Miles' absence not a major blow to Huskies

October, 3, 2008

Connecticut wasn't projected to be a top five team, potential Big East champion and a Final Four participant because of Nate Miles.

The reason was because of the return of guards like senior A.J. Price, junior Jerome Dyson and incoming freshman Kemba Walker as well as senior forward Jeff Adrien and junior center Hasheem Thabeet.

That's why, not because of Miles. Miles was like so many well-traveled players that get hyped without ever playing consistently at a high-level. You can't separate the fact from the fable until the player actually plays games for a full season.

Miles was expelled from UConn Thursday for violating a restraining order within the first 20 minutes of receiving it after a woman had claimed he had attempted to force her to into having sex, according to court documents. The restraining order was issued on Sept. 22. His court case on Tuesday was continued until Nov. 25. Sources within UConn said they expect Miles to appeal the decision while he's at home in Toledo, Ohio.

But waiting for Miles to be cleared is probably a reach and unnecessary for a team that doesn't need him to make a run at the national title.

Sure, the coaching staff praised his talents throughout the summer. UConn coach Jim Calhoun told me in August that it was worth waiting for Miles to get eligible the past season. He said Miles needed to get adjusted to college, go to summer school and compared the 6-foot-7 Miles to an NBA stud and former Husky in Richard Hamilton.

"When you get a guy at small forward/big guard who could be a point guard-type you're just so much better," Calhoun said in August.

He went on to say that Adrien wouldn't have to move out to play some small forward to get the ball and that Thabeet would be better because of Miles.

But Miles was still a risk. He had been to five high schools. Counting on Miles to be a difference maker for the Huskies wasn't realistic, even though no one could have predicted this mess.

Miles was projected to be a starter. He was going to replace Stanley Robinson who isn't in school this fall after being a relatively inconsistent scorer last season. But Robinson is working at a sheet metal factory in Willimantic, Conn., this fall according to the Huskies and is expected to be eligible and in school in the middle of December.

The Huskies aren't depending on Robinson, though. And they don't need Miles to be an elite team, either.

The Huskies could use a true small forward but their best team may be going small with a healthy Price (14.5 ppg), who is coming off ACL surgery last March, Dyson (12.5 ppg) and Walker. Walker was the most valuable player for the FIBA U-18 tournament in Argentina while playing for the U.S.

Adrien is a physical power forward and Thabeet might be the most imposing defensive player in the country and could be an offensive force if he ever finds consistent confidence in being a bully in the post.

The bench is deep. Every year guard Craig Austrie is pushed aside and yet the senior finds minutes to contribute. The Huskies' staff is raving about the improved defensive play of sophomore Donnell Beverly as a stopper at small forward. Plugging in freshman guard Scottie Haralson now for spot minutes could occur.

The frontcourt has little to fret with backups 6-9 Gavin Edwards and 7-footer Jonathan Mandeldove with a combined 10 fouls behind Adrien and Thabeet. The Huskies had predicted 7-1 sophomore Charles Okwandu would be a project. But he has showed more skill and offensive talent than they thought and he could get some run. There is a chance that 6-10 freshman Ater Majok will be eligible by mid-December for another body.

But as a number of UConn sources said, the Huskies seemed to thrive when there is duress and limited numbers. UConn made its run toward the NCAA tournament last season after Dyson and former player Doug Wiggins were suspended. One of the highlight wins came without them at Indiana.

UConn never really had Miles so there should be no reason that they would have to rally around a cause. While Miles will appeal, we may not see him again until the NBA draft in June where his instability and lack of game experience would probably be a red flag, too.

If the Huskies go with a smaller perimeter, and a forceful frontline of Adrien and Thabeet then not having a true small forward won't be much of a sore to pick on throughout the season.

Emotions are still raw at UConn right now over the expulsion but around the Big East it's highly doubtful anyone will be complaining that the Huskies would have been so much better with Miles on the team. This squad didn't need any more distractions. There are enough good stories with coach Jim Calhoun's comeback from cancer, Price's return from a potentially devastating injury to his college career, and the development of a possible NBA big man in Thabeet during three years of college, something that has become increasingly more rare for centers of late because so many jump early to the NBA.

UConn minus Miles is still a threat to win the Big East and compete with North Carolina for the national title. That didn't change Thursday one bit.


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