Monday, December 31, 2012

No Buzz for UConn-Marquette Tuesday, But a Homecoming for Phil Nolan

As you prepare to get on your New Year's Eve buzz, remember that there will be no Buzz to UConn's Big East opener tonight at Marquette (8 p.m., ESPNU).

Marquette coach Buzz Williams will be serving a school-imposed, one-game suspension for a recruiting violation the program self-reported over the summer, per the Journal-Sentinel's Michael Hunt. Williams wound up firing an assistant for the violation.

Williams, who can't have contact with his team either Monday or Tuesday, did have this to say about UConn: "I think they're extremely fast. Like, really, really, really fast. They pressure you defensively, put pressure on you offensively because of their speed ... We'll have our hands full, but we can't make it into a track meet because we'll lose. We have to handle their speed. We have to make them guard us inside."

No word yet on who'll coach the Golden Eagles. It's possible former DePaul head man Jerry Wainwright could take the reins.

*** Tuesday's game will be a homecoming for UConn freshman Phil Nolan, a Milwaukee native. It's a sort of homecoming, as well, for Kevin Ollie, who spent much of the 2002-03 season playing for the Bucks.

In fact, as I explain in this feature story I did on Nolan back in June, it was the friendship that Ollie had with Trevor Trimble, stepfather of one of Nolan's good basketball buddies, that helped lead Nolan to UConn.

Nolan told me over the summer that Marquette offered him a scholarship back after his sophomore year in high school, but ultimately the school was "a little too close to home."

But, he added: "There weren't a lot of people from the inner-city who were Marquette fans. It wasn't like Marquette was like UConn is."

*** Although Ollie only spent about half a season with the Bucks before being traded (with Ray Allen) to Seattle, he made plenty of friends in his relatively short time here (not surprisingly). That was evident when the bellman at the team's hotel, the Phister, greeted him with a hug as the team arrived.

In fact, Ollie said he lived at the hotel for about a month-and-a-half -- wisely choosing not to setttle down and buy a home in the area. Eleven different teams in 13 seasons will do that to you.

*** Ryan Boatright is a native of Chicago, which is about 90 minutes down the road from Milwaukee. He'll have plenty of friends and family at the game, too.

"When we travel," he said, "we travel in packs."

*** Tomorrow will be UConn's first true road game -- obviously the first ever for freshmen like Omar Calhoun and Nolan.

Added Ollie: “It’s all about growing. You grow in life. This is going to be another growing step for us. I want to see how they respond, of course, I want to see how I respond, our coaching staff response. It’s just going to be a good test … in one of the most hostile environments that we have in the Big East.”

*** Ollie likes the improvement he's been seeing lately from Nolan.

“I’m seeing the consistency now. He’s working, not only the two hours I have him in practice, but he’s grabbing Coach Miller and myself and asking the different nuances of the game and how can I get better. He’s willing to ask for feedback, and I think that’s a great thing for a young player. Instead of just getting in a shell and saying, ‘I’m not playing,’ he’s not doing that. He’s saying, ‘What do I need to do to get on the court, Coach?’ I keep telling him to rebound. That’s what he’s going to continue to do. I’ve seen him start to hit people first in the minutes that he’s got.”

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

My AP Top 25 This Week. UConn Was Considered

Since there are no Top 25-level teams playing on Sunday, I was able to submit my AP poll this morning. Not much change -- one addition (New Mexico) and one subtraction (Temple). It's hugely unfair to bump the Owls after they didn't even play this week, but I had to make room for Steve Alford's Lobos, who went to previously unbeaten Cincinnati and won to improve to 13-1 (including a win over UConn).

No one else did anything to deserve being bumped, except possibly UNLV, whom I had at No. 16 last week and lost to North Carolina at Chapel Hill Saturday.

There's no shame in that, though -- and no, I didn't add the 9-3 Tar Heels to my Top 25, despite that victory. It's a nice win, but the game was in Chapel Hill. The real good teams are separated from the good teams by road wins, not home wins.

