Taliek Brown a valuable resource to current UConn point guard Gilbert
Storrs — Alterique Gilbert's value to the UConn basketball team can't be accurately measured by statistics alone.
The player that coach Dan Hurley refers to as the heart and soul of the Huskies can make a positive impact without piling up impressive numbers from his point guard position.
Just ask anyone inside the program.
"For real basketball people that really know the game and know how much he's valuable to the team, you've got to know he's a big impact on us," said Taliek Brown, UConn's director of player development. "How far we go depends on Al."
Brown should know.
A former point guard at UConn, Brown ran the show from 2000 to 2004 and led the Huskies to a national championship as a senior before starting a 10-year professional career. He's still the program's all-time assist leader and only Husky to score at least 1,000 points and dish out at least 700 assists in his career.
Brown can relate what Gilbert, who's struggled offensively and taken some heat from fans, is experiencing this season.
Long before Brown held up the national championship as well as two Big East tournament trophies, he dealt with criticism for his offensive shortcomings while his leadership qualities and toughness were sometimes undervalued by those outside the program. His teammates gladly followed him into the competitive fire.
Gilbert, a redshirt junior, is in a similar place.
Through eight games, Gilbert is shooting an icy 29 percent from the field and averaging 10.1 points per game.
On the plus side, Gilbert has a team-best 37 assists and just 15 turnovers. What doesn't show up in the box score is his defensive prowess and that he's a unifying force and well-respected by his teammates and coaches.
Backcourt partner Christian Vital loudly voiced his support while walking by Gilbert during a post-game interview session on Wednesday.
"That's my PG!" Vital boomed. "That's my PG! Straight like that!"
When Gilbert was criticized on social media during the Charleston Classic last month, Hurley strongly came to his point guard's defense.
Hurley encouraged Brown to serve as a mentor to Gilbert.
"We've asked Taliek in practice — unfortunately, it probably took me a little bit too long — to have him spend a lot of time in his ear," Hurley said. "Kind of possession by possession, what did you see? What should you see? How do you lead?
"Because Taliek had a similar experience in terms of some struggles at different points. It wasn't all roses and parades and rainbows and unicorns for Taliek. He's done a really good job. ... Taliek is definitely someone for him to lean on."
Brown has taken Gilbert under his wing. He stresses to Gilbert that a point guard can help his team even if his jump shot is off the mark by bringing contagious energy, encouraging teammates and running the offense.
"That's what I try to rub off to him," Brown said. "I went through the same situations. You've just gotta stay strong and be mentally strong. The coach is depending on you and the team is depending on you. Everybody is depending on you. You've got to come to play every day."
Gilbert says Brown has helped him with his mental approach and how to deal with adversity.
"He's been a part of a championship program, a championship team," Gilbert said. "He gives me so much advice on how to handle a lot of things, on and off the court. He's just been like my mentor for the last couple of weeks. Very helpful for me.
"He was in that position before. It's just something that you have to keep going. He really motivated me to keep going. I just got in the gym and stayed in the gym. He's a great leader."
Despite his veteran status, Gilbert has limited experience as a college point guard. Injuries sidelined him for all but nine games his first two seasons and he appeared in 25 games last season.
Gilbert says he's working on his leadership skills by watching interviews with former Husky great Kemba Walker, who plays for the Boston Celtics.
"Anything of him of talking and expressing himself," Gilbert said.
Brown isn't worried about Gilbert, who's shot the ball better in the last two games during which he's made nine of 17 from the field. Gilbert also had 13 assists and just two turnovers in that stretch.
"He's a good kid," Brown said. "He's very coachable, easy to work with. He wants to get better, he wants to continue to learn. That's all you can ask of him."
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The UConn men's basketball team will be playing on the road for the fourth time in the last six games on Thursday, visiting No. 25 Houston for a 9 p.m. American Athletic Conference meeting at the Fertitta Center.
After a 13-year absence, the teams will play again Thursday night, broadcast at 7 p.m. on ESPN from Hartford.