Over the last 20 years, the University of Connecticut Huskies men’s basketball team has arguably been the most successful college teams not located on Tobacco Road. Since the 1996-97 season, the UConn Huskies have made it to fifteen NCAA Tournaments, won seven Big East and one American Athletic conference championships and four NCAA titles. UConn’s four NCAA tournament title victories stand as the most that any team has won during that twenty year period.
Throughout that period of great success, the UConn Huskies has hosted a plethora of players that went on to have tremendous success at both the college and NBA level. Over those last twenty years, current and former NBA players like Emeka Okafor, Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb, Richard Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Shabazz Napier and Charlie Villaneuva have been able to lead UConn to those four NCAA title victories.
As might be evident from that list of players, the Huskies have been most successful when they’re led by back-court players. The best example of that was in 2011 where current Hornets point guard Kemba Walker had an 11-game run that pushed the UConn Huskies from the 9th seed in the Big East tournament to an NCAA title team. During that NCAA Tournament, Walker averaged a phenomenal 23.5 points, 6 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 40% from the field.
What made that journey so special was how Walker could will the UConn Huskies to an unbelievable 11-game winning streak that went through the Big East and NCAA Tournament. In a game filled with giants, it was a 6-foot point guard with a less-than-stellar frame that put a team on his back and pushed them to a title victory.
Five years later, the UConn Huskies will look to another small point guard to help lead them back to the promise land. That promising young prospect is Alterique Gilbert, a 6-foot, 170 pound point guard from a small town named Lithonia, Georgia that maintains a population of 2,022.
Despite being a small guard in an even smaller town, Gilbert made a significant impact during his time at Miller Grove High School. That impact was most evident during Gilbert’s senior season, as he helped push Miller Grove to a Georgia state title. That leadership is evident through Gilbert averaging 20.1 points, 5.8 assists and 4.3 steals per game on 59% from the field and 51% from beyond the arc. Those incredible averages pushed Gilbert to being named the 2016 Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year.
Apparent from those incredible stats from his senior season, Gilbert stands as a player that can both be efficient and can put up buckets in bunches. That incredible combination is largely due to Gilbert’s incredible offensive versatility. During his time at Miller Grove, Gilbert displayed an ability to score in a variety of ways: on-ball cuts, perimeter jumper, transition drives and working off-the-dribble as a mid-range shooter.
Whether it’s as a cutter or mid-range shooter, arguably most of Gilbert’s success is due to his incredible ball-handling. With the ball in his hand, Gilbert might be one of the most lethal players in college basketball as he has handles straight from the And 1 Mixtape Tour.
On a regular basis, Duval’s able to just cross dudes up while still maintaining control of the ball. Those skills as a ball-handler are most evident when he’s working in half-court sets, as Gilbert regularly shows an ability to work around the defender and just drive towards the rim. An example is seen below as Gilbert cross up the Lone Peak guard and then makes a smooth drive to the rim where he finishes around contact.
Gilbert’s solid handles has also allowed him to become a pretty deadly mid-range shooter. First off, Gilbert regularly does a great job of utilizing a quick first step or smooth hesitation moves to get that advantage over the perimeter defender. Following that initial victory, Gilbert does a great job of quickly getting in a spot where he can put up a smooth mid-range jumper. In a play below, you can see Gilbert confidently crossing up his opponent before hitting a smooth fadeaway jumper.
That confidence is also evident when you look at his work as a perimeter shooter. Shooting 51% from beyond the arc on four attempts per game, Gilbert shows incredible range on a jumper that he mainly utilizes in off-the-dribble scenarios. Whether he’s working off-the-dribble or through catch-and-shoot, Gilbert exhibits a terrific shooting stroke that’s quick and has a high release point.
Although Gilbert’s widely regarded as a score-first guard, the UConn freshman does show some promise as a facilitator. That potential is largely due to Gilbert being a pretty unselfish player, as he’s definitely willing to work the ball to a teammate if they have the best opportunity to score. At this point, Gilbert is probably best suited as an outlet passer as he does a great job of throwing precise passes to teammates that are on the other end of the court.
Transitioning over to the defensive end, Gilbert shines as an incredible pesky and hard-working defender. On a possession-by-possession basis, Gilbert tries to do anything that he possibly can to force a turnover from the opposition. Whether it’s through fighting in the passing lanes or just poking the ball loose from the opposing ball-handler, Gilbert consistently shows a willingness to just go all out. Although his small 6-foot frame might give him plenty of struggles against bigger point guards, Gilbert’s hard-work should make up for any of those flaws.
Although it’s unfair and very premature to start comparing Alterique Gilbert with Kemba Walker, there’s still plenty of reasons for UConn fans to be excited about this freshman point guard. Whether it’s through his amazing handles or smooth shooting stroke, Gilbert is a phenomenal prospect that can impress in a variety of different ways. Those impressive skill should entertain UConn fans for the foreseeable future.