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UConn Retools With a Lethal Backcourt

STORRS, Conn. – After three weeks on the University of Connecticut campus, graduate transfer Sterling Gibbs already has mapped out the most important landmarks in his mind.

“Especially all the places I really need to know,” Gibbs said Tuesday during an interview at the Werth Family Center, UConn’s practice facility. “Here, the classroom, the dining hall, and a few other places. It’s a real nice campus, a real nice area.”

Basketball. Books. Food. What more could a college basketball player need?

Gibbs, a 6-foot-2 guard from Scotch Plains, N.J., has plenty of experience acclimating himself to new environments. He played for the Texas Longhorns as a freshman in 2011-12 and then sat out the following season under NCAA rules after transferring to Seton Hall. But after two seasons with the Pirates – and earning his undergraduate degree at Seton Hall this spring – Gibbs decided to change uniforms again.

Seton Hall transfer Sterling Gibbs has arrived at UConn (Ken Davis photo)

Seton Hall transfer Sterling Gibbs has arrived at UConn (Ken Davis photo)

With his degree already in hand, Gibbs is eligible to play immediately for the Huskies. UConn coach Kevin Ollie has taken advantage of the graduate transfer rule again to restock his roster. The addition of Gibbs, who averaged 16.3 points and 3.8 assists at Seton Hall last season, has elevated UConn into preseason Top 25 discussions again.

After some mental back-and-forth on his decision to leave Seton Hall, Gibbs turned to Twitter to announce his decision on May 16.

“3rd times a charm . . . UCONN! #BeyondBlessed”

Adjusting to the territory is nothing new for Gibbs, but this time is different. Since enrolling in school on June 1, he has realized this is the last time he will unpack on a college campus.

“This is my final destination,” Gibbs said. “I’m getting adjusted. I’m glad to be here this summer. It’s helping a lot, especially getting to know the guys and going through all the workouts and just being around the atmosphere.”

The atmosphere within the UConn program right now is one of renewed optimism. Ollie and the Huskies don’t need to be reminded they missed the NCAA tournament one season after winning a national championship. Heading into 2015-16, the Huskies also face the task of replacing Mr. Everything point guard Ryan Boatright. With the addition of Gibbs, that job will be shared by Gibbs and incoming freshman Jalen Adams – with Gibbs the likely starter.

That doesn’t seem to bother Adams, who was first to commit to this recruiting class. Giving Adams a year to learn from Gibbs should also be the best thing for the program as it moves along year-to-year. And the two guards will be roommates.

Freshman Jalen Adams loves UConn's backcourt style (Ken Davis photo)

Freshman Jalen Adams loves UConn’s backcourt style (Ken Davis photo)

“Sterling has played in the [NCAA] tournament,” said Adams, who hails from Roxbury, Mass., home of former UConn great Shabazz Napier. “He knows how to lead a team as a point guard. I think I can learn a lot.

“I wasn’t shocked [about Gibbs’ decision]. I’ve seen a couple of mix tapes and highlights. I’ve seen how he plays and I think he fits in here. . . . So I was excited when I found out. I wasn’t stressing about it.

“Kemba [Walker] and Shabazz Napier played together. Shabazz and Boatright played together. You can play with two guards. When I committed here, Coach Ollie told me UConn is ‘position-less.’ You don’t have an assigned position. You just go out and play hard. I think we can make it work.”

In addition to Adams and Gibbs, there will be two more newcomers on the UConn roster. Steven Enoch, a 6-10 forward, will be the local favorite coming from Norwalk, Conn. and St. Thomas More High School.

Shonn Miller, a 6-7 forward, is another graduate transfer with one season of eligibility remaining. Miller, a native of Euclid, Ohio, is a Cornell graduate and will face the transition from the Ivy League to the American Athletic Conference.

Beyond that, Miller and Gibbs realize they have to provide leadership while getting acquainted with new teammates.

“I felt like we had that connection even before we met each other,” Miller said of bonding with Gibbs in these recent weeks. “We knew we were in the same position, coming in for one year and having that experience of playing three previous years of college ball. I think we have that fifth-year connection.”

Gibbs and Miller become the third and fourth grad transfers to join the Huskies under Ollie. R.J. Adams, from Holy Cross, and George Washington’s Lasan Kromah became key contributors during their one-year stints.

The potential Gibbs brings to UConn is obvious. Of all those transfers, expectations will be highest for him. His 43.6 percent shooting from 3-point range last season was second-highest in Seton Hall history. That was just one of the reasons why he earned second-team All-Big East honors.

Gibbs visited Pittsburgh and Ohio State. He had been expected to visit North Carolina State but shut everything down after a visit to UConn.

“Just the whole tradition,” Gibbs said when asked what appealed most about UConn. “It’s not just a point-guard deal. I’ve always loved UConn. I was a big Coach [Jim] Calhoun fan. I was a Marcus Williams fan, a Rudy Gay fan.

“I think [UConn guards] have that freedom to take chances, to take shots and not really worry about the next play. Coach Ollie gives that freedom. And the fact Coach Ollie played guard himself and he’s able to get on the court and actually explain things. I think that helps a lot.

“I’m not Ryan Boatright. I’m not Shabazz Napier. I’m really just here to soak in everything I can learn and try to help as much as I can in this one season. And try to bring a national championship.”

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