For the Huskies, the preseason has been full of two-a-day practices and getting re-adjusted to college life – on and off the court – after a long summer. However, the players are ready for the season-opener on Friday at Syracuse.
“Most years, preseason feels like it drags on. It’s a testament to our players and our staff, because I feel like it’s gone quick, which is a good thing,” said Grunwald. “That means you are making progress and not feeling the doldrums of what two-a-day practices can be.”
Preparing to travel to Syracuse on Thursday, the Huskies have endured a two-and-a-half week preseason of constant training and practice sessions to arrive to this point.
“Overall, we’re seeing things in our gym that we’ve never seen before, which is good,” said Grunwald. “For us to make the next step, it’s a matter of whether we do those things consistently enough.”
Syracuse and Colgate pose the challenges on opening weekend for UConn, as part of the Syracuse Invitational. The Huskies play the Orange on Friday at 5 p.m. (ET) and the Raiders on Saturday at 4 p.m. (ET).
It is the first of four pre-conference tournaments that UConn is slated for in 2016, as part of a strong non-league schedule before American Athletic Conference matches.
“As we continue to grow this program, we envisioned this team being really solid. The schedule provides plenty of competition that is at the top level of our conference, if not higher,” said Grunwald.
In addition to Syracuse, programs such as Virginia, LSU and Albany were highlighted by Grunwald – as well as Yale, a perennial contender in the Ivy League.
“It’s a challenging non-conference schedule, but it will prepare us for what is a better and better American Athletic Conference,” said the UConn head coach.
The Huskies went 16-15 (10-10 American) in 2015, which was a four-win improvement from Grunwald’s first season in 2014. UConn tied for fourth place in the conference.
Four juniors, four sophomores and three freshmen round-out the roster, making for a good balance of experience and youth.
“As you look at the longevity of a program, you never want to replace half of a roster. Then you get into cyclical runs of success and rebuilding,” said Grunwald. “We had a major imbalance when I got here and part of that, by design, has been how we have done our recruiting and scholarship distribution.”
With a new assistant coach in Matt Scott and two newcomers in freshmen Genna Florig and Avery Spaziani, the Huskies have had adjustments to make in terms of team chemistry. However, the team has gelled quickly.
“I think we’re in the best place we’ve ever been in, whether it’s on the court or off the court,” said Grunwald. “Players are getting into the gym 30 minutes before practice and getting extra reps afterward…overall with new faces, it’s always exciting to see how things change.”
Starting on Friday, the Huskies look to continue making progress as a program – but finding consistency will be key.