Tuesday, December 02, 2014

UConn's Diaco on Melifonwu's injury, Ashiru's departure

It was a rather interesting final mid-week press conference of the season with an 11 1/2 minute opening statement and another nine minutes spent talking about how the offseason preparations are going to work.

However, there were some news to emerge from Bob Diaco's time speaking with the media.

First, he said that sophomore safety Obi Melifonwu, who other than center Alex Mateas is the only player to start every game during the 2013 and 2014 seasons, will undergo shoulder surgery on Friday and will miss Saturday's regular-season finale against Southern Methodist.

Melifonwu is fourth on the team with 75 tackles and he will be replaced in the starting lineup by Junior Lee.

"Obi has been injured for some time," Diaco said. "He has been tough, a warrior, persevered through it all for many weeks. The event on Satutrday (against Memphis) was the final brick on the load. He is going to have that repaired on Friday. He will be able to participate in the beginning of the spring. He would be limited from a contact standpoint."

In the wake of a column by Brian Koonz in the Connecticut Post last week when the father of former starting linebacker Jefferson Ashiru asserted that the coaching staff brow beating of Ashiru and their questioning whether he loved football resulted in Ashiru leaving the program, Diaco was asked if he had a reaction of being accused of running Ashiru off the program.

"My reservations, I don't want to talk about players on the team, I see them all as students at the university, all part of the family," Diaco said about the way he answered questions on the matter last week. "I don't want to talk disparaging about anybody. I was crushed (about the accusations), I really was. It is a complete, I don't want to say this in a disparaging way about the author of the article either, but other than they were related, there is no shred of truth in any way. All of it was a misrepresentation, every bit of it. It never happened like that. The headline (UConn football player deserved better from Diaco) was completely wrong. The only person who would have deserved better from the coaching staff would be Junior Joseph who won the job four weeks earlier. We were just trying to coach the team and move somebody forward, get better.

"It was disappointing. We don't communicate with the players that way and it never happened. Not that we are sitting around singing Kumbaya, it is an intense environment but we never demoralize, dehumanize, disrespect, emasculate (players). It just doesn't happen. I am standing here telling you but you could ask anybody on the team. I wish him the best, I hope he has success. He made a decision. His role changed because it had to. He didn't like his new role and he didn't want to do it anymore, that is it."

Only three players came into the press conference. B.J. McBryde was the only defensive player so I got his take on how the coaching staff treated Ashiru.

"Sort of similar to a very good friend of mine, Angelo Pruitt," McBryde said. "It was unfortunate that he was in the position that he was. Those guys make a decision to continue their success elsewhere whether it be in a classroom, whether it be on a different college team. I wouldn't say that Jeff was forced off the team, I would say everything that has happened on this team has happened for a reason. Coach, like anywhere, you sort of weed out the different parts of the team that might not fit with your team. It is not negative thing, I don't want it to come off as negative because Jeff is a great player, very athletic, smart guy, intelligent guy, a hard-working guy but just certain things that I guess didn't fit with Coach Diaco's scheme. You have to do what works for your team."

I asked McBryde is he thought the coaching staff was fair in their treatment of the players.

"I believe so," he said.

Since he brought up Pruitt, who retired due to injury after playing in the season opener, I got his take of the emotions for a player like Pruitt who will join Casey Cochran, Byron Jones and Bryan Paull as injured or retired players who will be honored during Senior Day festivities before Saturday's SMU game.

"The thing about Angelo Pruitt, he has been my best friend since freshman year and there is nothing that can stop this kid," McBryde said. "He has sort of been like a younger brother to me, sometimes an older brother. He has a way of speaking to people, he has a lot of charisma, a real smooth guy so I don't think Angelo is going to run into a lot of problems. this program has blessed him just like it has blessed me and he is only going to go up from here."

There are 14 players set to be honored and eight of them have been playing regularly this season (receivers Deshon Foxx and Geremy Davis, McBryde, center Alex Mateas, linebackers Reuben Frank and Brandon Steg, quarterback Chandler Whitmer and offensive lineman Gus Cruz). I asked Diaco is players like former starting long snapper Adam Mueller or walk-on turned scholarship defensive back Chris DeBerry might get a snap or two on Saturday, Diaco said he would not do so at the expense of winning the game.

Finally, Diaco highlighted the players who impressed him the most during the Memphis game and they were Brice McAlister on special teams, tackle Andreas Knappe, receiver Geremy Davis and running back Ron Johnson were the players earning praise while on defense  it was DT Julian Campenni, linebacker Graham Stewart, cornerback Jamar Summers and safety Andrew Adams.


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