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

Celtics could score with a three-year deal for Gallinari

Celtics could score with a three-year deal for Gallinari

The Celtics' two main targets in free agency are expected to be Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin. But what if neither signs here . . . or what if the C's have other plans? This week, we'll look at some of  'The Other Guys' who might interest the Celtics: TODAY: Denver's Danilo Gallinari.

BOSTON -- It seems Utah's Gordon Hayward has been at the top of the Celtics' offseason wish list forever.
 
And not too far behind him, you find Los Angeles Clippers' free-agent-to-be Blake Griffin.
 
Coming off the heels of landing the second-best free agent a year ago in Al Horford, the Celtics are feeling pretty good about this free-agent thing after having had little luck in previous years at landing the best available players.

MORE ON FREE AGENCY

 
But if Hayward and Griffin decide to stay with their respective teams or take their talents elsewhere, what will the Celtics do?
 
The Celtics will have to shift their attention to ‘The Other Guys' section of free agency, which won't move the needle like the addition of Hayward or Griffin would. Still, these players would make good additions to a Celtics team that's clearly on the rise.
 
We start off with Denver's Danilo Gallinari.
 
If you recall, Gallinari has been a player of interest for Boston as recently as the last trade deadline. However, the Nuggets were battling for the eighth and final playoff spot and had just traded for Mason Plumlee to help solidify their interior while Gallinari was having one of the best shooting seasons of his eight-year NBA career.
 
The idea of moving him at the trade deadline didn't make a lot of sense for the Nuggets, and the assets Boston would have had to come up with to match his $16.1 million contract made acquiring him a hefty cost. To be candid, it wasn't worth it then. But now?
 
WE LIKE HIM BECAUSE . . .
 
He's available. Shortly after opting out of his $16.1 option to become a free agent, he made it clear he wasn't necessarily doing it to sign a longer-team deal with Nuggets.
 
"Nuggets are not my first choice, but they are exactly at the same level of the other teams," Gallinari told reporters back in June. "Denver's advantage is that they can offer me a five-year contract while other franchises can offer me a four-year deal. Nuggets are at the same level of others."
 
Gallinari can score, and does so in a variety of ways. He averaged 18.2 points per game last season, the second-highest scoring average of his career. At 6-foot-10 and 225 pounds, the 28-year-old has the kind of multi-positional skillset that Brad Stevens could easily plug in and not miss a beat.
 
Gallinari has spent most of his NBA career playing both forward positions. But in this new age, it's not a stretch to see Gallinari used as a "stretch big" at center whose inside-outside game has the potential to make him a nightmare for teams to try and guard in Boston.
 
And while his perimeter game certainly gets a lot of attention, Gallinari can score from various points on the floor. He was one of just nine players in the NBA this past season to average at least five 3-point attempts and six free-throw attempts per game. The company he's keeping in that category includes league MVP Russell Westbrook of Oklahoma City; Houston's James Harden; could-be Celtics teammate Isaiah Thomas; Portland's Damian Lillard; New Orleans center DeMarcus Cousins; San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard; NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant, and Toronto's Kyle Lowry.
 
They have all appeared in the All-Star game at least two of the last three seasons, which speaks to how impressive and rare it is for a shooter like Gallinari to also manage to find his way to the free-throw line a lot.
 
NOT CRAZY ABOUT . . .
 
His track record with injuries. I'm not gonna lie. It absolutely scares the crap out of me. He has eight seasons under his belt and has failed to play 63 or more games in all but two of them. That includes the lockout-shortened 2012 season, but that doesn't take away from the concerns that any team would have when it comes to Gallinari's longstanding track record of injuries.
 
So durability is not something you can bank on with this guy.
 
You love his versatility as a scorer, but he tends to take the first decent look rather than probe the defense for a better shot for him or a teammate.
 
According to nba.com/stats, 42.8 percent of his shots were catch-and-shoot attempts while 55.2 percent of the shots he takes come without a single dribble taken. For 91.7 percent of his shots taken, the amount of time he touches the ball before he launches is six seconds or less.
 
He's great at finishing around the rim, which you can see in him connecting on 64 percent of his shots in the restricted area.
 
But that number drops to 41.9 percent when he's shooting in the paint but outside of the restricted area.
 
And while the second-largest number of shot attempts for him last season (208) were mid-range attempts, he made just 38 percent of those shots with a decent number of those shots contested or forced.
 
IN CONCLUSION . . .
 
While Gallinari's durability is certainly worth questioning, his toughness and grittiness as a player isn't. He's physical and is one of the NBA's better players when it comes to finding ways to create space, whether it's with a jab-step for a Paul Pierce-like fade-away jumper, or using his footwork to get a defender off balance and out of position and then make him pay with a drive to the basket for a score or a foul. The real concern when he's on the floor comes on defense, where he had a defensive rating of 109.4 last season. Just to put that in perspective, the only Celtics with a higher defensive rating this past season were Demetrius Jackson (117.8) and Jordan Mickey (116.1), who played a combined 30 games for Boston last season.
 
He's a mixed bag of talent for sure. But as a consolation prize for falling short in the Gordon Hayward/Blake Griffin sweepstakes, he's not a bad addition.
 
SUGGESTED PRICE TAG

Three years and $60 million, with a player option for Year 3
 
WHY?

I'm sure Gallinari could probably squeeze another year and a few million more dollars from another team, but here's why a three-year deal makes a lot of sense for him.

If he wants one more big payday after this contract, he has to show 1) he can be healthy for a couple seasons and 2) he can help a team win. He'll get both opportunities playing for the Celtics.
 
And remember, he's an eight-year veteran. So after two seasons he would qualify for a max salary that would be up to 35 percent of the salary cap, which is why you give him the option for the third season.
There's no guarantee he would play well enough to get that, obviously. But at least it would be an option at his disposal, which is what you would sell him on as a reason for not getting a fourth year.

For the Celtics, he adds another scorer to the roster who can play multiple positions. And from a monetary standpoint, getting him for no more than three years as opposed to four, makes him a lot more attractive if the Celtics decide to go in another direction and trade him.

Mike Vrabel's son commits to Boston College

Mike Vrabel's son commits to Boston College

Tyler Vrabel, son of longtime Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel, has committed to Boston College. 

Vrabel, an three-star offensive tackle prospect, announced his decision Monday on Twitter. 

According to BC Interruption, also had offers from Houston, Cincinnati, Memphis, Ohio and Toledo. He’ll now play at a school known for producing NFL offensive linemen.

Mike Vrabel spent eight seasons with the Patriots, winning three Super Bowl titles before being traded to the Chiefs in the 2009 Matt Cassel trade. He is now the Texans’ defensive coordinator.