- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

NEW YORK — Memo to college basketball fans: Fear Connecticut.

This season’s young Huskies are likely to be as surprisingly superb as last season’s group of chemistry-challenged, ultra-hyped solo artists was surprisingly stale.

Say what you want about Jim Calhoun. Sure, between the shady signing of Khalid El-Amin, the Rudy Gay recruiting run-around, last year’s Laptopgate and the 11th-hour swiping of Doug Wiggins from St. John’s, the UConn boss has the scruples of a scorpion.

But the man can coach. Just ask Saint Krzyzewski, whom he strategically undressed in two Final Four meetings.

The buzz at Wednesday’s Big East Media Day was focused on 7-foot-3, 265-pound freshman Hasheem Thabeet, who was granted his eligibility by the NCAA on Tuesday. The athletic pivot tarantula from Tanzania, who has only scraped the surface of his abilities in just one season of organized hoops, gives the Huskies the kind of daunting presence in the middle Emeka Okafor brought to UConn’s last title team (2004).

At forward, Calhoun has a superb soph in 6-7, 245-pound Jeff Adrien and a pair of coveted freshmen studs in Stanley Robinson and Curtis Kelly. And in the backcourt, the Huskies have more speed, gunners and ball-handlers than they’ve had since the superb triad of El-Amin, Rip Hamilton and Ricky Moore dethroned Duke in 1999.

It’s hard to completely believe Calhoun’s hype of Rockville native Jerome Dyson, a freshman guard and the squad’s new sniper. But redshirt sophomore A.J. Price, who has been shelved for consecutive seasons due to serious illness and sticky fingers, is an electric playmaker who should instantly make white-dog disciples forget the erratic Marcus Williams.

Throw in Wiggins and sophomore Craig Austrie, who earned considerable seasoning last year, and Calhoun might just have the most balanced rack of talent he’s ever had in Storrs.

“I know we’re the quickest team I’ve had in 21 years,” Calhoun said on Wednesday. “I know guys like Jeff Adrien and A.J. Price have the look of all-league players. I know Hasheem can make as big an impact as any first-year player I’ve ever had. I know that Jerome Dyson over the last several days has done some very special things that only a few guys in the history of Connecticut have been able to do as a young player. And we have a lot of depth. In all honesty, I think we’re as talented as we were last season. We’re just young, and I’m hoping and working like crazy to make sure that doesn’t get us.”

It’s going to get UConn early; that’s inevitable in a league as loaded as the Big East.

But by March, the Huskies could well be the best team in the conference. Unlike league favorite Pitt, Connecticut has NBA-caliber talent (see Thabeet, Price and Robinson). And unlike preseason No. 2 Georgetown, a team with considerably more experience and even more frontcourt pro potential (see Roy Hibbert, Jeff Green, Patrick Ewing Jr., DaJuan Summers and Vernon Macklin), Connecticut also has a backcourt loaded with blue-chippers to provide the NCAA-tournament musts of ball-handling and balance.

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