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The start of a regular season still means something special to Jim Calhoun, even entering his 38th season as a Division I college basketball coach, 24th at UConn.
"I've never found one that wasn't exciting," Calhoun said. "This is exciting, too, with a little bit of stomach stuff and getting ready for when you wake up Friday morning you know you have a game. Here we go again."
No. 12 UConn takes its first step tonight in what it hopes will be a long journey that will extend deep into March, as it hosts Colonial Athletic Association foe William & Mary beginning at 7:30 at Gampel Pavilion.
The Huskies enter the season with an interesting mix of veteran talent and promising newcomers. There's no shortage of optimism.
"We have a lot of talented people," senior Jerome Dyson said. "We're definitely going to try to get a Big East championship. We haven't had one in awhile."
UConn, which was selected to place third in the Big East preseason poll, last won a regular season title in 2006. Last year the Huskies tied for second place and advanced to the Final Four.
Right now UConn's focus is on improving on a daily basis and incorporating four freshmen into the rotation. The Huskies jump right into the season, playing three games in the first seven days including back-to-back home games Monday and Tuesday in the NIT Season Tip-Off tournament.
Calhoun feels good about his Huskies after two impressive exhibition performances but also has his share of concerns.
"I like our quickness," Calhoun said. "Right now (the team) is enthusiastic. I question the inside game without Ater (Majok) and question can we consistently make shots from the outside once the season starts."
At least for the first three games, the Huskies should be fine without Majok, who won't be eligible to play until mid-December.
Picked to finish 10th in the CAA preseason poll, William & Mary returns eight players, including four starters, from a team that posted a 10-20 record last season. UConn has never lost a season opener at Gampel Pavilion, winning all 20 since the building opened in 1990.
William & Mary will likely be the first of many teams to challenge UConn's ability to score from the perimeter by playing zone. The Huskies shot the ball well from 3-point range in the two exhibition games, going 10-for-20, with Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson combining to go 8-for-11.
"They'll pack it in and see if we can make shots," Calhoun said. 'We'll try to get the game into the (open) court. We've been working very hard on our press. We'll probably start off by pressing them as much as we can."
All four freshmen — Jamaal Trice, Darius Smith, Coombs-McDaniel and Alex Oriakhi, who'll start at center — are all fighting to be part of the regular rotation.
They're eager to show what they can do.
"We can't stop talking about it," Coombs-McDaniel said. "It's a big game for us. Right now we're a top 15 team in the country. We want to keep going. We don't want to have any setbacks. We're going to really get after it and put on a show."
Walker, one of three new starters this season, has faith in the newcomers.
"I think they're going to be fine," Walker said.
Location: Gampel Pavilion
Tip-off: 7:30 p.m. (MyTV9)
2008-09 records: UConn 31-5, William & Mary 10-20
Probable starters: UConn, 6-1 so. guard Kemba Walker, 6-4 sr. guard Jerome Dyson, 6-9 jr. forward Stanley Robinson, 6-10 sr. forward Gavin Edwards, 6-9 fr. center Alex Oriakhi
William & Mary, 6-1 sr. Sean McCurdy, 6-3 sr. guard David Schneider, 6-7 sr. guard Danny Sumner, 6-6 so. forward Quinn McDowell, 6-9 jr. forward Marcus Kitts
Noteworthy: Dyson may need pre-game shot to numb injured right big toe hurt prior to Sunday's exhibition finale. … Oriakhi earned start at center by averaging 12.5 points and 15.0 rebounds in two exhibition wins. … First career start for Edwards. … Schneider a Colonial Athletic Association preseason second team pick and top returning scorer at 14.1. … Three-point shooting a major weapon for Tribe, which attempted 600 or more in each of last three seasons.
— Gavin Keefe