STORRS – Jalen Adams realizes “the shot” will always be part of his identity, especially as long as he continues to wear the University of Connecticut basketball uniform.
There simply hasn’t been an opportunity to forget about it, even as he traveled through every-day life the past six months. No matter where he went during the off-season there were reminders of the 65-foot shot he made against Cincinnati in the America Athletic Conference championship tournament in March.
“Just walking around campus and hanging out,” Adams said, “people are like, ‘You’re the guy who made the shot.’ Or in the student union, ‘Oh, my God, that’s Jalen Adams, he’s the one who made the shot.’ ”
Without his miraculous buzzer-beater, UConn wouldn’t have gone to a fourth overtime against Cincinnati. That’s where the Huskies finally pulled away for a 104-97 victory over the Bearcats, sending UConn on to the AAC championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
Adams, taking a huge step as a freshman point guard, essentially took UConn off postseason life support at that moment.
Everyone understands it was a big deal. Adams is aware of the significance and he doesn’t mind reminiscing. But he also knows it is time to move on.
A new UConn season begins Sunday with an exhibition game against the Division II University of New Haven Chargers (XL Center, Hartford, 1 p.m.). The Huskies, a Top 25 team in most preseason polls, will play one more exhibition before starting the regular season Nov. 11 against Wagner.
He is expected to be in UConn’s starting lineup Sunday, despite being slowed in the preseason by a sore hip and a thigh contusion that have kept him out of action a few a few days.
“I’m doing much better,” Adams said after practice Saturday. “I’m about 98 percent.”
Adams, who started 11 games last season and averaged 7.3 points, will have an expanded role on this team. And expectations will be higher, judging from preseason award lists. He is one of 20 players selected to the preseason watch list for the Bob Cousy Award presented to college basketball’s top point guard. And he has been named to the All-AAC preseason second team.
“That lets me know people noticed what I did last year,” Adams said after UConn’s Saturday practice. “But I don’t think I played my best basketball last year. This year, I’m ready to make an impact, let everyone know just how good I really am, and what I’m capable of. “
Does preseason award talk motivate Adams?
“It’s something that gets me going,” he said. “I want to achieve these things even though they are individual things. I want to achieve individual things, but I still want to accomplish goals for my team.
“Being the point guard, I’ve got to be able to read guys, tell guys where to go. I’ve got to have the trust of my teammates and be an extension of coach [Kevin Ollie] on the floor. That’s a key.”
Ollie and Adams need to be on the same page and that wasn’t always the case last season. The Roxbury, Mass., native had 87 assists and 61 turnovers his freshman season. He is an exceptional ball-handler and is a good defender when staying within Ollie’s system.
But UConn’s coach and point guard clashed last season at Temple. Adams was benched for most of the second half. There are things he got away with in high school that won’t work now.
“He’s preparing himself to be the leader I know he can be,” Ollie said. “Doing the extra work in the weight room, having that initiative to come in and do extra stuff. He wasn’t doing that early in his career. He was kind of living off talent and he kind of saw, as we got through this season, not even making the [AAC] first team rookie team, I believe that hurt him a little bit. He took that personal, as all great players should and he had a great postseason.”
Sunday night will be the start of new adjustments, new rules and five new freshmen looking to him for direction.
“Hopefully we get a better feel for each other, a better feel for our sets and just getting comfortable in defenses,” Adams said. “It’s a lot different from playing against each other because we’re cheating the plays and we all know everything.
“We’re going to see who’s to going to show out, step up and who’s going to fall into certain roles.”
In addition to Adams, UConn has senior Rodney Purvis, freshman Christian Vital and the star of the recruiting class, Alterique Gilbert, in the backcourt. Gilbert and Adams figure to play together often. When they do, the Huskies will push the ball as any team in the country.
Ollie wants to get a glimpse of his fast break in Sunday’s game. And for Adams, that means getting some time together with Gilbert, creating a highly-anticipated backcourt tandem.
“A lot of the time when we’ve been practicing, me and Alterique were going against each,” Adams said. “We don’t get to play on the same team too much. In the exhibition games, I know Coach Ollie’s going to switch it up. I want to work on gelling with him.”
Adams doesn’t mind blowing up Twitter once in a while, but he’d rather do it with consistency over dramatic moments.
“Hopefully, this team can do something this year that’s much bigger than just one shot,” he said.