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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    UConn basketball notes: Future Husky Nowell takes in the celebration

    Imhotep's Ahmad Nowell (0) plays against Cardinal Hayes during a game at the Hoophall Classic on January 15 in Springfield, Mass. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
    UConn guard Stephon Castle (5) is guarded by Seton Hall guard Isaiah Coleman (21) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, March 3, 2024, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

    Storrs — Future Husky guard Ahmad Nowell received a standing ovation from the Gampel Pavilion crowd when introduced during a timeout in Sunday’s game.

    Then Nowell went back to his seat behind the UConn bench and watched the Huskies beat Seton Hall by 30 and clinch the program’s first Big East regular season title since 1999.

    Nowell made the trip to Storrs with family and friends, including mom Teneka Greer and Tasheed Carter, whom he called his father figure.

    He’s enjoying watching UConn’s success.

    “It’s been very exciting just to see this program continue to be great and build their legacy,” Nowell said. “Just to be able to go into March with high energy for March Madness.”

    A 6-foot guard and top 30 recruit, Nowell is having a terrific season for Imhotep Institute in Philadelphia. He’s averaging 22 points, six rebounds and four assists for the 26-3 Panthers, who’ll play a state tournament game on Friday.

    Nowell hopes to lead his high school team to a state title.

    He certainly had a more enjoyable experience on Sunday than while attending his previous UConn game. He was at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Dec. 20, for a 75-60 loss to Seton Hall.

    Wherever he watches the Huskies play, he thinks about how he’ll fit in. He’s expected to compete for a starting backcourt spot next season.

    “I always know that Dan Hurley is going to put something great together depending on the point guards and the players that he’s got, so I’m not really worried,” Nowell said. “I know he’s going to do a good job with me and I’m just going to play my role and be the best player that I can be for us.”

    Nowell is part of an incoming class that also includes 6-7 forward Isaiah Abraham, who plays for Paul VI Catholic in Fairfax, Va.

    He’s worked hard on his game over the winter.

    “I feel like I improved a lot just on my point guard skills and just being a real one-guard this year … Just being able to come out this year and really be one dominant, so taking responsibility for all my other players’ actions and just getting ready for Dan Hurley intenseness.”

    So why did Nowell want to play for a demanding coach like Hurley?

    “I just know how bad he works on winning and how much he wants to win and how great of a coach he is,” Nowell said. “We both have that mentality, just winning first. I feel like that’s why we both connect. Before the relationship, I knew we had the mindset of just winning.”

    Hurley and the rest of the coaching staff stopped by to visit with Nowell during the pre-game warmups.

    Castle ties Big East record

    Odds heavily favor freshman Stephon Castle being named the Big East freshman of the year when the winner is announced on Wednesday, March 13, the first day of the Big East tournament in New York.

    Castle continued to strengthen his case by earning his 10th Big East freshman of the week honor on Monday, tying Syracuse’s Camelo Anthony for the league record set during the 2002-03 season. He leads all Big East freshmen in points (11.3), rebounds (4.3) and assists (3.0) per game.

    He had his best game against Seton Hall, finishing with a career-high tying 21 points to go with four rebounds, three assists and two steals in what may have been his last appearance before the home crowd. He played like an NBA lottery pick that he’s projected to be.

    “Steph was tremendous,” Hurley said.

    During the post-game press conference, Hurley took exception to a reporter’s recent critique of Castle’s game.

    “I saw some super critical breakdown of him on ESPN and his draft potential,” Hurley said. “I’d like to see them be super critical of all the prospects. I watch a lot of these top prospects and I just hope that reporter does a scathing breakdown of every draft prospect, not just ours.”

    Newton a top point guard candidate

    Veteran point guard Tristen Newton is one of five finalists for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame’s 2024 Bob Cousy Award, which honors the nation’s top point guard.

    Newton is having a career season, leading the Huskies in scoring (15.3 points), rebounding (7.1) and assists (6.0) per game. He is the NCAA’s active leader in career triple-doubles with four. He’s also had nine double-doubles this season.

    Marquette’s Tyler Kolek, Alabama’s Mark Sears, Purdue’s Braden Smith and Houston’s Jamal Shead are the other finalists.

    Previous Bob Cousy winners included Shabazz Napier (2014) and Kemba Walker (2011), two former Huskies.

    News and notes

    UConn climbed one spot to No. 2 in Monday’s Associated Press top 25 poll, receiving six first place votes. No. 1 Houston had 52 votes and No. 3 Purdue had four. … Marquette at No. 8 and Creighton at No. 10 are the other ranked Big East teams. … Marquette will be without starting point guard Tyler Kolek for Wednesday’s game against UConn and its final regular season game versus DePaul. He’s sidelined with an oblique injury. … Sophomore Donovan Clingan earned a spot on the weekly Big East honor roll for the third time this season. … After Sunday’s game, Hurley and his family stopped by Ted’s Bar, an on-campus hangout, much to the delight of the students there.

    g.keefe@theday.com

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