie of the week, averaged 11.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists in his first two games, critical as the Huskies were playing without Andre Jackson, Samson Johnson and Jordan Hawkins. His first games were not only exciting, but cathartic.
“It was so helpful to play those games, just to release the anger that I had,” Karaban said. “It was definitely a release. ... I love basketball so much and to not play for two years was really emotional for me, because I wasn’t injured or anything. Not playing a game from my senior year of high school through the redshirt year, I just had to release that anger out on a opponent instead of seeing the same 12 faces every day in practice, It was a good fresh start for me.”
Coming to UConn in January 2022 allowed Karaban, 6 feet 8, to go day after day against veteran Huskies, and it toughened and sharpened him up.
“It helped me so much,” he said. “Battling against guys like Isaiah [Whaley], Tyler [Polley], Tyrese [Martin], R.J. [Cole], playing against them every day, veteran players who have experience in this league, it really helped me to how I’m playing today. Watching practice, watching films, watching the games up close really got my nerves down coming into the season.”
Karaban, from Northborough, Mass., came with the reputation of being a “point forward,” a versatile player who has to be seen multiple times to make a true evaluation, which UConn’s coaches did. As they have learned already, Karaban, even with his signature skill, 3-point shooting, slow to come around, has been able to leave is mark on games in a variety of ways.
“He does so many little things that probably go unnoticed until you watch film a second or third time,” coach Dan Hurley said. “There is so much nuance to what he can do for you, and as he gets physically stronger, a smarter defender, a more physical rebounder — really, the best thing he is known for, his shooting, hasn’t started yet. The best thing about him is you can put him into a basketball game, 5-on-5, and he knows what to do. You need guys who can function, process on the court, solve problems, make decisions and avoid negative plays. He does all those things.”
It seems like whatever 3-point credentials a player has coming to UConn, he always struggles from the perimeter once he puts on the jersey. Karaban was 4-for-17 in his first three games.
“I want to shoot the ball better,” he said. “I don’t know why my shot hasn’t fallen yet, but if I start shooting the ball better than I’ll be very happy with everything.”
It was better Friday night when Karaban went 3-for-6 on threes in the win over UNC Wilmington, scoring 12 points with five rebounds and two assists. He hit a big three at the end of the half.
And more for The Sunday Read:
Tracey Fuchs goes for another ring
After Nancy Stevens and Diane Wright, the legendary former coaches, one of the first names that comes to mind when someone mentions UConn field hockey is Tracey Fuchs, a three-time All-American, national player of the year in 1987 and national champion, before a long and distinguished career for the national team. Fuchs is royalty in her sport.
So it’s fitting that Fuchs, 56, now the coach at Northwestern, is back in Storrs this weekend to try for a second straight national championship. The Wildcats advanced to the finals with a 2-1 win over Maryland on Friday, and face undefeated North Carolina on Sunday at 1:30.
As coach, with her past experience as an athlete, Fuchs puts a lot of emphasis on her players’ mental wellness.
“I think the best part about this generation is that they see their mental health and we see their mental health as as important as their physical health,” Fuchs said, in an interview with the Daily Northwestern. “We need to continue to find ways to keep our athletes mentally healthy.”
Sunday short takes
* Jim Calhoun and Rip Hamilton will go together into the National College Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday. For Calhoun, inducted into the Naismith Hall in 2005, this is just a formality, he was considered a charter member of the college basketball Hall when it was started in 2006. Hamilton is overdue for the Naismith Hall, by the way.
* Matt Knowling, from Ellington and East Catholic, has started the season playing up to the high expectations Yale men’s basketball coach James Jones had for him. Knowling was MVP of the Outrigger Rainbow Classic in Hawaii as Yale won all three games.
* UConn is the only team in the nation ranked in men’s and women’s basketball, and men’s and women’s hockey.
* Texas women’s basketball coach Vic Schaefer, after UConn’s victory on Monday: “They’re really good, y’all. It ain’t no different than any other year around here.”
* Players need 75 percent, or 12 out of 16 votes to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame by one of the veterans “era” committees. I’ll venture to predict the one player most likely to garner that kind of support from the Contemporary Era committee is Don Mattingly. The vote will be announced Dec. 4.
Now that we see her healthy and playing again, you realize what a difference Aubrey Griffin could have made for UConn women last season. Her game against Texas was overshadowed by Azzi Fudd’s dominance, but don’t sleep on Griffin’s potential impact this season.
Dom Amore can be reached at email@example.com