The first-year men's basketball coach enters Tuesday's faceoff with No. 24 UConn ready to embark on his first year as head coach of the Blue Devils, returning back to New Britain this spring to coach the alma mater that helped him embark on a "basketball lifer" career.
Sellers inherited a team that finished 5-16 year prior, and has been struggling across years prior. Returning players, and new ones, have already bought into the system the defensive-minded coach has implemented in a quest to take home a Northeast Conference title and potentially earn an NCAA tournament bit.
Plenty of fresh faces join the Blue Devils this season, who are led by a six-man group of returners and upperclassmen. Sellers said it's been no issue getting the group to gel so far this season and the hard work has been showing even with injuries in camp.
"We have six returners and 10 new guys, so the older guys have really done a good job of getting the new guys involved and making them feel comfortable. For everybody, it's a whole new system and coaching staff," said Selles. "... The preseason has been good. We had a couple of injures where we're just getting guys back, but with the first game (Tuesday) the guys are so excited."
Freshmen for the team include Andre Snoddy, Trenton McLaughlin, Justice Ellison, Davonte Sweatman, Kyle Rocker, Joe Ostrowsky, Jayden Brown and Abdul Momoh. Notable upperclassmen include Nigel Scantlebury, Zach Newkirk, Tre Mitchell, Ian Krishnan and Stephane Ayangma. Graduate transfer Hegel Augustin is also a new face for the CCSU team along with sophomore Arian Dehnavi.
Fortunately none of the injuries previously mentioned are long-term. Sellers said some COVID issues hit the team but it hasn't been a problem working out the new system with some guys absent.
"Everybody is vaccinated, but we had a couple of guys get COVID anyway," said Sellers. "... We had a couple guys sitting out for 10 days, ... we had to move guys around but the good news is that it helped us get guys to play multiple positions. ... It didn't really stunt our growth. ... I think we'll be prepared for everything going forward."
Sellers mentioned in his introductory press conference in May his desire to build a team that works well in transition, emphasizing efficiency and success under the basket for rebounding and to keep the game moving quickly. The multi-dimensional players with experience across all spots on the floor are likely going to help the team successfully implement the system Sellers wants.
"All the guys have been working really, really hard to learn the system and try to build the defense," said Sellers. "On offense end, it's getting the ball up quick with a lot of space and hopefully making some open shots and getting open threes."
CCSU enters Tuesday with a guard-heavy roster, carrying eight true guards and three in between players that can play forward or guard. Under the basket, they carry two true centers and forwards with one center-forward hybrid.
For Sellers, he likes the guard-heavy roster, saying the Northeast Conference plays well for guards. With some having experience already, he thinks the deep bench can keep the guys fresh in rotations, intending for all to get some time on the floor.
"In our league, the NEC, ... it's a guard friendly league. If you have really good guards, multiple guys that can make the play off the dribble or can shoot the ball and score, then I think you have an advantage," said Sellers. "With a heavy guard tandem in the group we have, we feel like we can push the pace and put pressure [on the defense] and really work on defense and rotate. ... We really like our guards and want those guys to play."
Three guards have stood out for the Blue Devils in preseason, all of which are returning upperclassmen that will likely see a bulk of floor time each time out. Sellers had all good things to say on Scantlebury, Krishman and Mitchell, who have led by example.
"Nigel Scantlebury, ... he's been really good," said Sellers. "[Ian] Krishnan, ... last year he took a big dip so we're trying to get him back to that freshman and sophomore pace where he really had it going. He's been really good, shooting the ball well in practice. Tre Mitchell is the returning leading scorer from last year and he's a high IQ guy. He can put it down, play on the ball, off the ball, shoot it and he's very smart. He's been impressive for us.
Under the basket the confidence is just as high for Sellers, pointing to both returning players and freshmen as players who have impressed in camp.
"We do have four really good big guys, some guys that can play inside and outside. That helps us. That depth helps us. ... On the inside, Stephane Ayangma, ... he's been good. Abdul Momoh, a kid we got late, he's been really good. He was a freshman who didn't know what to expect at this level and has got better every day. He's going to help us out a lot. ... All the guys have been working hard but those guys have stuck out a lot."
The Blue Devils are aiming to keep things simple to start this season in an effort to keep from confusing the players who are still processing both college basketball at a high level and a new style of play Sellers is looking to create. The simplicity, Sellers hopes, will lead to the Blue Devils opening up the playbook to more changes as the season progresses.
But right now, it's keeping the game fun and basic for the guys.
"It's been fun. ... So many new guys, a new staff, we're trying to keep it as simple as possible," said Sellers. "We just want the guys to play hard on the defensive end, and on offense if we can get these guys to be in space and get to their spots on the court and shoot [we should be successful]," said Sellers. "... We want to start off simple and as we go through the year we add a play here, a defensive scheme there, and build as we go."
Tip from Storrs between the Huskies and CCSU comes at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 (FS1).
The Huskies open as a 32-point favorite over CCSU, according to Action Network. Last year, UConn beat CCSU by 27 in a 102-75 final to open the season.