UConn expects Gay to be a star
STORRS, Conn. -- The coaching staff is waiting for Rudy Gay to take over a practice. They know it will come sometime soon.
When it occurs, Gay will realize that he can't be so humble. He can't be so passive. He will, supposedly, see the light that he can be a dominant player.
Yes, Gay is a freshman. But he has already been anointed as the next Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton or Caron Butler. The weight of that kind of praise at Connecticut, a program that has developed wings into college (and sometimes NBA) stars, is a heavy burden.
But Gay isn't embracing that role just yet; he just wants to be a contributor. The reality is that he will be much more.
"When he develops the maturity and strength to take over the game, he's going to be a very important part of what we do," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. "I could see him having 25 [points in a game] this year, 30 maybe."
Calhoun said Gay will be a highlight editor's dream, with his ability to dunk, block shots and move to the basket. The lanky 6-9 Gay dribbles the ball high but keeps it under control. He seems to float to the rim when he decides to make a move from the free-throw line extended. Calhoun said Gay is the team's leading offensive rebounder in practice. That shouldn't come as a surprise since he tends to always float near the rim.
"I don't think he'll have a Carmelo Anthony-type of year because he's younger [in age, not class] and he's not as big [in weight, not height]," Calhoun said. "But Rudy can play the two, three, and has our third-best handle on the team. He's a beautiful player to watch."
Gay chose Connecticut over his hometown Maryland Terrapins -- a tough choice that got him booed when he played in the Jordan All-Star game at the Comcast Center in College Park last April.
He said he chose the Huskies because he wanted to win, but quickly said the Terrapins fit that criteria, too. Ultimately, he said it was good to go away from home. Regardless of which school he chose, Gay wouldn't have been handed anything. He will share the wing with juniors Rashad Anderson and Denham Brown. So far, the three are coexisting without an issue.
"It's tough right now because every practice is a battle," Gay said. "We don't have any star players. So, I'm just here contributing and waiting my turn."
But that won't be good enough for the Huskies to make a run at another title. Gay admitted that he was too passive when he first arrived, sizing up his teammates and not wanting to be too cocky without playing in a game.
Anderson had to tell Gay during pickup games that he must be more assertive. He told him that when he has a shot to take it and not pass it up -- because it's the right thing to do. The Huskies want him to shoot, score and drive when he has the opening.
"He's handling all of this well so far," said teammate Josh Boone, who, like Gay, is from Maryland. "He's definitely making an impact. He brings something that we didn't have here last year. He's a 6-8, 6-9 three man, who is quick, can drive and dunk it. He was passive but he's getting more comfortable and getting more aggressive every day."
Boone guaranteed that there will come a practice, and most certainly a game, when Gay will dominate.
"He's got a ton of star potential," said assistant coach Tom Moore of Gay, who was talked about as a potential first-round draft pick but apparently never seriously considered declaring for the draft. "He's got a ton of ability, a great smile and the fans of this state will adore him.
"We don't know when it will happen, but even Rudy doesn't know how good he is yet," Moore said. "It could happen on Nov. 6 at a practice at Gampel Pavilion when he looks around and realizes he's the best player here. It could happen in an exhibition. It could be in a game in November. It could be against Indiana in December or on the road in our first conference game. It could be in February or even next season. But that moment will come when the light goes on. The quicker he realizes how good he is, the better. But we've got enough pieces around him this season that we can wait."
And when this does happen, the Huskies could have the top freshman in the country on their hands.
1. The most improved player on the Huskies is Hilton Armstrong: Armstrong played behind Emeka Okafor the past two seasons. He got a sniff of playing time last season, averaging 9.1 minutes a game. It's still going to be hard to get ahead of Josh Boone and Charlie Villanueva, but he has snuck ahead of Ed Nelson in the rotation. Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said Armstrong is the third-best frontcourt player on the squad.
How did this happen?
"He's so much more confident," Boone said of Armstrong. "He's getting in extra shooting and lifting. A lot of people will be surprised by him."
Armstrong is quick to the ball, looking for putbacks on the offensive end. He's not afraid to get hacked and he's running the floor as well as he has since he arrived at Connecticut.
2. Charlie Villanueva will be the leading scorer on the Huskies: Villanueva wasn't at practice last Tuesday because he had to tend to some family issues. But the rest of the squad and staff didn't hesitate to anoint Villanueva as the potential top scorer. Villanueva's aggressiveness on the offensive end has been celebrated by the staff throughout the preseason.
Calhoun said Villanueva could go from 8.9 points a game to averaging 20-plus this season.
3. Rashad Anderson has the moxie to be the voice of the Huskies: Anderson doesn't think he's getting his due. He's not being discussed as one of the top shooters in the country. He shot 41 percent on 3s last season. Anderson made 48.8 percent of his 3-pointers during the six NCAA Tournament games. He averaged 17.3 points and made a total of 21 3s. He even had a career-best 28 points in the Elite Eight win over Alabama.
So, when Anderson was asked who will be the most surprising player for the Huskies, his answer was -- him.
"I don't want to sound conceded, but I'd like to say myself," Anderson said. "A lot of people think I'm just a jump shooter, but I've worked on my ball handling. I can create for my teammates, pull-up for a jump shot or a 3-pointer."
The Huskies were led by juniors last season. That trend should continue.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.