There were occasions last year when point guard Ricky Moore
wondered if he was participating in a recurring nightmare.
Coming off an impressive freshman season, Moore was expected to
take over the playmaking duties for a Connecticut team that had
depended on Doron Sheffer and Ray Allen the year before. Instead
he was beset by injuries. Moore underwent surgery for a shoulder
separation in April 1996, strained a ligament in his left hand
on the first day of practice last fall (it would later require
surgery), suffered a broken nose and a concussion when he took
an elbow from Indiana's Richard Mandeville in the season opener
and later sprained his right ankle. Moore played through the
pain and didn't miss a game until January, when he was hit by
something he couldn't play through.
Moore and teammate Kirk King were suspended by the NCAA for
accepting plane tickets from Hartford to their homes, in
Augusta, Ga., and Baton Rouge, respectively, from agent John
Lounsbury. King, who was a senior, was booted from the Huskies
for lying about the violation; Moore was shelved for five games.
Although Moore returned for UConn's final 14 games, he wasn't
the player he had been.
"I don't think people realize how much pressure I was under,"
says Moore, who ended up averaging 9.0 points and 5.4 assists a
game. "I was supposed to be the leader of a young team, and I
tried to do too much. The NCAA thing was a terrible mistake on
my part. I let people down because I couldn't say no; I was
never myself after that."
Moore and UConn grew up a lot last year. Coach Jim Calhoun
started a trio of freshmen for much of the season, and the
Huskies took their licks. UConn jumped out to an 11-3 start
before the suspensions and then went 3-11 before finishing
strong with a third-place showing in the NIT.
Connecticut will again be young, but it has five starters back
from an 18-15 team that held opponents to 38.3% shooting, eighth
lowest in the nation. Sophomore swingman Richard Hamilton (15.9
points a game last season) emerged as the Huskies' biggest
scoring threat, aided ably by junior guard Rashamel Jones
(13.0). Calhoun also expects talented 5'10" freshman point guard
Khalid El-Amin, a McDonald's All-America and two-time Minnesota
player of the year, to give the Huskies the flexibility to go
with a three-guard lineup. "At one point we were a six-man team
with four first-year players last season," says Calhoun. "I
would never want to go through what we did last year again, but
this group now understands what it takes."
Moore also understands how to turn the disappointments of the
past into motivation. "This is a big year for me and this team,"
he says. "I haven't lived up to my end of the bargain here. I
know I'm a much better player than I have shown." --B.J.S.
Returning Starters [Five]
Points per Game '96-97 65.8
PPG by All Returning Players 57.1