‘I’m bleeding blue so I really couldn’t leave’

As Tyler Polley stood alongside Dan Hurley in midfield on senior day on March 6, holding his No.12 jersey framed in the air and receiving cheers from the small crowd, he knew it could be. his last match at the Gampel pavilion.

But he also knew it probably wouldn’t.

“Before Senior Day,” he recalls, “I had in mind that coming back was a huge possibility.”

Less than a week later, UConn lost to Creighton in the semi-finals of the Big East tournament. A week later, the Huskies’ season was over, rebounded unceremoniously from the first round of the NCAA tournament by Maryland.

A month later, these consecutive end-of-season defeats were still engraved in his memory, Polley made it official: he returned to UConn for a fifth and final season.

“I think the way the season ended last year, it left a bitter taste in my mouth,” Polley told Hearst Connecticut Media Thursday. “We could have played better in this tournament game. We didn’t play our best game so replay it, try to redeem ourselves and try to run a deep run in the tournament – I think that’s the main reason I came back.

There is another reason Polley chose to take advantage of the new NCAA policy that allows all student-athletes from last season to have another year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 situation.

“I just wasn’t ready to play professionally,” he explained.

Indeed, when Polley announced his intention to return to UConn, he came with the caveat that he would test the waters of the NBA Draft and professional basketball.

“I just wanted comments,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t going to be drafted. I knew I could probably play abroad somewhere, but I really wasn’t ready. I needed to show more and improve more what I can do in the field at university. Going pro, I knew that was not an option this year.

Neither was transferred to another school, although they had suitors. Florida, Texas A&M, and a few other SEC schools have shown interest in the Miramar product in Florida.

“I was never afraid he would transfer to another college,” said Polley’s mother, Kim Rogers. “I think testing the waters for him was the only other option he would consider. He was flattered that other people were interested in him, but he never really flirted with the idea of ​​leaving UConn. If he were to leave UConn, it would be for the NBA or a professional (basketball).

Not that the transfer wasn’t slightly tempting.

“To say it didn’t cross my mind, I would be lying,” Polley confessed. “I thought a fresh start would be good. But at the end of the day, having been here for four years, I know the coaching staff, the system and the school inside and out. And I love UConn. I’m bleeding really blue. So I really couldn’t leave.

UNFINISHED

No, Tyler Polley has some unfinished business to take care of this season. Even though he won the Big East’s Sixth Man Award last season, it wasn’t too much of an achievement for him on the pitch. The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 7.5 points and shot 35.5 percent from a 3-point field – a significant drop from his 41.7 percent shooting in the first year and 9, 5 points per game and 40.5% 3-point shots as a junior.

That was before he tore his ACL in his left knee in the middle of the 2019-20 season. Long rehab ensued, largely at home as COVID-19 shut down UConn’s campus. For most of the summer of 2020, Polley didn’t even play basketball, with many local gyms near his home being closed.

“Looking back, it really affected my game, my self-confidence, my ability to perform,” he recalls. “Last summer took its toll, in terms of confidence.”

In his second and third games of last season, against Hartford and USC, Polley failed to score while finishing with four fouls apiece.

“I couldn’t stay in front of anyone,” he recalls. “The first three games, I almost made a mistake, and I never have a fault problem. Just adapt to get into the game again, play defense. I didn’t feel comfortable, really, I would say until January.

He’s never been better than Jan. 5 at Marquette, when he took over after James Bouknight hit his elbow and scored 24 points, a career-high. He scored 19 in the next game at Butler and took home Big East Player of the Week honors – something Bouknight never even achieved.

But there weren’t a lot of noteworthy performances after that.

“He didn’t feel like he was having the last year he wanted after his injury,” Rogers said. “He played well, but he played with a lot of hesitation and wasn’t quite comfortable putting all of his strength on his knee.”

And so, Polley has received feedback from NBA scouts and others involved in professional gaming. They told him he needed to improve his defense, improve his rebounds. Polley has spent the last two months at home working hard, improving his skills, his handling of the ball. About three weeks ago, he officially decided he wasn’t going to go pro but would return to Storrs instead.

Polley didn’t like the bitter taste in his mouth left over from last year’s end-of-season losses. He knew he was not yet ready for the professional ball. And there was one more reason for his return: A week before Polley made his announcement, Isaiah Whaley announced that he would be returning to UConn for a fifth season.

“He and Isaiah have a special bond,” Rogers noted.

“My guy’s return has helped me,” added Polley. “Knowing he was coming back helped me for sure. “

Now Tyler Polley is also back. And he feels he will be more tanned than ever.

“I feel really good right now,” he said. “I think I’ll be better than two years ago. I just have more confidence in myself. I’ve been through a lot last year, it has helped me grow as a player and mentally.

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