Little Lee and I watched pre-game warmups before the UConn-Wagner game from the 8th row of the end zone. Most of the Huskies were shooting around, massed in front of the UConn bench. That is where most of the Gampel crowd focused their attention.
On the far side, two players engaged alone. Jeremy Lamb stood behind the 3 line, guarded by another future NBA draft pick, Andre Drummond. Lamb leaned right-right-left and, feeling he was clear, attempted a shot that Drummond swatted back with an easy smile. The ball fell back into Lamb’s calm hands.
Mr. Lamb was relaxed, almost tranquil, even though his defender was 5 inches taller and 90 pounds heavier. Though well on his way to a Shawn Kemp-like body, Drummond has quick reflexes and instincts. Most of us would be nothing approaching calm in his court presence.
What Drummond of course lacks is Big East experience. So Lamb gave him some.
This time, Lamb leaned right and then freely fired left, leaving Drummond one full step behind him awaiting another fake that did not occur. Swish. All net.
Drummond smiled again. Lamb showed not one iota of emotion. And then, they danced on, two exceedingly tall colts, frisky and jubilant in their well matched game. One the teacher, the other a rookie. Two friends.
Mr. Drummond did not start. Calhoun put Olender, Oriaki, Napier, Lamb and Roscoe Smith on court first. He came in soon enough, though, looking a half step behind everyone else. No doubt, he was adjusting to the game being played at a pace and level with which he was unaccustomed. Although he is big, strong and fast, he had little impact until the light went on toward the end of the first half. Suddenly aroused, Drummond blocked two shots in 6 seconds and then came flying across the lane like an acrobat at the other end in an attempt to jam a team mate’s miss in what would have been a sensational play. Soon, he showed us this superior speed and coordination again. Although Mr. Drummond did not score on these plays he did cause a sensation to ripple through a crowd. They had gotten a glimpse of his pure athleticism.
Drummond would toss down 8 points in the game. He scored his first UConn points on a put back and next 2 on a sweet reverse layup executed beautifully on the run.
This team is loaded with talent. Deandre Daniels had 11 points and looked like a pure shooter, an assassin. Tyler Olender looks 100% improved and could become a solid D I player. Napier is confident with the rock and is scoring when needed. Lamb looks like a bona fide Naismith candidate. Add Drummond and Boatwright and you’ve got a team that can beat anyone.
That said, beating Columbia by 13 and Wagner by 12 does not instill confidence. Nor does beating Maine by 20 and Coppin State by 17. Cupcake season should be called Preseason. These foes are record fatteners, helping the team get nearer the 20 wins that credential NCAA Tournament teams. If you don’t beat the cupcakes by more than 30, you aren’t really ready for Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
The Huskies will be no worse than 9-2 (and no better than 11 – 0) when the confront USF in their Big East opener on Dec. 28, a game quickly followed by one against the Johnnies on Dec. 31.
Can Calhoun channel them into a team by that time?
Time will tell.