Column: We're going to be alright
Published: Monday, August 26, 2013
Updated: Monday, August 26, 2013 23:08
I never liked New Year’s Eve.
Even when I was a kid, it never really did anything for me. It made no sense to me that thousands (millions?) of people would gather in Times Square to have their personal bubble popped just so they could show the world they know how to count down from 10 and wear glasses that define stupidity.
Still, on June 30, I was that person, minus the stupid glasses and personal space issues. I sat in my bed with my MacBook on my lap as I prepared to count down.
10 – I thought of how UConn almost missed out on a chance that would change the school forever, having only been invited to the party after one of the more popular kids, Holy Cross, said no.
9 – “Those were the days,” I thought as I remembered when Ray Allen and Allen Iverson went toe-to-toe in the world’s greatest arena – and the sight of the former dancing across the floor after his famous shot in 1996.
8 – We played Pittsburgh three straight years in the Big East Championship Game. Remember when Taliek Brown launched a 35-foot buzzer-beater to give UConn the late lead?
7 – “Walker with seven.”
6 – This is the greatest show in the country! The best teams in the nation are all right here, battling it out, beating each other to within inches of death night in and night out.
5 – What in the world is going on right now? Why are people leaving?
4 – Walker on McGhee with four.
3 – Wait! Stop! What’s happening?
2 – “Hey,” says the nerdy kid who is clearly out of place at this party, “I’m Tulane.”
1 – Something happened. All of a sudden, what was once an amazing party has died. The jock that threw the party is still there, as is his backup and the team manager. But suddenly they are surrounded by outcasts.
It’s July 1.
The American Athletic Conference is officially born.
The realization hit like an 18-wheeler at full speed. For 21 years, all I knew was the glory of Big East basketball and the drama that from January to March captivated us in ways we never thought possible. In the blink of an eye, the collapse of the Big East became a reality.
It didn’t seem fair. The conference was gone. But what is worse is that UConn got the shortest straw of the bunch.
That is the thinking among fans, however. They believe that the American is going to be a flop, and UConn is getting set up for a decline that will have them on par with the likes of Central Connecticut, the ginger stepbrother as it is better known.
That is a bit of an overreaction, don’t you think?
Sure, I had a bit of a problem accepting it at first. How can you not? This isn’t about a new logo – those spring up all the time. This is a new conference that will feature schools like Tulane, Tulsa and East Carolina.
But it is also spearheaded by a school whose men’s basketball team has won three national championships in four trips to the Final Four in the past 14 years. Is that anything to turn a nose up at?
The American is far weaker than the Big East, of course. But the pieces are there to help it grow. I have full confidence that the leadership and the schools in place will build a respectable conference, just like the Big East schools did when they got together in 1979.
More importantly to folks in Storrs, UConn is going to be just fine.
I find it hard to believe that a program with the success that UConn has seen in the last 20 years is going to suddenly drop out of the ring of relevancy in college basketball.
It seems that Kevin Ollie has the same opinion, considering that since UConn became the headliner of the American, they retained all three recruits for 2013 and have added two big names for the 2014-15 season.
Rodney Purvis, once one of the most sought-after guards in the nation out of high school, left North Carolina State in the spring and is now in class in Storrs. Purvis and Daniel Hamilton, who is ranked No. 17 on ESPN’s list of the top 100 high school seniors, will be making their debuts for the Huskies in 2014.
Ollie is also very much in the hunt for Kelly Oubre, Abdul-Malik Abu and Quentin Snider, among other top recruits. All of these players are considering UConn alongside schools from the remaining power conferences.
UConn is not the only team in this ‘weak’ conference making moves. On Saturday, Southern Methodist picked up its biggest commitment in program history, receiving a verbal commitment from Emmanuel Mudiay, the No. 5 player in the nation for 2014.
These signings prove that a conference’s reputation is less of a factor in a recruit’s decision than some might think. Coaching is a major factor for recruits. Ollie is quickly building a reputation as a coach that players want to be around, and how can Mudiay turn down the opportunity to play for a coach with the resume of Larry Brown?