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Hamilton, Adams enjoy post-season spotlight

Des Moines, Iowa — The sizzling hot postseason spotlight wilts some players and fuels growth in others.

Put UConn sophomore Daniel Hamilton and freshman Jalen Adams put in the latter category.

They've blossomed, playing their best basketball starting with the American Athletic Conference tournament championship run in Orlando, Fla.

Heading into Saturday's NCAA tournament South Region second-round game against top-seeded Kansas, Hamilton and Adams had thrived in those pressure-packed situations.

Hamilton is a rising star, leading the Huskies in scoring (20 points) and rebounding (11) in the first four postseason games. He had 17 points and a team-best 10 rebounds in Thursday's first round win over eighth-seeded Colorado.

Adams, the point guard of the future, easily exceeded his regular-season scoring average, averaging 11.5 points and adding a team-best 17 assists overall in a reserve role. He finished with nine points, three assists and two steals against Colorado.

They've both experienced a significant growth spurt from even from just a few weeks ago after battling through a roller-coaster regular season.

Hamilton, a versatile swingman, credits his four brothers as well as his UConn brothers for his improvement.

"My brothers at home and my brothers at UConn drive me, because they knew I could be better than what I had been playing throughout the course of the season when I was playing pretty bad," Hamilton said Friday. "They really helped me out and picked me up. Then they said they really need me throughout the course of the tournament."

Adams has delivered several clutch baskets, including his now legendary miracle shot in a four overtime thriller against Cincinnati in the AAC quarterfinal on March 11.

Every minute on the court serves as a valuable education that aids in both players' development.

"There's been a lot of ups and downs," Adams said. "I started off the season struggling. My teammates and coaching staff have helped me learn more about the game about basketball. Definitely, I'm a lot more confident."

Even in a limited role, freshman center Steve Enoch, a former St. Thomas More standout, has benefited from March Madness experience. The coaching staff has raved about his work ethic and potential throughout the season.

"It's been a bumpy road, but I'm still enjoying it," Enoch said of his freshman season. "I don't mind my current situation because there's always room for improvement. It will make me a better person. Times like these, this is when you find your true person out, who you are."

End in sight

The end was in sight for several Huskies heading into Saturday's game.

Sterling Gibbs and Shonn Miller, two graduate transfers, and seniors Phil Nolan, Omar Calhoun and Nnamdi Amilo are experiencing their last NCAA tournament.

They're soaking it all in.

"I'm having a great time," Gibbs said. "I really don't want this to end. Even though this is my last couple games as a college athlete, I'm enjoying every moment of it."

Gibbs, Miller and Nolan have started every postseason game, starting with AAC tournament.

Purvis' time to shine

Redshirt junior Rodney Purvis was a spectator during UConn's national championship season in 2014, sitting out after transferring from North Carolina State.

It helped prepare him for this season's postseason run.

"I learned how to win," Purvis said. "Shabazz Napier was one of my close friends the entire season and he still is now. I just learned a lot from him. Just my overall mentality, how serious it really is, just to take care of things, and what's really important with your body and things of that nature."

In the victory over Colorado, Purvis contributed a team-high 19 points, five rebounds and two steals in a productive 25 minutes. It was his highest scoring output since scoring 28 against UMass Lowell on Dec. 20.

"I just always wanted this opportunity," Purvis said. "I'm just happy that God gave me this opportunity and to be around these great guys. A lot our guys are fifth-year (players) and we have some seniors, we're just trying to enjoy it while we're still here."

News and notes

With Kentucky playing Indiana and UConn facing Kansas Saturday, Adams was asked Friday if the remaining field here in Des Moines had a Final Four feel. "If we win this game, hopefully we'll make it that far. And if they happen to beat us, I'll root for them because they're definitely a good team." ... UConn's seven-game NCAA tournament winning streak includes wins over Saint Joseph's, Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State, Florida and Kentucky in 2014 and Colorado this March. ... Heading into Saturday's action, four teams from the AAC are 1-3, with Tulsa, Cincinnati and Temple losing openers. ... The team's scoring leader race is going down to the wire. As of Friday, Purvis averaged a team-best 12.7 points per game, followed by Miller (12.6), Hamilton (12.6) and Gibbs (12.0). Hamilton already has basically sealed up top team honors in rebounds (8.9) and assists (4.7).

g.keefe@theday.com

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