Addition of Wilson creates a nice problem for UConn's Hurley
When Dan Hurley contemplated taking the UConn basketball job in March, he took a hard look at the roster.
Sidney Wilson was one player that jumped out and ultimately played a factor in Hurley signing on to become the next Husky head coach.
"When I met with (athletic director) David Benedict, Sid was one of the reasons why I took the job," Hurley said in mid-October. "Obviously, it's UConn and all these things. But as a coach, you're always saying to yourself, what young players does this program have so that the rebuilding process can go a little bit quicker? Because if you're void of any young talent, you're in deep trouble.
"Sid was a guy that I saw a lot in high school. I knew he had the talent."
Wilson, a 6-foot-7 redshirt freshman swingman, could make his debut on Tuesday when UConn (5-1) hosts UMass Lowell (4-4) at Gampel Pavilion (7 p.m., SNY). He's missed the first six games after being suspended from game competition due to a violation of university policy that happened during last season.
Hurley announced Saturday that Wilson, a transfer from St. John's, is now eligible to play. But that doesn't mean Wilson will automatically be given a featured role.
While Wilson has participated in practice, he's coming off a long layoff, last suiting up for Brewster Academy, which won a national prep championship his final season (2016-17).
Plus, it will be a challenging for Hurley to carve out some playing time in a crowded, deep rotation, especially with 6-8 sophomore Tyler Polley playing well at power forward, averaging career bests in points (8.8) and rebounds (3.2).
"He's a small ball four, maybe without necessarily the shooting that Tyler has, but the explosiveness like some of the wings that Syracuse had," Hurley said of Wilson. "It's a pretty crowded three guard perimeter. ... and five guys that I'm trying to get minutes for there. So I would think that the area that (Wilson) wants to try to attack for a role and minutes is going to be probably that small ball four, maybe a little bit of big wing.
"We'll use him similar to Tyler at that position because we want to go fast, we want to be athletic, we want to pressure people. He's going to have to earn his role."
Figuring out where Wilson fits is a nice problem for Hurley to have.
Polley, who's started all six games and benefited from working with assistant coach Kimani Young, is stating his case for playing time. He's gradually coming out of his shell and gaining confidence. He's starting to attack the basket instead of just settling for perimeter shots.
"Tyler is a guy who's trending up right now," Hurley said. "I'm really hoping that he can carry it over to that next level of competition that's coming."
Playing for an emotional coach like Hurley is helping to ignite a fire inside Polley, whose showing a new side of his personality, both on and off the court.
"He's talking to me a little more during the day," Hurley said. "He's an understated guy. He's got a real sense of humor if you get to know him.
"... With his length and his shooting, he's a real weapon for us. So I just think it's all about confidence with him. It's all about this new staff building a relationship with him so that he knows we believe in him. Obviously, he's getting a lot of minutes on the court to get comfortable. He's making jump shots. He's getting in the mix on the glass a little bit, slashing a little bit. He just seems to be involved in at least a couple more tough guy plays."
Of course, it doesn't hurt to add another talented player to the mix like Wilson.
A big believer in building strong relationships with his players, Hurley spent time with Wilson after arriving in Storrs. He called it a bumpy road in terms of improving Wilson's habits, work rate and priorities.
"We had some tough conversations going back to literally the first day I got the job," Hurley said in October. "There were things that I had to deal with relative to him upon arrival. Sid had to get himself together. ... He's very smart. He's got an amazing personality and he's super talented. Like super talented."
In the upcoming months, Hurley will find out if Wilson can live up to his potential and stay out of trouble. And if Polley can maintain his upward trend.
Both players could come in handy during an important upcoming stretch that features games against Arizona on Sunday in Hartford and No. 15 Florida State on Dec. 8 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
UCONN vs. UMASS LOWELL
Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs
Tip: 7 p.m. (SNY)
Records: UConn 5-1, UMass Lowell 4-4
Last game: UConn beat New Hampshire, 91-66, Saturday; UMass Lowell lost at Duquesne, 83-71, Sunday
Probable starters: UMass Lowell, 6-3 sr. guard Ryan Jones (9.5 pts, 4.4 assists), 6-4 so. guard Obadiah Noel (15.6 pts), 6-5 r-jr. guard Christian Lutete (13.4 pts, 9 rebs), 6-7 r-sr. forward Josh Gantz (13.3 pts, 5.3 rebs), 6-9 fr. forward Darius Henderson (5.6 pts, 2.4 rebs)
UConn, 6-3 sr. guard Jalen Adams (18.3 pts), 6-0 redshirt so. guard Alterique Gilbert (12.8 pts, 4 assists), 6-2 jr. guard Christian Vital (11.2 pts, 5.5 rebs), 6-8 so. forward Tyler Polley (8.8 pts, 3.2 rebs), 6-10 so. forward Josh Carlton (8.7 pts, 4.2 rebs)
Noteworthy: Five games scoring at least 80 points, one more than last season. ... Series: UConn won only meeting, 88-79, Dec. 2015 in Hartford. ... River Hawks last in America East preseason poll. ... Wins over Wagner, Army, Sacred Heart, UMass Boston. ... Top reserve: 6-1 fr. guard Alex Rivera (14.6 pts, 3.6 rebs). ... UMass Lowell averages 16.2 turnovers per game. Scores 82 pts, allows 81.5. ... Hot: Vital two double digit rebounding games, matching his career-best season total. Cold: Tarin Smith 3-for-15 from 3-point range. ... Reserve Sidney Wilson to make UConn debut with suspension lifted. ... Huskies aiming to win six games before December for first time since 2013-14 season. ... Carlton scored two games in double figures, only did that four times last season. ... Huskies averaging 85.2 pts. ... UConn 88-9 vs. non-league foes at Gampel. ... Up next: UConn hosts Arizona Sunday afternoon in Hartford.
— Gavin Keefe