Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Olander Has Bulked Up

If there’s one concern for Jim Calhoun this upcoming season – aside from losing arguably the most important player in program history – it’s the strength of the UConn men’s basketball team’s frontcourt players.

The Huskies will have plenty of talent on the wings and should be able to replace Kemba Walker as well as they could hope to with sophomore Shabazz Napier and freshman Ryan Boatright.

But it’s the size upfront, or lack thereof, that has Calhoun worried the most. Alex Oriakhi is a physical specimen, even if he doesn’t always mix it up as well as Calhoun would like. After that, however, there are certainly some questions about UConn’s frontcourt. So much so that Calhoun is quick to point to Charles Okwandu – the 7-footer who averaged just 2.9 points per game – as a key graduation loss.
“I’m worried about our muscle,” Calhoun said recently.

With that in mind, Tyler Olander has worked hard this offseason to bulk up and get stronger. He’s added about 15 pounds of muscle, checking in at about 240 pounds, and is ready to provide the Huskies with some more frontcourt strength.

“(Calhoun has) been telling me about that all summer: getting my body ready is the main thing,” Olander, a 6-foot-9 sophomore, said. “He’s been telling me to muscle up and work hard in the weight room.”

So Olander has done that, and he’s ready to help the Huskies up front.

“I definitely don’t mind going in and banging,” he said. “I feel I can do that, especially with the work I’ve put in this summer, just to get stronger and get my body ready.”

It’s been a whirlwind year for Olander, the Mansfield native who overcame a severe reduction in minutes and production late in the season and found himself in the starting lineup through most of the Huskies’ amazing run through March and April.

Olander’s contributions didn’t increase a whole lot during that span, though he did chip in with seven points and six rebounds in UConn’s win over Syracuse in the Big East tournament semifinals, and kicked off the Huskies’ scoring in both of their Final Four bouts.

When it was all said and done, Olander averaged 1.5 points and 1.8 rebounds in 9.6 minutes per game --- 0.7 points and 1.0 boards in Big East play – numbers Calhoun would like to see increase significantly next season.

“He wants me to produce more numbers so he can play me longer,” Olander said. “I was in there, and he said I was doing a lot of good things, but I had no numbers to show for it. So he just wants me to put numbers up.”

Olander and fellow sophomore Michael Bradley were slated to go on a tour of Italy to play with other Big East players at the end of this month, but those plans fell through. Instead, Olander has been working out in Storrs and also playing with Walker and Roscoe Smith on the Doc Hurley All-Stars in the Greater Hartford Pro-Am.

Although the Italian tour fell through, Olander said Bradley (who red-shirted this past season) will be a pleasant surprise to UConn fans.

“They didn’t’ see him last year, and he’s worked tremendously hard,” he said of Bradley. “I think everyone will surprise people in different ways. Everybody had a productive summer.”

Indeed, Olander figures the Huskies will be right back in the hunt for a national championship this winter.

“I was just talking with Alex, and we both think we’re going to be really good this year,” he said. “We have great players coming back. We’re a young team, but if we play with a lot of energy and determination, we could do a lot of good things this year again.”

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