2021-22 UConn Men’s Basketball Player Review: Adama Sanogo

With a string of players who have recently chosen to leave the UConn men’s basketball program, one of the things Husky fans can look forward to next year is seeing Adama Sanogo continue to develop for at least one more season. The sophomore went from a promising rookie to being considered among the best greats in the conference last season.

Sanogo came to Storrs courtesy of Patrick School in Hillside, New Jersey, right in the backyard of Seton Hall. Sanogo shared a top-100 ranking with running mate Andre Jackson, but was considerably less excited about entering. Sanogo was considered a project, given that he started basketball and moved from Mali to the United States just five years ago. He was a raw prospect, someone who could become a quality big man in a few years after careful coaching. There were a few things for sure about Sanogo, though. He had the size to compete right away. It’s not easy to find big, nimble 6’9′ 240-pound men, and he was precisely that. The biggest obstacle for him when he arrived was his adaptation to the speed of the collegiate game.

While it was Jackson who was seen as the go-to prospect, he was the one who struggled early and often found his groove and adapted to the higher level of play. Sanogo proved from the jump that he was ready to compete, registering 16 points and nine rebounds in his first two games in just 28 minutes of action. While those contests weren’t against top-tier competition (CCSU and Hartford), Sanogo wasn’t just dominating smaller defenders. He showed a rare touch of feathering and footwork that hadn’t been seen in a UConn uniform in some time. Although he struggled a bit when the Huskies started playing in the Big East, he really took a step forward midway through the season, which led to his best performance of his freshman year, an effort of 16 points and nine rebounds against Seton Hall.

His promising freshman work (7.3 points, 4.8 rebounds) led to a preseason honorable mention ahead of the 2021-22 season. But for the Husky faithful, it was disrespectful. The fanbase had seen firsthand how good he could be throughout the year and felt he should have gotten more recognition. The Big East media thought differently.

With nighttime averages of 14.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game, Sanogo’s sophomore campaign earned him first-team All-Big East honors last season, the only true big to end up in this prestigious six-man group that also included another Husky in RJ Cole. The improvement Sanogo made between his first and second season was nothing short of sensational; comparable even to the great Emeka Okafor, who was one of the top five players in UConn history. Sanogo is nowhere near the level of the former All-American and Final Four MOP, especially defensively, but the leap he’s taken between seasons is similar. Okafor’s career record of 441 blocks at UConn likely won’t be touched for some time.

Sanogo through his first two seasons

2020-21: 7.3 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, 17 minutes per game

2021-22: 14.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 29 minutes per game

Okafor through its first two seasons

2001-02: 7.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.1 blocks, 30 minutes per game

2002-03: 15.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, 4.7 blocks, 33 minutes per game

Sanogo started his sophomore season with a statement, setting up back-to-back 20-point outings that led to UConn blowouts. He played 49 minutes in total and went off the field 19 of 24. It was clear that Sanogo was going to be a go-to guy this year based on those first two games. It wasn’t just about stats, Sanogo was attacking early and often, his confidence level was clearly higher than it was a season ago. Dan Hurley has made it clear that Sanogo is going to be the primary option on the offensive side until someone can stop him. In his first real test, the top 25 with Auburn on national television, Sanogo scored a career-high 30 points against 7-foot-1 Walker Kessler, who won the SEC National and SEC Defensive Player Awards. year and was the leader of the NCAA. in blocked shots. Sanogo buried Kessler on the low block countless times, and the transfer to North Carolina fell short of Sanogo’s range of quick post movements and strength near the basket.

What’s particularly interesting about Sanogo is that although he boasts of having a massive frame, his game is not bully ball based as one might expect. He’s able to use the build to hook offensive boards, but his offensive skills center around his soft touch and footwork under the basket. Because he’s so dominant around the basket, Sanogo rarely ventures outside the paint other than to set screens on the perimeter, so his jump shot is still a bit of a mystery. It’s more for his professional prospects, but if he can develop a consistent mid-range jumper, Sanogo could be a legitimate contender for National Player of the Year if he isn’t already.

The pole move of choice for Sanogo is his patented fade jump hook, which he is able to hit over either shoulder and can easily spin into the shot. In his rookie season, Sanogo scored a lot of his points through setbacks generated by offensive rebounds, but he still showed just how good he could be with ambidextrous finishes here and there. After watching Sanogo last season, it was clear he had been working on those moves all summer – they were much more polished and better executed.

Sanogo was able to improve his ability to seal a defender off the post, creating an open passing lane for his teammates to give him the basketball in scoring position. This is another area where his chunky frame comes in handy, as his way of moving smaller defenders from their slots and ordering the paint was particularly impressive. As Isaiah Whaley often ran away from his sliding screens, trying to use his quickness to catch napping defenders, Sanogo would shove a defender then settle on the low block to wait for an entry pass . It’s no secret that UConn had a tough time on offense last season, and most of the time giving the ball to Sanogo and letting him go to work was their best scoring chance. The money played for the Huskies seemed to either be a high screen and roll for RJ Cole to make decisions with a big man sagging on him in the midrange or give Sanogo space to operate in the paint so he can take his man 1 the 1.

Big East teams began planning a game for Sanogo after seeing his strong performance during the non-conference schedule and threw double teams his way. It took him a while to figure it out, and that’s understandable. It’s extremely difficult to figure this out on the fly, and something every great dominant has had to consider in their career. This is also an area where he can certainly improve further. In some plays he responded well to that added pressure and was able to get away with it effectively or even force his way in to score, but other times he tried to force hard punches and returned it fairly consistently. The fact that Sanogo’s ability to manage double teams is criticized or even discussed says a lot about his quality last season. It’s one of the hardest things to deal with as a big man, and if you’re in command as a second year, you’re clearly doing your job very well.

Sanogo not only improved his offensive game, but also helped anchor the Huskies’ top-50 defense by being a steady rim protector (1.9 blocks per game) that made opposing players think twice. before going into painting. He was also able to use his frame to keep opposing big players off easy looks, especially with his ability to time a shot, something he likely learned while training with Defensive Player of the Year. of Big East Isiah Whaley for two seasons. While Sanogo was a consistent and efficient rim projector (six blocks on three occasions), he could also be exploited when stepping out of his comfort zone. He’s not a great perimeter defender, even for a center, and he’s likely to be chased if he finds himself fed 15-20 from the basket. That’s less of an issue with the Big East lacking the small-ball and big-all-purpose lineups to really exploit that shortcoming. While Sanogo has nimble feet around the basket, perimeter defense is a whole new stratosphere. Sanogo could also improve his defense against the ball. He can be a little slow to react and recover at times when the action comes his way, but that’s just another part of his game that will continue to improve and develop as he gets older. a better idea of ​​the game.

Overall, Sanogo’s second season as a Husky was a success, and you can bet he’ll be on every roster at every preseason conference and maybe even some All-Around rosters. -American. Andre Jackson has also improved markedly over his season, and it’s clear the two have a connection.

The future is bright for Sanogo and Jackson. With another offseason together to really freeze, this duo is going to be a challenge at both ends of the floor for any opponent. If Sanogo can develop a midrange jumper while adding his post arsenal and bolstering defensive technique, this time next year UConn should be considering its first All-American since Shabazz Napier 10 years ago.