Media Day at the New York Athletic Club. UConn men take center stage.
NEW YORK: The scene at the New York Athletic Club on Wednesday during the American Athletic Conference Media Day was all about the 11 teams in the league.
That is until the formal portion of the program broke up and the members of the media swarmed to the University of Connecticut Huskies head coach and the two players he brought with him.
Kevin Ollie, six months removed from winning a national championship with his surprise team that nobody picked to go all the way, was the king of the room, as were players Ryan Boatright and Amida Brimah.
Boatright was thrust right into the spotlight when he was named the AAC pre-season Player of the Year as he enters his senior year on a team he can truly call his own.
First year player Daniel Hamilton was named the pre-season Rookie of the Year as the team that snuck under the radar a year ago will have no such chance to do so this campaign.
The Huskies begin their 2014-2015 defense of the title that they captured during a magical spring run that culminated with a national title after their 60-54 win over heavily favored Kentucky.
This is the day that the AAC gets to show off a true strength of theirs, their basketball programs who start the year with not one but two national champs coming out of it.
On Thursday, the UConn women will take center stage at the world’s most famous athletic club which hosted the event for the first time.
Former NBA great and current college basketball announcer, Len Elmore hosted a panel discussion involving all eleven coaches in the league who discussed issues ranging from a shorter shot clock to transfer rules to how the UConn dual wins have helped their recruiting.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco opened the meeting with a State of the League address and when it comes to basketball, the AAC can talk like the powerhouse they truly have become in more than one area.
"The playing field in college basketball is much more level than it is in any other sport," Aresco said. "We have been doing what it takes to put the American on the map."
There is not as much of a worry about what the Power 5 Conferences do when it comes to the hardwood prowess which the AAC has an abundance of, regardless of how they struggle on the gridiron.
Ollie was asked by Elmore why he came back to UConn after the NBA offers came in last season and for the UConn alum, it was an easy answer.
"It's the place I love," Ollie said. "It's where my family is from, I met my wife here. I have two beautiful kids and I just love representing this University. The people of the state have been unbelievable in their support. It's about family and this is my family."
The three new teams to the conference, Tulsa, East Carolina and Tulane were introduced with each coach talking about what he expects from his team in 2014-2015.
Two teams left the AAC after last season, Louisville and Rutgers and by adding three, the teams will have an unbalanced schedule this season, something most of them are used to and expect in today's college game.
Ollie stressed how the in conference games helped his team prepare for the post season a year ago, remember the Huskies did not start out on fire in the AAC.
"We lost our first two games we played to SMU and Houston a year ago," Ollie said. "The battles we went through helped get us prepared for what happened when we came together as a team."
UConn got trashed by Louisville by 33 points in early March and at the time, nobody was thinking about a national championship.
On to 2014-2015 and the team that the Huskies bring to the floor is much different from the one that left under a seas of confetti in April.
This will be Boatwright’s team to lead and while he entertained leaving for the NBA, having his coach still in place helped his decision to come back for one last go around.
"I talked to coach during the summer and found out he was coming back," Boatright said. "It made my decision easy. I talked it over with my family and decided to come back."
Teammate Amida Brimah made the trip to New York with Boatright and Ollie and is excited to get back on the court with his new team, even if it is a team that will now be the hunted instead of the hunter.
"If people are going to hunt us, we will hunt then back," Brimah said. "We may have the target on our back but we are going to go after people."
On Thursday, the UConn women invade the NYAC with the ten teams that will be actively chasing then this season.
With the regular season right around the corner for both teams, 20 teams in the AAC will be chasing the national champions.
Foes from around the country will have to go through the sleepy little town of Storrs if they hope to unseat the dual champions.
Should be an interesting year. Stay tuned.