Me and UConn: Love hurts

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Me and UConn: Love hurts

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com

I was introduced to UConn when I was sixteen.

My dad and I went to a college fair together where I would supposedly meet my perfect match. I was skeptical. First of all, I was a teenager a class of the most suspicious and stubborn humans on the planet. Secondly, walking through aisles of overeager college recruiters is like (how I can only imagine) walking through the Red Light District with Euros hanging out of the zipper of your pants.

You dont exactly feel special.

But I was with my dad; he knew what I was looking for.

Hows your basketball team look this year? hed ask.

Most recruiters were caught off-guard. Theyd tug on their university-issue polo shirts and shuffle through their pamphlets. Several of the pamphlets included statistics on that years incoming freshman, but not the kind that listed weights, heights, and high school shooting percentages.

Was your school named one of the top-25 research institutions in the country? Great. But at what number is the mens hoops team projected in the APs preseason poll?

Teen-me nodded during the inquiries and kept my arms defiantly folded. I was pretty smart and my dad was (and is) exponentially smarter, so I kept to scanning the three-sided poster boards for photos of practice facilities and let him do the talking.

Keep in mind, I wasnt looking for a champion because I played; I was looking because I watched. Religiously.

I grew up in a basketball house. My dad loved the sport on every level and bonded with his three kids by teaching us how to play in the driveway or taking us to local high school games to watch. For my size, I was a remarkably talented spectator.

But there were rules.

At live games you dont get up for anything. A bathroom break at halftime is fine, but popping out for Twizzlers and a Coke, or meeting friends by the water fountain to gossip during play? Dont even. It would be like interrupting Easter Mass to phone a bet in to a bookie.

At home we rooted for the Blue Devils. Our schedule revolved around Dukes. Mike Krzyzewskis rule was irrefutable; Dick Vitales orgasmic rants werent annoying, they were charming; the Cameron Crazies didnt represent a freaky cult, they were a part of storied tradition.

Unfortunately, I wouldnt be a part of the Duke tradition. I was pretty smart, remember, not a total dork.

Still, stopping at UConns table was baffling.

The Huskies won a title in 1999. But a Big East school? I cocked one eyebrow and looked over at my dad. The recruiter was delighted with our priorities.

Theyve built a brand new football stadium in East Hartford, the guy gushed.

Where does the mens basketball team play? my dad asked.

Some kind of soliloquy followed on Jim Calhoun, a No. 7 ranking, and an on-campus pavilion, but I wasnt listening. I was scanning the fair for cute boys who didnt want to go to a school located on a Connecticut cow farm. I wanted ACC hoops. My dad didnt want to pay for plane tickets every time I got homesick.

UConn got my application in 2003 early action.

I was accepted when the Huskies were 7-1.

By March, UConn was 27-6 and Big East tourney champs. My icy little heart was melting, drip by drip, with every Ben Gordon jumper. Josh Boone didnt have great hands, but did have 6 feet and 10 inches of potential and two more years of eligibility. A lot of the guys were underclassmen, in fact, and would be there the next season.

For me.

I was starting to think of myself as a Husky.

On April 3, 2004, UConn tipped off against the No. 1 team the country: Duke. I was distraught. For the first 27 minutes I see-sawed between my childhood sweetheart and my betrothed. With less than three minutes to play, the Blue Devils were up by eight.

Dukes big men were dropping like flies, fouling out with alarming consistency. Each time one of them sat, I cheered and then felt nauseous. Connecticut All-American center Emeka Okafor had played just 22 minutes because of foul trouble and, I dont know, a shattered spine or something. But he put the Huskies onto that broken back of his and carried them to a 79-78 win.

My school was gunning for a national championship.

I was in love.

Little did I know it was an abusive relationship.

I meetMidnight Madness with a heart full of hope. This is our year, I think.UConn cruises through the cupcake non-conference schedule, blowout byblowout, with poise, explosive offensive and oppressive defense.