As for UConn, whose 10-2 record is as good as anybody could have expected at this point in the season, I considered it. But again, there was simply no one else to boot out. The only losers from my Top 25 last week were Cincy, UNLV, Missouri (at UCLA, in OT) and San Diego State (at No. 3 Arizona).

1. Duke
2. Michigan
3. Louisville
4. Indiana
5. Arizona
6. Kansas
7. Ohio State
8. Syracuse
9. Missouri
10. Creighton
11. Illinois
12. Gonzaga
13. New Mexico
14. San Diego State
15. Oklahoma State
16. Pittsburgh
17. Notre Dame
18. Cincinnati
19. UNLV
20. Florida
21. NC State
22. Michigan State
23. Minnesota
24. Butler
25. Kansas State

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Kevin Ollie: 'I Just Never Thought it Could Happen for a Guy out of South Central L.A.

What they were saying after UConn's 61-53 win over Washington tonight:

Omar Calhoun said the team learned about Kevin Ollie's extension at today's shootaround from AD Warde Manuel.

“We clapped it up for him. We were heading into tonight with a positive mindset," Calhoun said. "It definitely feels good. Coach Ollie’s a great guy, he wishes the best for everybody. He’s the guy who recruited me here. Everybody was happy for him.”

Added Enosch Wolf: “We work so hard for him to get that contract. We all know he deserved it, they should have given it to him right away, we all know that. So now we’ve got to prove it that he’s the right guy. We’ve got to go even harder and can’t let down.”

Ollie got a standing 'O' from the crowd of about 6,600 storm-braving fans when he first walked onto the court prior to the game.

“My legs were shaking and everything," he said. "It was like the first game I stepped into the XL Center. I was excited for the moment. I just never thought it could happen for a guy out of South Central Los Angeles. But I’m an unrealistic thinker, just like Coach Calhoun.”

Other coaches weighed in on Ollie's contract.

Buzz Williams, who'll be sitting out Tuesday's game vs. UConn due to a one-game, school-imposed suspension, said: "I think (Ollie) is a stud. I love (the contract extension). I've loved him before he got into coaching. I love his path, respect his path, think he's a star. I think it's hard to follow a Hall of Famer, but I think he has enough bravado to do it."

And Washington's Lorenzo Romar (like Ollie, an L.A. native), said: "I didn't really know him that well until he got into coaching. Right away, when he joined the coaching ranks from the NBA, the way he carried himself, he didn't conduct himself as if he was above anything. He conducted himself as if he was a student trying to learn to be the best. I've just kind of watched him, here and there talked to him ... I've just always been impressed with him. He was a fine basketball player, but I don't know if he was gifted where he was going to be Kobe Bryant. But he played a long time in the NBA because he worked really hard, he was a great teammate, very coachable, highly intelligent, high basketball IQ. All that allowed him to play. His last few years, (veterans) like guys on the team who are like coaches, they police the team. He's that kind of guy. So I thought it was a natural for him to get into the coaching profession ... I'm happy for him."

*** DeAndre Daniels left the game late in the contest after banging his chin against the floor. He'll need some stitches ("battle wounds," according to Ollie), but the coach thinks he'll be ready to go agianst Marquette Tuesday -- provided, of course, that he has no concussion symptoms.

*** On Wolf's press-breaking, alley-oop dunk from Calhoun:

“That was a great dunk," said Ollie. "I’ve seen it a couple of times in practice. Omar did a great job by giving it up and being unselfish. It was a remarkable play. I didn’t like the celebration too much. I’d like them to understand that that’s what they’re supposed to do. But I did like the excitement we played with today.”

Said Calhoun: "I knew he could catch it, I’ve thrown lobs for him before. I thought I was testing him a little bit with that one. He was able to go up and get it, so I was happy for him.”

And Wolf: “When I went up, I didn’t think I was going to get it, but I caught it. I was happy he threw it, so I finally could get one.”

“I was trying to get the crowd going a little bit. (Ollie) said act like we’ve been here before, stay cool, it’s not over yet. He was right.”

