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Vitale: Dazzling Dozen Super Sophs

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Super sophs Gordon, Okafor ready for UConn


Aug. 12
It's only August, but I can't wait for basketball season to start. I can't wait for the balls to be rolled on the court and for practice to begin, baby!

Center Emeka Okafor helped the Huskies reach the Elite Eight last season.
Looking ahead to the 2002-03 season, there's a sophomore tandem that really excites me. This duo may not get much publicity nationwide in preseason magazines, but trust me, as the season progresses, this pair will be electrifying. I believe they will be more stable after being up and down as diaper dandies.

The Connecticut duo of guard Ben Gordon and big man Emeka Okafor showed moments of brilliance and also inconsistency last season, which is natural for young players at a major institution. In a program where winning is expected now and not tomorrow, there is some extra pressure. I feel that was the case last year for this talented duo.

Gordon has the potential to be deadly on the perimeter. He averaged 12.6 points per game as a freshman, shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range.

Okafor is tough on the interior; last season he averaged 4.1 blocks (second in the nation) and 9.0 rebounds per game. Many schools passed on him in recruiting, saying he didn't have enough of an offensive game. How wrong those people were, as he's capable of making a major splash. Coach Jim Calhoun and his staff have done a phenomenal job in his development.

I think back to last season's game at Arizona, where this dynamic duo really showed something in a big win over the Wildcats. Gordon scored 23 points, while Okafor had 19 points, 15 rebounds and was credited with nine blocked shots -- though some felt he had a legitimate triple-double.

With that first year under their belts, look for Gordon and Okafor to have super soph campaigns. The Huskies will make a strong run at back-to-back Big East championships with the scoring ability of Gordon on the perimeter and the shot-blocking ability of Okafor on the interior. Okafor is also a scoring threat in the low post.

Remember, Connecticut gave eventual national champion Maryland quite a scare last year in the East Regional final. Yes, the Huskies will be a different team without Caron Butler, who left early for the NBA, and that means the duo of Gordon and Okafor will be counted on for even more production. I believe they are ready for the challenge.

It should be an exciting time for the Huskies. Keep an eye on them in the season ahead.

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