Right before the start of Big East play, I wrote about Isaiah Whaley’s meteoric rise during his time at UConn, The Rise of The Wrench. Now that Whaley has announced his intention to return for a fifth season, I think it is time to write a part two: The Return of The Wrench.
Isaiah Whaley has officially announced his plans to return to UConn for a fifth season, taking advantage of his extra year of eligibility. What does this mean for UConn? We all know Whaley has been an integral part of the team’s recent success under Dan Hurley, but it’s more than that. Whaley is a glue guy; he brings the intangibles, the type of energy and toughness that every team needs. His return also starts to provide some stability to the UConn roster.
The offseason is just getting underway, and college basketball has never seen an offseason quite like this. Seniors get an extra year of eligibility and players can transfer without sitting out a year. The UConn roster still has openings, and many questions remain, but Whaley’s return is certainly a step in the right direction. UConn has seen just two transfers so far this offseason. Brendan Adams has landed at George Washington and Josh Carlton just committed to Houston (Javonte Brown also transferred to Texas A&M much earlier in the season). Not too bad considering that many other teams have lost four or more players to the transfer portal (looking at you Cincinnati and Syracuse). While many teams are undergoing massive roster reconstruction this offseason, Whaley’s return means that UConn will bring back all but one starter, James Bouknight (and a top 10 recruiting class). This speaks volumes about the program that Hurley has built in just three short years and how the team has bought into his vision for the program.
Can Whaley build on his momentum? In his senior season, The Wrench started every game while averaging about 27 minutes per contest. As always, Whaley provided the team with energy and toughness, especially with his defense. The Wrench has incredible feel for the game defensively and even better timing. Whaley averaged 2.61 blocks per game, good for 14th overall in the nation. UConn has long been known for their formidable shot blockers, and Whaley’s name will rise amongst former UConn greats. On his career, Whaley currently has a total of 141 blocked shots, 60 of them coming this past season (keep in mind this was a shorted, 23 game season). If Whaley were to duplicate his season average of 2.61 blocks in his final season, he would finish somewhere around fifth all time in UConn history for total blocked shots. Currently, Josh Boone is in fifth place with 222 blocks (if UConn played 30 games and Whaley averaged 2.61 BPG, he would finish his career with ~219 blocks). Jake Voskuhl sits in sixth with 193, which is not out of reach for The Wrench (no one is catching Okafor anytime soon though, 441 career blocks).
The Wrench doesn’t just block shots though. Whaley is one of the best defenders I’ve ever seen when it comes to pick and rolls or screening action. Frankly, I’m not sure why teams even try to screen when Whaley is in the equation. It rarely works out for them. In fact, UConn allowed opponents to score on just 36% of pick and roll possessions, in no small part thanks to Whaley. The Wrench should anchor what I anticipate will be a top 25 (and probably even better) defense next season, and you know what they say... defense wins championships. So, what about on offense?
Isaiah Whaley: "I'm very excited to be able to return to UConn for another season. I think we took a big step forward this year and I want to help the program continue its rise as we go after championships. " #UConn— William Paxton (@wspaxton) April 6, 2021
Whaley is not particularly known for his offense, but he did average 8.0 PPG, shooting 50% from the field and 35% from three (albeit it on limited attempts). In this offseason, I would look for Whaley to develop more consistency on offense, including more confidence in his jumper. I don’t think we will ever see Whaley as a volume shooter or scorer, but he often hesitated on open looks. This coming season, I imagine Whaley will make teams pay for disrespecting his jumper. To this point in his career, Whaley’s scoring has been more opportunistic than designed, but perhaps that will change this coming season as UConn’s offense will have to score by committee. It may seem like a longshot given where Whaley started, but if he can round out his offensive game, he has a shot to make a lot of money at the next level. Regardless, Whaley’s development will be a huge selling piece for future recruits looking to elevate their game, especially if he can find his way onto an NBA roster. If there is one thing I’ve learned about Whaley, it’s that you should never bet against him.
I’ll wrap things up here and just say this: the importance of The Return of The Wrench cannot be overstated. Yes, the roster still needs more shooting. Hurley and the staff are on it. They are looking at options in the transfer portal, and Whaley’s return allows the staff to allocate even more time to address this need. Keep in mind, we still await a decision from Tyler Polley, who we all know is a capable knockdown shooter. Things are shaping up nicely and I’m excited to see how the roster shakes out. While the roster is still far from complete, things just got a little clearer with The Return of The Wrench.