Defending champion UConn opens practice
Connecticut's basketball teams showed off their skills in front of their fans for the first time since the men brought home the program's third national championship and the women returned from their 12th Final Four.
Men's coach Jim Calhoun has said he believes his team may be more talented than the one that beat Butler in April. They showed off their athleticism Friday for more than 10,000 fans who came out to watch the school's annual ''First Night'' show.
Freshman guard Ryan Boatright, who is generously listed in the media guide at 6-feet, won the dunk contest by taking a pass off the side of the backboard from Shabazz Napier and doing a 360-degree dunk. Andre Drummond, another freshman, was almost as impressive with his array of windmill and between the leg dunks, though the 6-10 prize recruit missed a couple of attempts after jumping from behind the free-throw line.
Niels Giffey topped freshman Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis from the women's team in the 3-point contest, and there was dancing and contests for students, even appearances from alumni such as Ray Allen and the hero of last year's national title run, Kemba Walker.
But while much of the night was a celebration of all things UConn, there was also talk throughout the arena about the future of the Big East, and the prospect of Central Florida joining the conference.
''I think it's a good addition, long-term-wise for the Big East, but for us, right now, our basketball team needs to concentrate on this season,'' Calhoun said.
Women's coach Geno Auriemma said he had not heard the news before the media informed him Friday night.
''My feeling is you invite people with the understanding that they're going to come in,'' he said. ''I would think if they've been invited, they're coming.''
''My only thing would be Jose (Fernandez), who coaches South Florida, always brings me great cigars when they come up here,'' he said. ''So if the Central Florida coaching staff wants to get in good with us, just bring us some good cigars.''
The first actual practice for the men takes place on Saturday morning.
''They say it's going to be a lot of running, so I'm in shape and I'm ready for it,'' freshman forward DeAndre Daniels said. ''I can't wait.''
The women already had 10 practices in August, before they travelled as a team to Italy for four exhibition games. The NCAA allows such trips once every four years.
''We definitely got a lot of stuff done and we just made sure we were working and got used to playing with each other, building chemistry and getting to know your teammates,'' sophomore Bria Hartley said.
But Mosqueda-Lewis said the ''First Night'' activities are still exciting for the freshmen.
''I'm just really happy that it's finally my turn to be out there, my turn to be part of the team,'' she said.
The UConn men open the regular season on Nov. 11 against Columbia. The first game for the women will be Nov. 13, when they host Holy Cross.
''You don't have long to get going, Calhoun said. ''We're not 11-0 as we were at the end of the season, we're 0-0 and we start out like everybody else, and we still have a young team that has to develop an identity.''