When Jim Calhoun looks at Jeff Adrien, he sees more than a 6-foot-7 junior out of Brookline, Mass. He sees the mold of current pros, such as Jason Maxiell, and a likeness to past Husky stars, such as Kevin Freeman.
When Jim Calhoun looks at Jeff Adrien, he sees more than a 6-foot-7 junior out of Brookline, Mass.
He sees the mold of current pros, such as Jason Maxiell, and a likeness to past Husky stars, such as Kevin Freeman.
“(One of) the greatest warriors I’ve ever had, a guy who got transfusions after games and all that stuff,” Calhoun said of Freeman, an integral part of UConn’s 1999 national championship team.
A double-double waiting to happen and the Huskies’ only selection to the Preseason All-Big East team this season, Adrien has the makings of both those players, Calhoun said.
The potential of joining Maxiell in the NBA and the ability to be what Freeman was in Storrs: indispensable, at times undeniable and always a “warrior.”
Expect to hear that word a lot this season.
“You want your guys doing what they do really well,” Calhoun said. “When you see Jeff Adrien, you think, 'I’ll get some work tonight. I’m going to have to work.’ And that’s what we want everyone thinking and they should think that because he’s capable of doing that.
“He’s not a finesse player,” the coach added. “He’s a warrior.”
Mouth-guard in place and his 243-pound frame filling the lane, that’s what Adrien looks like, and is trying to be more like this year. A polite, low-talker when around the media, he’s being more vocal this season on the floor, yelling, pointing and bringing energy, which only adds to the intense persona Calhoun sees in him.
“Just play every play like it was my last play,” Adrien said. “That’s what he (Calhoun) really means.”
But Adrien wasn’t that all the time last season, a disappointing 17-14 campaign for UConn that ended short of the postseason.
Despite his near double-double average (13.1 points, 9.7 rebounds) and All-Big East second team honor, there were times Adrien leaned too much to the finesse game, Calhoun said -- the small hooks, the fade-away jumpers, the hoops with little contact.
“I have this fade-away hook; maybe I went to that a little too much,” Adrien acknowledges now.
Not this year. With UConn expecting to play an up-tempo game where the guards carry the pace, it’s putting a heavier onus on the likes of Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet -- as well as Curtis Kelly and Stanley Robinson -- to be all the muscle, grab all the rebounds and exude all the toughness the Huskies lacked at times last season.
“I got on Jeff (last year about a lack of toughness), unfairly to some degree,” Calhoun said. “But I had to use him because he was the only I had about being tough.”
“It was embarrassing last year what we did, it wasn’t acceptable for anybody here,” Craig Austrie said. “So I feel like we have a lot to prove so everybody just comes out with that hunger.”
For Adrien, that hunger grew during the summer. Along with Thabeet and Jerome Dyson, he worked out in Los Angeles with several NBA players, including former UConn star Emeka Okafor and seventh-year pro Tyson Chandler.
He picked up little things, such as how stretching is key, and bigger things, such what it takes to be in their position.
So this season, he’s come in stronger than ever, benefiting from both his time out West and the increased workload the team undertook this preseason.
Last year, after team trainers performed a body scan on him, it revealed his right leg was stronger than his left and his left was even weaker than it was when he first came to Storrs.
“So that’s kind of strange,” Adrien said, a little baffled himself just saying it. “And that could have hurt my explosiveness. ... (But) I think I’m like 10 steps ahead of the shape I was in last year.”
In the team’s first two preseason games, albeit both against Division-II opponents, he’s displayed that added grit, grabbing 15 rebounds (11 on the offensive end) against Assumption and 10 more Sunday in a win over Bryant.
And he’s already displayed a little added athleticism. Late in the second half against Bryant and his team pressing full-court, Adrien flew across the court to intercept a lofted pass near the sideline, turned in the air and attempted to keep it in play as he fell into the scorer’s table.
The official ultimately called him out, but Calhoun made a point to come across the coach’s box within a few feet of Adrien and give him an approving round of applause.
“I feel like I’m doing a lot of unbelievable things as far as (being) a leader, a lot of things I never expected myself being able to do,” Adrien said. “It’s going to be a lot different year for me.”
Reach Matt Stout at 425-4250 or email@example.com