Then it falls apart. By the Big East Tournament, Im battered; by April Im broken.

Connecticut comes crawling back every October.

Imsweet-talked by promises of returning starters, underclassmen withpromise, and top freshman recruits. Im told that things are going tobe different this time. Like a fool, I believe. All it takes is a123-71 win over Quinnipiac in December and Im drooling by New YearsDay.

Somehow, I never see the uppercut coming.

2004-05: Seven players return from the championshipteam. Add freshman Rudy Gay and ACC Rookie of the Year transfer EdNelson and theres a lot to feel good about. I camp outside theHartford Civic Center on February 13 for the UNC game at 5 a.m. Whena local cop says the neighborhood gangs would love to hurt me, I flexmy biceps and bark.

Two wins over Syracuse during the regularseason are cheapened by a 67-63 loss that bounces the Huskies from theBig East Tournament.

But thats easier to take than watching N.C.States elderly Julius Hodge convert a three-point play with 4.3seconds left. The 65-62 loss knocks UConn out of the NCAA tournament.

It is my initiation into hell.

2005-06:A brilliant year. With a Maui Invitational Championship appetizer,UConn loses just once in its first 26 games. I am drunk with power.

OnThursday, March 9, Gerry McNamara hits a 3 with 5.5 seconds left inregulation to tie the Huskies in the Big East quarterfinal game. Theninth-seeded Orange goes on to beat No. 1 Connecticut 86-84 inovertime.

It getsworse. UConn faces George Mason in the Elite Eight that year. Imthrilled! What the hell is a George Mason? Answer: The ColonialAthletic Conferences Cinderella assassin, sent to murder my Huskies bytwo points in overtime. I wander the Connecticut campus for an hour indumb shock afterwards, ingest roughly 8,000 calories at South dininghall that night, and boycott the rest of March Madness.

2006-07:A 17-14 overall record, 6-10 in conference. Elimination from the BigEast tournament by Syracuse yes, again this time, by 13 points. Notournament, no NIT, no postseason, nothing. For a while, I refuse tobelieve that this year of my life is real.

2007-08: Its asolid bounceback season. UConn finishes 13-5 in the Big East and earnsa No. 4 seed for the national tournament. So when the Huskies tip offin a first-round match up against San Diego, Im excited.

Junior point guard A.J. Prices knee explodes with 9:39 to play in the first half.

Itsaround now that I start to wonder if someone is out to get me. DeJonJackson hits a jumper with 1.2 seconds left in overtime to lift the13th-seeded San Diego Somethings to a 70-69 victory. Per usual, I wantto die. But only a little bit this time.

2008-09: A preseasonNo. 2 ranking in the country is soothing. Rather than be content tohave of the most useless 7-footers in the history of collegebasketball, UConn and Hasheem Thabeet rip it up for a 27-3 record andthe Big East quarterfinal game. To try something different, UConn playsSyracuse. My boys battle the wretched Orange for 40 minutes ofregulation play and six overtimes. When it ends, Syracuse wins 127-117and I am collapsed in front of the TV, exhausted, in a pool of my owntears, saliva and vomit.

UConn loses in the Final Four to Michigan State.

Whatever.

2009-10:January 27, Providence, RI: The only Connecticut basketball Ive seenlive since graduating in 2008. The Huskies get brutalized 81-66 by thebottom-feeding Friars in front of my face. Weeks later, St. John's another Big East weakling spanks UConn in the first round of theconference tourney by 21 points. Its a 2 p.m. game; Imdrunk before 4.

People tell me the Huskies are invited to the NIT. I cant hear them because my sensibilities are drowned in shame.

At noon today the ninth-seeded University of Connecticut Huskies will take on a god-awful DePaul team to open the Big East tournament. Really, DePaul is terrible. The Blue Demons are 7-23.

Naturally, Im expecting the worst.

