Tuesday, February 14, 2012

UConn Players Inspired by Ray Allen's Talk

A day after the Celtics' 95-91 win over Chicago at the TD BankNorth Garden, Ray Allen found time in his schedule to drive down to Gampel Pavilion to sit through UConn's practice on Monday, then deliver a 20-25 minute speech to the team afterwards in the locker room.

“It was vintage Ray Allen, it was a classic talk," reported associate head coach George Blaney. "That’s what Jim (Calhoun) has built here: the family atmosphere of great, great players that have done tremendous things for the state of Connecticut and have gone on to even do greater things in the NBA, and still have that feeling of closeness to the team."

Allen touched on numerous topics: getting through tough times, how to communicate with teammates, his relationship with current Celtics players and with UConn assistant coach Kevin Ollie, his former UConn teammate.

He also instilled in the team the belief that this season is far from over.

“He said you’ve got to bring it every day," said Ryan Boatright. "Just because we’re down right now doesn’t mean we can’t turn it around. He gave us two examples: the team last year with Kemba, and the New York Giants. They lost four straight in the regular season, now they’re the Super Bowl champs. He told us to keep fighting and we can turn this whole thing around if we come together as a team.”

Tyler Olander said the biggest thing he took from it was "trusting each other, keep playing basketball. He reminded us that in the game of basketball, mistakes happen. Even at his level in the NBA, people shoot air balls, people dribble off their foot, but you’ve got to keep playing through that. We’ve let mistakes get to us and bring us down, so that was good to get our minds on that.”

Blaney pointed out Allen's high praise for Ollie.

"He really went on a lot of different areas: the players on the Celtics team, a lot about Kevin (Ollie), what Kevin meant to him as a player – how Kevin drove him to be better than he was, that Kevin’s work ethic and his ability to make me work harder was something that is still ingrained in me today. To me, that was a great tribute to Kevin.”

And the fact that Allen decided to make the trip to Storrs at all was "a tribute to Jim (Calhoun) and how he’s built this program, and the kind of players that he’s had in this program that still want to give back.”

Added Boatright: “That was good, just to know that the guys that went through here still pay attention to us. For him to take time out of his busy schedule to come talk to us, to try to help us get back on track, we really appreciated it.”

Blaney noted that Allen said when the Celtics played Memphis recently, he and Rudy Gay were talking at midcourt about the UConn game they had watched the night before.

"The college players all watch the NBA," Blaney said, "and the NBA guys all watch college games."

Andre Drummond sat out of Monday's practice with his sore right ankle, but it gave him the chance to talk to Allen throughout practice.

"We were just running through a bunch of topics," Drummond noted. "After practice, he was talking to the guys, saying we’ve got to pick each other up, we can’t talk down to each other. You’ve got to know who to talk to in what ways, and that things will click for us after we start trusting each other more.”

Added Olander: “That was a real good experience, just to have him come, with all his knowledge and experience and all the things he’s accomplished, just to get our minds right again, tell us forget about things that have happened and to move on as a team. It was special to have him there to get us re-focused on what we have to do to get through the rest of the season.”

*** As for UConn's walking wounded, Jeremy Lamb's sprained right toe has improved, according to trainer James Doran, and he was expected to give it a go at practice today. Same with Drummond, though the team is being more cautious with him.

"It tweaks sometimes when I make the wrong step," Drummond said, adding that he'll likely "go in spurts" today in practice.

Drummond said on Sunday, the day after he turned his ankle up in Syracuse, his ankle really hurt and he could barely get out of bed.

“I told James, you might wanna come get me, because I can’t walk," Drummond said with a smile. "I’m struggling to get out of my bed. He loosened it up for me. He’s a great trainer, because if I was on my own, I’d still be stuck in my room to this day.”

Also, Roscoe Smith was pulled out of practice with a sore left Achilles tendon on Monday, and it wasn't known whether he'd practice today.

***UPDATE*** Lamb and Drummond both got through practice on Tuesday, though it was a struggle for both (particularly Lamb). Smith did not practice and appears questionable for Wednesday's bout with DePaul.

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