*** UConn outrebounded the bigger Huskies, 40-36, just the second time this season its won the rebounding battle.

“That was a real physical game, especially on the rebounds," said Wolf. "Coming in and fixing our biggest problem in this game, I feel really good.”

*** UConn has won 13 straight vs. Pac 10/12 foes, dating back to the loss to UCLA in the 1995 NCAA tournament.

*** There were 12,720 tickets sold for the game, and though UConn said only about 6,600 showed up, it truly seemed like more than that.

Said Ollie: "I know there's a foot of snow out there, and for them to come out and support us like they did, it's exceptional, it's outstanding. They're wonderful people that I love."

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Kevin Ollie, Warde Manuel Talk About Ollie's Extension

Here's some of what Kevin Ollie and Warde Manuel had to say about Ollie's five-year contract extension, which begins next year:


“We’re going to do things well, and we’re going to do them properly. I’m not coming here with a five-year contract. That’s what it says on the paper, but we’re recruiting for a lifetime here. We’re going to recruit like we’re going to be here for 20, 25 years. The standards of excellence that we have at this university is going to continue. We’re not talking about wins and losses, we’re talking about national championships, conference championships. When I stepped on the campus, that’s what I signed up for, to play in the ultimate games, to play in a great conference, to play in national championship-caliber games. That’s not going to stop on my watch.”

(on how short-term deal may have affected recruiting)

(on APR language in his contract)
I have a belief system in my student-athletes. We’re students first, and we’re going to get it done. We’re going to get the right kids in here, and I believe, with the support system we have, we can cultivate a great learning experience for our guys.”


(on recruiting scenario)

“Great coaches have lost great recruits, in their prime. I’m sure it didn’t help that there was a short-term nature of the deal. But I wanted the opportunity to see Kevin and get a sense of who he was for the long term."
(on APR)

“The APR is not his and his alone. I feel a great responsibility for how our student-athletes do academically … That’s my first priority, to ensure that we recruit student-athletes who want to come to you having a great education, and then play great athletics. Kevin is not alone, regardless of what that language says. However, it’s important for us, given where we are, for me to include it in the contract language. This is so important to us that I put that clause in the contract.”

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Kevin Ollie Signs 5-Year Contract Extension

A couple of weeks ago, Kevin Ollie was asked what he’s telling recruits about his future at UConn.

“I’m going to be here for a lifetime,” Ollie said. “It’s not seven months, seven years, 27 years … I’m going to be here. That’s what I believe.”

It may not be for a lifetime, but Ollie will be in Storrs for at least another five years.

The first-year UConn coach has agreed to a contract extension that beings next season and will keep him on the Huskies’ sidelines through at least 2017-18. The contract is reportedly worth a little over $7 million and includes stipulations that the Huskies must maintain at least standard Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores. Those stipulations are similar to -- but not identical to -- those in Jim Calhoun's last contract. Calhoun wound up having to forfeit his national championship bonus in 2011.

Here are the details:

Ollie will receive a base salary of $400,000 per calendar year and he’ll receive $800,000 for institutional speaking engagements and media-related appearances for a total of $1.2 million. The payment for speaking engagements will increase by $50,000 each year, meaning his total compensation for each year will be: $1.2 million (2013), $1.25 million (2014), $1.3 million (2015), $1.35 million (2016), $1.4 million (2017) and a $502,500 for 2018 (annualized from Jan. 1 to April 15).

Ollie will receive the following payments for postseason performance: one month of annual base salary ($33,333) for winning a conference regular season championship; one month for winning a conference postseason tournament; one month for participating in the NCAA tournament; one month for reaching the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament; one month for advancing to the NCAA Final Four; and, two months for winning the national championship.

Ollie will receive a half-month salary bonus ($16,666) for being named a national or conference coach of the year.

Ollie will also have incentive to keep his team’s APR score up to par. He’ll receive a $10,000 payent for an annual APR score of 930 or more. A four-year APR score of 930 or above will result in a one-time payment of $50,000.

If UConn fall short of a 930 APR in an academic year, Ollie will get no postseason payments and a financial sanction could be imposed in the form of withholding payment of the equivalent amount of two weeks’ compensation of base salary. Two straight years of a substandard APR could result in suspension of pay or termination of employment with just cause.

