Jessica Hill, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun says he has more talent this season than he had on the team that won the national championship in April.
Calhoun made the comment Thursday before a dinner at which the 2010-11 Huskies received their national championship rings.
"We're more talented right now," Calhoun told reporters. "It doesn't mean we're going to win any games. It doesn't mean we're going to win a national championship. I think we can."
UConn returns four starters from last season's squad, which went 11-0 in the postseason to win both the Big East and the NCAA titles.
The Huskies also have added a highly-regarded recruiting class that includes 6-foot point guard Ryan Boatright, 6-8 forward DeAndre Daniels and 6-foot-11 center Andre Drummond — a surprise signing that came late in August, and propelled the Huskies to the top of many preseason watch lists.
"All three of them right now are going to make a hard run at a lot of playing time," Calhoun said.
But UConn lost star guard Kemba Walker, who left after his junior season for the NBA draft, something he said he does not regret despite the current lockout.
"No regrets at all," he said. "It's been a crazy summer, especially because of no basketball, but things happen. We'll be back soon, I'm pretty sure."
Calhoun said it will take a team effort to replace Walker's leadership. The Huskies will look to junior center Alex Oriakhi, and sophomores Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier for that.
Oriakhi stepped into that role Thursday, saying he agrees that the talent is there for another title run, but has cautioned the underclassmen that it will take a lot more than talent to repeat.
"Last year's team, we worked our butts off every day in practice," he said. "So, if this team can do that and more, then I definitely agree. But, talent doesn't mean anything without work, so I feel as long as we're willing to put in the work, everything will take care of itself."
Walker and other UConn alumni who have been locked out of the NBA, such as Celtics guard Ray Allen, have been playing pickup games with the Huskies this fall.
Oriakhi said that can only help the team get better, but said the real work will begin with the first official practice on Oct. 14.
Lamb said the Huskies are looking forward to that, but first want to celebrate with their new jewelry.
The rings handed out at Thursday's banquet feature the UConn logo of an interlocking red letter "U'' and blue "C'' on a bed of diamonds, with the words, "National Champions." The players name and number are on the side of the ring, along with an image of the NCAA trophy.
"I've turned the page, but at the same time I still have the memories," said Lamb. "Nobody can take those memories from me."
Calhoun declined to comment on Thursday's news that TCU had been invited to join the Big 12 conference.
"The only thing that I'm going to concern myself with tonight is the celebration of last year's team," he said. "That's what I'm here for, one simple thing, to celebrate an incredible year. Tonight is all about that and nothing else. Tomorrow we'll get back to the realities of life."
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