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UConn's Whaley will return and use extra year of eligibility

After watching three players depart the UConn men's basketball program in recent weeks, the Huskies received some good news about a key player deciding to return next season.

Senior forward Isaiah Whaley, who started all 23 games last season and was voted Big East Defensive Player of the Year, will use the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to pandemic, UConn announced on Tuesday.

With Whaley playing a vital role, the Huskies went 15-8 last season and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time in five years.

"I am very excited to be able to return to UConn for another season," Whaley said in a released statement. "I think we took a big step forward this year and I want to help the program continue its rise as we go after championships."

The Huskies will welcome back one of their most consistent frontcourt players in the 6-foot-9, 230-pound Whaley, who averaged career bests in points (8.0), rebounds (6.2), blocks (2.6) and minutes per game (27.4). He also shot 47.9 percent from the field and went 8-for-23 from 3-point range after not taking an attempt from beyond the arc in his previous three seasons.

Whaley also helped anchor a stingy defense, as UConn ranked first in scoring defense and blocks per game in the Big East at 64.6 points and 5.3 blocks, respectively. His block average ranked him 14th in the country.

"Isaiah has worked extremely hard to become one of the most productive players in our program," coach Dan Hurley said in a release. "His tireless work ethic, his leadership, and his attitude epitomize the type of player we want at UConn. I couldn't be happier to welcome him back for another season."

Whaley, who will graduate in May with a degree in Urban and Community Studies, will not count toward UConn's scholarship limit.

With Whaley, the Huskies will be deeper and stronger in the frontcourt. Adama Sanogo will be looking to build on a terrific freshman season, but he's the only other proven forward returning. Redshirt freshman Richie Springs played only 12 minutes all season and redshirt sophomore Akok Akok, who's still working his way back from an Achilles tendon injury suffered in February 2020, saw only 30 minutes of action in seven games.

The Huskies have eight players coming back as well as three incoming recruits in 6-10 forward Samson Johnson, 6-5 shooting guard Jordan Hawkins and 6-3 guard Rahsool Diggins.

Since a season-ending loss to Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 20, reserves Brendan Adams and Josh Carlton have transferred, with the former heading to George Washington and the latter to Houston. Star guard James Bouknight also left, declaring for the 2021 NBA Draft.

Senior forward Tyler Polley, the Big East sixth man of the year, has yet to announce his plans for next season. He has the option to return.

g.keefe@theday.com

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