Once the four-year APR score for the team reaches 930, the APR language in the contract will revert to standard APR language in all UConn head coaches’ contracts.

That’s a bit different from Jim Calhoun’s last contract extension, agreed to in 2010. Calhoun had to forfeit his 2011 national championship bonus (about $87,500) as well as donate $100,000 to UConn’s general scholarship fund due to low APR scores.

Ollie’s buyout price is $3 million in 2013, $2 million in 2014, $1 million in 2015, and $800,000 in 2016 and 2017.

The same would be owed by UConn if the agreement is terminated for any reason other than just cause.

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Friday, December 28, 2012

UConn on Newtown Visit, Areas of Improvement, Tyler Olander, Team Chemistry

Some notes, quotes (and later, some video) from UConn's practice today, in preparation for Saturday night's bout with Washington at 7:30 p.m. at the XL Center:

The Huskies visited the Newtown Youth Academy on Thursday, and it was a rewarding experience for all involved.

Said Omar Calhoun: “It was definitely a good experience. The kids started smiling, it’s good to see smiles on their faces. It reminded me as a kid. It was definitely a good time.”

Added Ryan Boatright: "It was a good experience, something to bring happiness to that town and bring smiles to those kids' faces. I know they've been through a lot. To be able to go down there as a team and help them have a good time and take their minds away from the tragedy was a good experience."

*** Ollie said his team needs to improve in several areas (besides the obvious: rebounding), including keeping opponents' shooting percentages down and other things that may not be readily apparent to the naked eye. But most of all, the team must play with toughness and energy, he said.

“We don’t have the Rudy Gays, we don’t have those guys. And that’s alright. We’ll do it collectively together, and we’ll try to fight through different things, we’ll be fine. But we can’t lack on the energy, the effort, the ball pressure, the steals. Everybody knows the Big East is going to be tough, so we’re going to have do some of the things that we haven’t been doing well. We’re going to have to do better to win games. And I’m sure we’ll do that.”

Tyler Olander essentially echoed those thoughts:

“Mental toughness, focus, really just putting a body on someone, getting back to the fundamentals of hitting your man and keeping him out," he said regarding areas that need improvement. "When the shot goes up, we just turn and try to find the ball instead of going to hit someone. Then, we end up underneath the rim. It’s really a matter of keeping your man out.”

Olander had five points and six rebounds in 17 minutes against Fordham last week, which could be viewed as a step in the right direction from what's been a very disappointing junior season thus far.

"Yes, he’s turned the corner," Ollie said, with a smile. "Let’s keep believing. Write it."

Olander said his move from the starting lineup to the bench behind Enosch Wolf a few games ago gave him a kick in the pants.

“It definitely did, right away in practice, when coach put Enosch in with the first five. I knew I wasn’t producing or playing well, so that kind of woke me up a little more and made me say, ‘I’ve got to pick it up a little more for this team. I know they’re going to need me down the road.’ And it was good for Enosch, as well, to get his confidence up, because we’re going to need him, as well.”

But he said retrurning to the starting lineup isn't the most important thing in the world to him.
"I'm going to work to get back in, but if I don’t, I’m still going to work harder and harder and harder every time, so it doesn’t really impact me like that.”

*** Ryan Boatright said the chemistry on this year's team is miles ahead of what it was a year ago.

"Everybody’s playing well, me and Shabazz are clicking, we have a great thing going. The chemistry’s good. We just need to rebound, man. The more possessions we can get for ourselves, it’s better for us.”

He continued: “We’re all getting along, joking around. But when it’s time to get serious, we do. The chemistry here is extremely good."

*** Former UConn head coach Dee Rowe was at Gampel with a bandage covering his nose, a result of a skin cancer operation he recently had. Rowe had to get a skin graft from around his ear (which was also bandaged).

