UConn's Gilbert happy, healthy heading into basketball season

Storrs — For the first time in his UConn basketball career, Alterique Gilbert enjoyed a healthy summer.

It's made a huge difference for the redshirt junior guard.

At this stage of preseason, Gilbert is in a far better place than his previous college years when he's spent the majority of the offseason undergoing rehabilitation for shoulder injuries. He's fitter and stronger and also in tune with his teammates.

"It gave me an opportunity for me to actually build my skills and jell with my teammates," Gilbert said on Saturday. "I definitely feel better physically. My body feels great. I'm lifting a lot more. ... The more time on the court, I feel like I get better."

That's great news for Gilbert and the Huskies, who had a spirited team workout on Saturday, a week away from the official first practice of the 2019-20 season.

"He looks great physically," coach Dan Hurley said. "He's got so many reps. He's been able to be a leader. It's hard to be a leader if you're on the side hurt. So he's on the court. He's kind of a heart and soul of a team kind of guy."

This is expected to be Gilbert's last season in Storrs. He's on track to graduate next spring.

And he hopes it will be his best season.

The injury-plagued Gilbert has appeared in only 34 career games. He finally seemed to shake his run of bad luck last season before suffering a concussion and eye injury March 7 against Temple that ended his year. Still, he appeared in a career-best 25 games, starting 23, while averaging 12.6 points and 3.6 assists.

He still has some hurdles to clear.

"The biggest thing for Al is just a mental and emotional acceptance that I'm in my fourth year now and I'm healthy and, man, I'm grateful that I'm finally healthy and I can go out and do what I love and not ruminate on what he's missed out on," Hurley said.

Gilbert has looked good during preseason workouts. His teammates feed off his energy. It's a good sign that he no longer wears a brace on his shoulder.

He's taken on a leadership role along with senior backcourt partner Christian Vital, focusing on making his teammates better. That's important considering the Huskies have added young talent in freshmen Jalen Gaffney, James Bouknight, Richard Springs, and redshirt freshman Akok Akok. Transfer R.J. Cole is practicing but will sit out this season.

Gilbert and Vital are determined to end their UConn careers on a high note.

"We talk about it all the time," Gilbert said. "This is our year. It's his senior year as well, so we're going to put it all in. It's not going to be a secret."

And, if he remains healthy, this just may be the year that Gilbert realizes his full potential.

"I just want to have fun," Gilbert said.

News and notes

• UConn had a special guest at practice. Andre Jackson, a 6-foot-6 forward from Albany, is on his official visit this weekend. ... Hurley on his team opening the American Athletic Conference season on the road at Cincinnati (Jan. 1) and South Florida (Jan. 4): "To play two of the best teams on the road back to back to start conference, I don't think that was unexpected. We haven't been good in the league. I believe we're the only program to win a national championship while a member of the conference, right? Yes, so we do have that. But we haven't been very good lately. I think our focus isn't going to be on how the schedule falls. We're trying to build a good team so we can have a good season." ... ... First Night will be held on Friday, Oct. 18, for the men's and women's basketball program. ... AAC basketball media day is Oct. 14 in Philadelphia.

g.keefe@theday.com


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