UConn entered this season unranked but not unloved. The Huskies are currently No. 21 in the country, 21-9 overall and .500 in the Big East because I have willed them here. I ridiculously claimed they could win the Maui Invitational in November; they did. I put my old blinders on and blasted the analysts who said UConn wouldnt beat Texas, Villanova, Georgetown and Syracuse.

They did lose to Syracuse. (And to Louisville, Notre Dame, Marquette and St. Johns.) But still I profess undying loyalty to the freshman, declare my desire to adopt Kemba Walker as a son, and make bets with WVU fans that blow up in my face.

Im going to be a basket case today.

This is not our year. While Ill brag to anyone within earshot that UConn is going to win and keep winning, theres a part of me the part that gave me a seizure when I visited San Diego and induces PTSD when I meet someone named George that expects the Huskies to lose. Probably not to DePaul, but later . . . on a 3-pointer drilled by a 27-year old Gerry McNamara in the 86th overtime frame.

And it will hurt.

Schedules for the 2011-2012 NCAA basketball season should come out in September. Ill call my dad the minute it happens. Hell tell me that Duke is going to be better than UConn and Ill tell him hes crazy. Ill tell him in a voice several octaves too high -- that Shabazz Napier is going to lead the Huskies to their third national title.

Maybe they will. Or maybe Im stupid.

Love does that to a person.

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

A farewell to the many prospects Dave Dombrowski traded Tuesday

A farewell to the many prospects Dave Dombrowski traded Tuesday

A baseball lesson: There’s trading a top prospect because you know he’s not as good as everyone thinks (a la the Atlanta Braves back in the day with Andy Marte) and then there’s straight-up dumping out the treasure chest because you’re Dave GD Dombrowski and you’ll be damned if “promise” is going to get in the way of you making a zillion trades… a la Dave Dombrowski.  

Since the start of the 2016 season, Dombrowski has traded four of his top 10 prospects by Baseball America’s rankings, and three of his top five. The group is led by Yoan Moncada, who was considered the team’s best prospect before he was shipped to Chicago in Tuesday’s blockbuster trade for Chris Sale. 

All in all, the Sox sent out six prospects in two trades Tuesday, and they’ll join the likes of Anderson Espinoza, Manuel Margot and others with whom Dombrowski has willingly parted since taking over as Boston’s president of baseball operations. 

Here’s a look at the players the Sox gave up Tuesday: 

YOAN MONCADA, 2B 
Baseball America Red Sox ranking: 1
MLB.com Red Sox ranking: 1

Moncada’s eight games in the Major Leagues to this point haven’t been impressive, but using that as rationale (as some may have when the Sox traded a young Hanley Ramirez in the Josh Beckett trade) is likely wishful thinking. 

The Cuban infielder was ranked the No. 1 prospect in baseball by Baseball America last season. The outlet projects him as a five-tool player whose potential to hit for average and power will outweigh strikeout concerns. 

From August: 

Built like a running back at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Moncada is an explosive athlete with true five-tool potential. A switch-hitter, Moncada has electric bat speed, which combined with his strength allows him to smash hard line drives all over the field. He has at least plus raw power, with that power starting to translate more in games thanks to mechanical adjustments he’s worked on this season.  

MICHAEL KOPECH, RHP
Baseball America Red Sox ranking: 5
MLB.com Red Sox ranking: 5

A first-round pick of the Sox in the 2014 draft, Kopech has yet to reach Double A, but, per two radar guns, has reached 105 miles an hour with his fastball. If that number is accurate, it ranks just one tenth of a mile-per-hour behind Arolis Chapman’s 2010 fastball for the fastest pitch recorded. 

Regardless of the pitch’s exact speed, it does damage. Pitching in High-A Salem last season, Kopech struck out a whopping 82 batters in 52 innings. 