*** With all due respect to Jim Calhoun, I don't recall him ever being this, shall we say, participatory in practice:

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Some Things to Know About Washington, UConn's Opponent on Saturday

A few things to know about Washington:

*** The Huskies are 8-4 and have won four straight. Those wins have come against Seattle University, Jackson State, Cal-Poly and Northern Illinois, however, so keep that in mind. In fact, Washington’s only two decent wins this season came in an overtime win over Seton Hall in the Tip-Off Hall of Fame Tournament and over St. Louis (which isn’t as good as people originally thought). The Huskies have lost to such luminaries as Albany and Colorado State (as well as Nevada and then-No. 4 Ohio State).

*** Washington is led by 6-5 junior guard C.J. Wilcox, a potential future NBA player who averages 19.6 points per game and has scored over 20 in three straight games.

What impresses Kevin Ollie the most about Wilcox?

“Nineteen points (per game) impresses me," he said. "He’s a great 3-point shooter, he’s just active, knows how to get his shot. His energy feeds right into his shot. I always look at Ray Allen, moving without the basketball, constant moving … we’re going to have to play good, solid defense against him. We can’t be late against him … we can’t have him get going.”

*** The Huskies are big and experienced, with 7-foot Aziz N’Diaye in the middle and a pair of guards (Wilcox and Scott Suggs) who stand 6-5 and 6-6, respectively. They start three seniors, a junior and a sophomore.

*** Coming off the bench is Shawn Kemp, Jr., a 6-9 sophomore and son of the former six-time NBA all-star. He’s averaging 4 points and 2 rebounds per game after missing UW’s first seven contests with a torn patella tendon in his left knee.

*** UConn is 3-0 all-time against its West Coast Husky brethren, most recently a 98-92 overtime win on March 24, 2006 in an NCAA regional semifinal in D.C. Rashad Anderson’s long 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds let forced OT. UConn also beat UW on Dec. 1, 1998 in the Great Eight in Chicago, and on March 19, 1998 in an NCAA East Regional semifinal in Greensboro, N.C.

*** A good amount of NBA scouts are expected at Saturday's game.

*** This is Washington’s second-straight game against a Husky-mascoted team!

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Kevin Ollie on Visit to Newtown: 'This Community Will Prevail'

The entire UConn men's basketball team (including walk-ons) and coaching staff (as well as former coach Jim Calhoun) spent about 90 minutes at the Newtown Youth Academy Thursday afternoon. They were greeted by about 150 kids, plus several adults. The team sat at tables and signed autographs of the UConn poster of themselves for every kid (or adult) who wanted one, and also posed for many photos.

After that, they broke up into groups at different baskets around the facility and hung out with the kids. They played games like "knockout," shot some baskets and engaged in other fun horseplay.

As the Huskies left, birthday boys Kevin Ollie and Ryan Boatright were presented with cakes.

Here's what Ollie had to say, per UConn men's basketball spokesman Phil Chardis:

"We know that this community is coming together and will prevail and we just wanted to go there and show our support, show them that our team and the whole state of Connecticut is behind them. It was great for us to be able to see some smiles on their faces and to spend some time with them and do what we could. It was a great experience for our kids. We were proud and honored to be able to help.”

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UConn Visiting Newtown This Afternoon

The UConn men's basketball team visited Newtown today to visit with kids, hang out, play some ball, etc. Kevin Ollie had said last week he wanted the Huskies to be able to "do something for the kids" in the town stricken by unbearable tragedy, and he's following through today.

There is no media access for the Huskies' visit -- at the request of Newtown officials -- and we're more than happy to respect those wishes. I'm sure Ollie and the players will have plenty to say about it at Friday's media availability around noon, following the team's morning practice.

Also, today happens to be Ollie's 40th birthday. UConn can give him a belated gift Saturday night, when it faces a decent (8-4) University of Washington team. We'll have more on this Husky-Husky battle tomorrow.

Elsewhere, there's this: every Big East team this season is at least four games over .500. Seven clubs have at least 10 wins, and overall, conference teams have compiled a 142-31 (.821) record against non-conference foes.

Better break that up.


