STORRS - For a certain demographic from a certain generation, it was the ‚ÄúRocky‚ÄĚ soundtrack. A decade or two later, in some of the same neighborhoods as well as those far away, it was DMX‚Äôs ‚ÄúRuff Ryders.‚ÄĚ More recently it‚Äôs been Fort Minor or Youngbloodz blaring through the headphones of your favorite basketball player.
OK, perhaps athletes‚Äô musical preferences for pregame ‚Äėhype‚Äô music has always run the gamut and can‚Äôt be stereotyped.
UConn center Josh Carlton, though, isn‚Äôt so dependent on such beats. He has been using a different pregame ritual during his recent hot streak for the Huskies.
‚ÄúI have a cup of coffee before the game,‚ÄĚ Carlton said after he put together another solid effort in UConn‚Äôs 80-60 win over Wichita State Saturday night. ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt know if that‚Äôs superstitious or not. I just try to get a cup of coffee in before.‚ÄĚ
The java seems to be working for Josh these days.
The 6-foot-10 center is starting to become a force for the Huskies. He had 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting to go along with six rebounds and four blocked shots Saturday against the Shockers.
And over his last five games Carlton is averaging 10.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and is shooting 73.3 percent from the floor.
Coach Dan Hurley admits Carlton‚Äôs development is one of the most important boxes to check if UConn hopes to continue to improve.
‚ÄúWe have a chance to better offensively and defensively with the way he‚Äôs emerging right now,‚ÄĚ Hurley sad. ‚ÄúThe only way you have a chance to play good offense is if you have a guy or two that you can throw the ball in the post to. And he‚Äôs starting to be a guy we can throw the ball in to so it‚Äôs not just ring-around-the-rosy on the 3-point line.‚ÄĚ
And one of the biggest ways Carlton can improve, is to keep his energy up. Hence, perhaps, the coffee.
‚ÄúHe gets mad in practice sometimes and says ‚ÄėYou‚Äôve got that low motor stuff.‚Äô I try to not show a low motor and keep that high motor,‚ÄĚ Carlton said.
On Saturday, UConn raced out to a big lead against the Shockers.
Nearly all of the Huskies contributed to the team‚Äôs hot start, perhaps none as impressively as Carlton. He had seven points, four rebounds and four blocked shots in the opening 12 minutes of the game, helping stake his team to a 28-12 lead.
‚ÄúHe has the skill level but now the motor‚Äôs picking up, the rebounding, the defensive presence. Those were some impressive blocks today,‚ÄĚ Hurley said.
Now that‚Äôs strung together a few good efforts, Carlton has the belief that they can become the norm.
‚ÄúI just have my own confidence. And when I show confidence in myself, the guards have confidence in me. They see I want the ball and I want to try and make a play with it,‚ÄĚ Carlton said.
With Carlton‚Äôs help, the Huskies (12-8 overall, 3-4 American) have won consecutive games for the first time in more than a month and have if nothing else separated themselves from the bottom of the American Conference.
Its latest victim, Wichita State (8-11, 1-6) has lost seven of its last eight games.
Before Saturday, UConn had not played in seven days, a rather odd break in the middle of January. But the break didn‚Äôt seem to affect the players this time, including Carlton.
‚ÄúCarlton is improved,‚ÄĚ Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said after the game. ‚ÄúHe can go over both shoulders. He‚Äôs big and long.‚ÄĚ
Hurley has likened this season to a freshman campaign for Carlton, in part because he‚Äôs getting more of an opportunity to play this season than he did in the last.
And in part because Carlton wasn‚Äôt perhaps 100 percent ready for the rigors of college basketball and college life when he arrived at UConn last summer. Carlton arrived in Storrs from DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Maryland, as a bit of a wide-eyed, 18-year-old. (If it makes some Husky fans feel old, Carlton was born just 32 days before UConn won its first national championship in 1999).
‚ÄúWe all come in young but he came in really young,‚ÄĚ junior teammate Christian Vital said. ‚ÄúHe was kind of forced in that starting position and he didn‚Äôt really know what a UConn big was supposed to be. But I think after all that yelling coach does at him he‚Äôs finally stepping up.‚ÄĚ
Of course, Vital admits Hurley wasn‚Äôt the only one yelling in hopes of motivating Carlton.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve definitely called him a few names,‚ÄĚ Vital said. ‚ÄúBut also tell him he‚Äôs here for a reason; he‚Äôs not here by accident. You‚Äôre our starting big. You‚Äôre at UConn, take advantage of it.‚ÄĚ
He‚Äôs enjoying his solid play lately but the Carlton is truly anxious to take advantage of now is UConn‚Äôs upcoming opportunity. The Huskies can earn their third straight win, and their biggest of the season, if they somehow knock off American Conference preseason favorite Central Florida Thursday night in Orlando.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs about trying to get a top-tier win in the conference,‚ÄĚ Carlton said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs one of the big dogs in the conference so we‚Äôre going to go in there hungry and try to get a win.‚ÄĚ
Hungry, yes, and also thirsty for a good pre-game coffee.