STORRS, Conn. (AP) — UConn coach Kevin Ollie is hoping his young Huskies can gel early and peak late.
The defending American Athletic Conference tournament champions have added a highly touted recruiting class of five freshmen and VCU transfer Terry Larrier to a solid core returning from last year’s 25-11 squad.
But the Huskies roster includes just three players — seniors Rodney Purvis, Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah — who have played more than one season for Ollie.
The fifth-year head coach said that means his biggest challenge is getting everyone to mesh before a tough non-conference schedule in November and December.
“I don’t want to throw away games early in the season, like we did last year,” Ollie said.
About 60 percent of the Huskies’ scoring from 2015-16 is gone with the departure of seven players, including Daniel Hamilton for the NBA draft and Sterling Gibbs and Shonn Miller, the former graduate transfers who used up their eligibility.
This year’s backcourt is expected to pick up much of that scoring slack. The preseason conference freshman of the year, Alterique Gilbert, joins Jalen Adams, who received the same honor last year, and Purvis.
Purvis, who averaged just under 13 points a game last season, said he believes there will be many times when all three guards will be on the court at once.
“We don’t have positions,” Purvis said. “Once we get in the flow of the game and coach gets to throwing different lineups out there, your position don’t really matter.”
The Huskies could also go big, with the 6-foot-8 Larrier at small forward, joining 6-10 Facey or 6-11 sophomore Steven Enoch and the 7-foot shot blocker Brimah down low.
Freshmen Christian Vital, Vance Jackson, Mamadou Diarra and Juwan Durham are also expected to compete for playing time.
Here are some other things to watch for as the Huskies defend their conference championship:
OUT OF CONFERENCE TESTS
The early season includes a trip to the Maui Invitational, with first-round opponent Oklahoma State and North Carolina on the Huskies side of the bracket. Oregon, Tennessee, Georgetown and Wisconsin are on the other side. UConn also faces out-of-conference games with Syracuse, Ohio State and Auburn in November and December before visiting the Hoyas in January.
The Huskies have been picked by the league’s coaches to finish second behind Cincinnati. UConn beat the Bearcats in the conference tournament last season with the help of Adams, who sent the game into a fourth overtime with a 3-pointer from well beyond half court at the buzzer . The rivals won’t play until Feb. 4 in Ohio and close the season against each other on March 5 at Gampel Pavilion.
Rodney Purvis has changed his number from 44 to 15 following the death of a close friend. Tryek Coger, who lived for a time with the Purvis family in North Carolina, was planning to wear the number 15 this season for Oklahoma State. The guard died after a July workout of an undiagnosed heart condition. The two were to meet on the court in November at the Maui Invitational.
Enoch spent part of the summer playing for the Armenian national team. The Norwalk native has no Armenian ancestry, and had never been overseas before this summer. He received dual citizenship in order to play at the FIBA Under-20 Division B European Championships, were he averaged 17.2 points and 15.3 rebounds in six games.
Brimah, UConn’s center, played just 25 games last season because of injuries. But he still managed to black 67 shots, giving him 280 for his career. That is third in program history behind Emeka Okafor’s 441 and Hasheem Thabeet’s 417. Brimah also shot 66 percent from the floor last season, in large part because of his ability to catch and dunk lob passes.