Monday, December 24, 2012

My AP Top 25 Poll This Week

My Top 25 poll I submitted this morning. North Carolina falls out completely. You don't lose to Texas these days and not get punished severely (and an argument could be made that the Heels didn't belong there in the first place):

1. Duke
2. Michigan
3. Louisville
4. Indiana
5. Arizona
6. Kansas
7. Missouri
8. Cincinnati
9. Ohio State
10. Syracuse
11. San Diego State
12. Creighton
13. Illinois
14. Gonzaga
15. Oklahoma State
16. UNLV
17. Pittsburgh
18. Notre Dame
19. Florida
20. NC State
21. Michigan State
22. Minnesota
23. Butler
24. Kansas State
25. Temple

Friday, December 21, 2012

After 'Beautiful' First Half vs. Fordham, UConn Plays to Scoreboard in Second

Kevin Ollie labeled UConn's 88-73 win over Fordham on Friday "a tale of two halves."

I have to admit that, while working for my college paper, I wrote that line once and thought I was the first ever to think of it. Turns out its one of the oldest cliches in sports writing.

Still, it's a fair assessment of tonnight. Shooting over Fordham’s matchup zone and getting out on the break as well as they’ve done all year, the Huskies posted 57 first-half points and led by 29 at the break. UConn shot 58 percent from the floor (including 8 of 16 3-pointers), scored 21 fast-break points and turned the ball over just twice in the first 20 minutes.

But UConn somehow let Fordham go on a 19-0 run in the latter half, and the Rams closed their deficit from 32 to 13 before the Huskies pulled away.

Ryan Boatright poured in a career-high 26 points to go with nine assists, Shabazz Napier added 19 points, six assists and seven boards and Omar Calhoun tossed in 19 points to lead the Huskies (9-2).

Boatright had 20 points by halftime and also finished with three steals (and six turnovers).

“I took what the defense gave me and made my shots,” the sophomore guard said. “I’ve been in the gym, really focusing on my jump shot.”


(on the second half)

"We played to the scoreboard. We let them get back in the game, gave up layups after layups after layups.”

(on beating Fordam's zone in the first half)

“We were making them shift from side to side, moving the basketball. It was beautiful to watch.”

UConn, of course, was once again outrebounded -- this time by a disturbing, 40-28 margin. Ollie was asked how close he was to determining a set rotation among his big men.

“Not that close. It’s still a work in progress. We’re going to keep trying to find somebody. We can’t go out and get Patrick Ewing. We’ve got to go with the guys we’ve got … To answer your question, I’m not close.”

“We’ve gotta go pursue the basketball. We’ve got to play desperate. Rebound like you’re desperate. Gotta change. We’ve gotta change. I’m a probability guy, and we’ve got to change.”

Ollie turns 40 on Dec. 27.

“At the end of the day, it’s a great Christmas give. And birthday. I usually just get one gift.”


“We played good defense and pushed the ball (in the first half). We kind of slowed it down in the second half, didn’t push the ball. We played a lot of halfcourt offense and weren’t really getting our guards moving. We were playing at their tempo.”


“I took what the defense gave me and made my shots. I’ve been in the gym, really focusing on my jump shot.”

(on whether this game -- or at least the first half -- was the best UConn's played this season)

“The Michigan State game, I think we played awesome. But it was very similar. We were all knocking down shots. We had 16 assists in the first half … we were playing UConn basketball.”


(on Boatright)

“When you see a guy playing on-the-ball, tough defense, it’s kind of inevitable for you do to the same. If you’re not going to do it, there’s something wrong with you.”

“He’s a different guard than I am. He’s shorter, but he’s a scorer. That’s why I asked to move to the one, because I felt like we’re not using Ryan to his best abilities. I can get my points, but I feel like Ryan’s more of a scorer coming off picks. He doesn’t have to waste his energy coming up the point. That’s where we understand each other. I’m looking to give him the ball.”

I tried to get Napier to say he and Boatright were the best 1-2 guard tandem in the Big East, better even than Louisville's Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. But Bazz wouldn't bite.

“I don’t know, I haven’t seen those guys play. They’re probably playing great. But I wouldn’t doubt that my competitiveness would say, ‘Of course we’re better than them.’ But we won’t know until we actually play them. They’re terrific guards, we’re great guards.”

