One year later, UConn's Purvis is in a better place
HARTFORD -- Rodney Purvis was all smiles after UConn's 83-43 exhibition victory over New Haven on Saturday at the XL Center. There was no reason not to be.
Not only did he have a strong all-around game, the new leader of the Huskies basked in the glory of walk-on Christian Foxen's last second dunk, plus earned yet another nickname from his coach, too.
First, about Foxen's dunk...
"There's no better feeling than getting out there in front of the UConn fans, and we just want the walk-ons to witness that experience," said Purvis, who incited a National Championship-like celebration after Foxen's slam. "They're always great teammates, and it was great to see them get on the court and have fun. To see Christian go out there and get a dunk, it made my week and the week hasn't even started yet. I was super excited for him."
Considering the struggles he was going through at the start of his UConn career, Purvis' journey in just one year's time has been quite a story. The momentum really turned for him in last season's AAC Tournament, which was held in Hartford. He helped the Huskies reach the championship game, a contest they lost to SMU, by scoring in double figures in each round, plus nailing the go-ahead jumper in the final minute to seal a wild comeback win in the semifinals against Tulsa.
In the finals, the Huskies lost, 62-54, and struggled immensely on the offensive end. If not for Purvis, they would've gotten blown off the floor. Then a sophomore, he notched a career-high 29 points and five three-pointers, keeping UConn in the game until the final two minutes.
What did that mean for him?
"Everything. That was everything I needed going into the summer," Purvis said after recording 11 points on Saturday. "I went into the summer with a lot of confidence, and I maintained it throughout. I knew coming into this season, with how it ended last season, people would look forward to me playing at that level, and staying at that level. Me personally, as well. I knew that was the level I could play at. I worked extremely hard. Each and every day, I went to work at the gym or at my mom's house. I feel like I had a great summer."
His season last year consisted of injuries and inconsistencies (11.6 points per game, 43 percent shooting), but the ending showed why his coach compared him to a Ferrari the year prior while he sat as a transfer from North Carolina State. The expectations now are even higher. It's all started with a look in the mirror.
"We talk about faceless opponents. It's not about the opponents we're going against, it's what he's doing internally," Kevin Ollie said. "We always talk recovery with Rodney. He missed two shots early, both good looks. He missed a lay-up, and a wide-open three. Last year, it would have spiraled down. But he was still talking to his teammates, got to the free throw line, helping everybody up. Those are those faceless (battles) we want him to start winning. I think he's doing a better job recognizing that."
"Then, that's leading to him becoming a better basketball player, because when he gets a rebound, he's a one-man fast break," Ollie continued. "There is nobody in America faster than him from free throw line to free throw line. Now, it's him slowing down, making good decisions, and I think he made some good decisions today. He had four assists, could've had a lot more, and had one turnover. That's what I really want to see from Hot-Rod."
While it's hard to gauge a team in an exhibition game against a Division II opponent, the Huskies excelled on the fast break Saturday, led by Purvis, lightning-quick guard Jalen Adams, and the versatile Daniel Hamilton, who all helped UConn gain a 24-2 advantage in fast break points. Purvis' play in transition is another place where he's improved.
"I've always got the ball and ran pretty fast, but I kind of had a hard time changing speeds," Purvis said. "Now, when I'm running pretty fast with the ball in transition, I'm looking for my teammates instead of going all the way to the basket. I'm just slowing down, taking my time, and making the right basketball play."
And Purvis laughed when asked about the nickname "Hot-Rod" Ollie gave him on Saturday, saying, "It's OK, but we're going to work on it."
But he had a serious tone when asked if he was the leader of team ("I accept that role. I want to be the leader of this team.") and what the ceiling is for this Huskies group ("There is no ceiling.").
Last season, Purvis ended the year strong. This season, he's focused on having a big start, beginning on opening night this Friday against Maine.