LUIS ALEXANDER BASABE, OF 
Baseball America Red Sox ranking: 9 
MLB.com Red Sox ranking: 8

The switch-hitting outfielder spent most of last season in Single-A Greenville, hitting .258/.325/.447 in 105 games with 12 homers and 52 RBI. The Venezuela native is considered a decent fielder with a very good arm. 

If his name sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same first and last name as twin brother Luis Alejandro Basabe. Perhaps not surprisingly, Dombrowski also traded him over the last year when he shipped the second baseman to Arizona in the Brad Ziegler trade. 

MAURICIO DUBON, SS/2B
(Not ranked among Baseball America’s top 10 Red Sox prospects) 
MLB.com Red Sox ranking: 17

Maybe the kind of guy you want to keep on the same day you trade Yoan Moncada. 

Dubon is considered a very solid infield prospect, so much so that The Boston Globe noted Tuesday that “teams were absolutely drooling over Dubon’s defense and his offensive potential.” He finished the season at Double-A Portland, hitting .339/.371/.538 with six homers, six triples and 40 RBI. 

VICTOR DIAZ, RHP
(Not ranked among Baseball America’s top 10 Red Sox prospects) 
 MLB.com Red Sox ranking: 28

The hard-throwing righty reportedly hit triple digits with his fastball this season and, like Kopech, used his fastball to his advantage. He struck out 63 batters in 60.1 innings for Single-A Greenville

JOSH PENNINGTON, RHP 
(Not ranked among Baseball America’s top 10 Red Sox prospects) 
MLB.com Red Sox ranking: N/A

This is an interesting one. He was drafted as a project in the 2014 draft after learning that he would need Tommy John Surgery. He was starting to make good on his potential this past season, posting a 2.86 ERA and striking out 49 batters in 56.2 innings for Short-Season A Lowell. 

McAdam: For Dombrowski and Red Sox, the future is now

McAdam: For Dombrowski and Red Sox, the future is now

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Dave Dombrowski has jumped in. All in. With both feet.

MORE ON THE TRADE

For an executive with a reputation for making bold moves, Dombrowski may have made his boldest one yet Tueday by shipping arguably the organization's best position player prospect (Yoan Moncada) and its best pitching prospect (Michael Kopech), along with two others, to the Chicago White Sox for lefty ace Chris Sale.

Adding Sale to a rotation that already includes reigning Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello and David Price gives the Red Sox the American League's best rotation and makes the Sox the team to beat in the A.L.

Hired 17 months ago with a mandate to make the Red Sox winners again after three last-place finishes in the span of four seasons, Dombrowski has acted aggressively and decisively.

Since then, he's obtained Price, Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith, Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Thornburg and Sale. That translates into three lefty starters and three back-end power arms in the bullpen.

Of course, all those moves have come at a significant cost. Dombrowski has gone through the Red Sox' minor-league system and shredded it, sacrificing Anderson Espinoza, Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, and now, Moncada and Kopech.

The pitching, in particular, has been stripped bare, with Espinoza and Kopech representing the two best arms in the system. And in Moncada, the Sox gave up on arguably the single most talented propsect in the entire sport.

At a time when teams protect their best young players as though their existence depends on them, Dombrowski has demonstrated a willingess to move them for a chance to win now.

In exchange, the Sox have now built a super rotation, with three front-line starters, augmented by two other lefties (Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez) along with Steven Wright and Clay Buchholz.

It's a virtual certainty that the Sox will move one of those arms now, in a market where there's virtually no quality free-agent starters available.

Buchholz, who stands to earn $13.5 million in 2017, would give them payroll relief, while Rodriguez, because of his youth and upside, might give the team its biggest return.

Dombrowski's moves create a window for the Red Sox. Sale's deal runs through 2019, while Price has an opt-out in his deal after 2018.

That creates some urgency for the Red Sox to capitalize on the strength of their rotation and a nucleus of young position players -- Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi -- and win multiple titles in the next few seasons.

Anything less will be considered a failure.

It's championship-or-bust time at Fenway.