UConn's 'other' freshmen stepping up

STORRS, Conn. -- Enough about Charlie Villanueva. Connecticut has two other freshmen that deserve just as much attention.

Oh, and guess what? The pair have actually played, and based on their early contributions, could end up being as important as the yet-to-play Villanueva over the course of the Huskies' quest for a national championship -- let alone a possible Preseason NIT title this week in New York.

Josh Boone has been the perfect compliment to Emeka Okafor inside. In three games, the 6-foot-10 Boone has solved the one spot where the Huskies weren't stocked with talent entering the season -- power forward.

Marcus Williams, meanwhile, is making things interesting with senior Taliek Brown at the point, to the point where head coach Jim Calhoun won't hesitate to give Brown a quick hook. Calhoun isn't to the point of taking Brown out of the starting lineup, but Williams is seeing his minutes increase each game -- from nine in the opener against Yale, to 17 against Nevada to 24 against Sacred Heart.

Calhoun said Brown is still his "guy," but acknowledges Williams is pushing Brown. During the two Preseason NIT games at Gampel Pavilion and the Huskies' win over Sacred Heart in Hartford, Williams was the catalyst on offense.

Williams is averaging 6.3 assists and only two turnovers a game. Brown's numbers drop to 5.3 assists and 2.7 turnovers a game.

Did somebody say, "point guard controversy?" Not exactly. But, the reality is that if Brown falters, Calhoun won't hesitate to go with Williams. During late-game situations, he still may lean on Brown because of his experience. But when the Huskies need a quick jolt of energy, Williams is the choice.

As for the two point guards' relationship, they are clearly getting along. Williams respects Brown's role as the team's primary ballhandler. The 6-2 lefty out of Los Angeles said last week that Brown gives him tips and is teaching him how and when to push the ball. Brown isn't worrying about Calhoun's quick hook.

Over the past three seasons, Brown's skin has become thicker and being replaced for a few minutes after a few bad decisions won't get him down. Brown has been through this before with Tony Robertson and Ben Gordon taking over the point duties. It won't change. Gordon could end up being the team's best playmaker, getting to the basket and making plays.

"That's his style, that's what he does," Brown said of Calhoun. "Whoever is productive plays. He's always been straight with me."

Calhoun doesn't hide that he's drawn an ace in Williams. He knows he has a player to hold over Brown's head if he's not up to par on a given night. A bum toe is being blamed for some of Brown's sluggishness. But he's clearly getting pushed. There will also be times when neither point plays in stretches, simply because of Connecticut's abundance of talent.

Gordon proved during the win over Nevada that he can play the point, driving to the basket, pulling up for jumpers en route to a career high 37 points, and setting up other players when not scoring himself. When he's at the point, the Huskies can go bigger with Denham Brown at shooting guard and Rashad Anderson at small forward, or Villanueva (whenever he's eligible), Boone and Okafor.

"Marcus is a tremendous passer and finisher," Gordon said. "Taliek is the ultimate warrior. He's been through more than anyone here. People say bad things about him and he still keeps playing. He'll be fine."

Meanwhile, Boone has been just as much of a find as Williams -- if not more of one. Calhoun claims Boone was extremely under-recruited out of West Nottingham Academy in Maryland. Through three games, Boone has averaged 7.3 rebounds -- second only to Okafor's 12.3 boards per night.

"I'm feeling very comfortable," said Boone, who like Okafor early in his career, is extremely active in the paint but still developing a consistent offensive game (5.7 ppg) at the college level. "We're (Boone and Williams) getting more time than we expected. We're doing well. We're starting to adjust a bit more every day."

Boone has great timing as well as great hands around the basket, Calhoun said. But what has surprised him most is Boone's competitive nature.

Boone and Williams were the focal points of their respective high school teams a year ago. But, the beauty of Connecticut's team is that neither has to be a dominant offensive force for the Huskies to be successful. The Huskies still boast two of the best players at their positions in Gordon and Okafor. Boone and Williams -- not to mention the rest of the Huskies -- simply need to play a defined role, something both freshmen are doing just fine so far.

"Who has two preseason All-Americans who are bonafide great kids?" said Nevada coach Trent Johnson. "And great students?"

Calhoun couldn't agree more.

"I keep telling people that just look around and you won't see someone like him (Okafor) again," Calhoun said. "I mean that. Ben is the first guy at practice every day. Emeka is stretching right up until practice because he takes such great care of his body. When they use the word 'little' or 'no maintenance,' it fits him. He's an amazing person and Ben is his sidekick. He's the same kind of kid and it makes winning nice."

It also makes developing freshmen a lot easier. Williams would love to play more minutes -- what player wouldn't? But the environment at UConn allows him to work behind and at times next to Gordon. Boone is getting more playing time, but he's still learning next to Okafor in practice and during games.

So, for now, put to rest the final chapter of the Villanueva saga while the Huskies tackle Georgia Tech in the NIT semifinals Wednesday night, and then either Texas Tech or Utah on Friday night in Madison Square Garden. The Huskies are evolving at the right speed, with the mix of experience and youth.

And no, we didn't forget Denham Brown, who's eclipsed 20 points in two of the three UConn wins. The Huskies' third option is averaging 19 points a game and making 71 percent of his 3-pointers (10 for 14). While he gets only a passing reference this time, he might be the most consistent UConn player so far.

Just another reason why the Huskies still are a good choice to remain No. 1.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.