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It Wasn't A Very Merry Christmas for Kevin Ollie 15 Years Ago

It’s been well-documented that Kevin Ollie has been through plenty of tough times throughout his career. From bouncing back and forth to 11 teams in 13 seasons to, now, recruiting rejections and what amounts to a seven-month contract with UConn, Ollie has taken his share of rejections. And he always seems to bounce back even stronger.

One of the crueler setbacks he endured as a pro player happened 15 years ago, the night before the night before Christmas. On Dec. 23, 1997, Ollie was cut by the Dallas Mavericks. He had begun the season playing for the Connecticut Pride at the State Armory before getting his first-ever call to the NBA by the Mavs.

But after playing 16 games, he was cut just before Christmas.

“It was definitely hurtful,” Ollie recalled. “But it made me (add) fuel to my fire, and I got back.”

Indeed, a couple of weeks later, he was signed by Orlando, and never saw the CBA again.

“I didn’t hang my head,” Ollie noted, “but it was disheartening for me the first couple of days.”

In typical Kevin Ollie fashion, he looked back at his near-Christmas cut as a positive.

“That was tough, but I was so happy to get out of the CBA. So, if I was in the NBA for two months, it was good. I was in the armory, then to go to Dallas and be around the Mavericks’ organization, it was a blessing.”

*** Meanwhile, UConn recruit Kendall Smith recently spoke to, and it sounds like he may be leaning towards taking his talents to Vegas.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Shabazz Napier Talks Ollie's Contract, Boston-New York and Chris Gaston

Early practice today at Gampel. Good chance for UConn players to get off their feet in the early morning, get their work in and have the rest of the day to themselves.

Shabazz Napier was certainly perky, as usual. Here's what he had to say when asked if he hoped Kevin Ollie would receive a contract extension soon:

“Sort of, I don't know. Warde, our AD, we don't know what he’s doing. I don’t know. After Michigan State, I felt like he was going to get this job, but sometimes it doesn’t seem that way. I’ve kind of come to terms that, no matter what we do, it’s not going to be in our hands. We can win as many games as we want, I still don’t know believe it’s going to be in our hands where he’s going to give him a job. But hopefully, we keep on winning and playing great and being great student-athletes off the court, so he can see that SCoach Ollie isn’t just about basketball, he’s about you being a man off the court.”

For his part, Ollie isn't thinking about an extension (though he joked getting one now would allow him to "buy more Christmas presents").

"I’m going to do my job, regardless," Ollie said. "It’s something I can’t control, like the realignment. I’m not worried about the contract. You care about it, because you do want a contract, but I’m not losing any sleepless nights over it, trust me on that. I get up in the morning, I’m refreshed, ready to go, ready to give my all for my players, because they’ll do the same for me. They know I’ve got a four-month contract, whatever it is. They’re still playing like I’m here forever. I’m going to do the same for them.”

Shabazz -- the gift that keeps giving -- also had a great quote when asked about Brooklyn's own Omar Calhoun:

"We want him to score, but it’s also important for him to understand, if you can’t score, he has to do something else. That’s what we have to get him to understand. It’s kind of hard coming from New York. New York, as it is, everyone thinks they’re better than everybody.”

Not so with Boston guys, 'Bazz?

“No, not at all," he said with a smile. "We don’t have that attitude, we just go out there and give it all we’ve got.”

Asked to respond, Calhoun simply noted that there's a fun rivalry between Boston, New York and Chicago (Ryan Boatright) on the team.

*** he Huskies face Fordham on Friday, and despite the Rams' 2-8 record, they're not to be overlooked. They're led by junior guard Branden Frazier (15.6 ppg, starring roles in 'George of the Jungle,' 'School Ties' and 'Airheads') and senior forward Chris Gaston, who's in his second game back after missing six due to injury.

Gaston is a beast, and apparently he was once nearly a Husky. According to Jim Calhoun, the 6-foot-7, 231-pound senior forward strongly considered transferring to UConn after a freshman season in which he averaged 18 points and 11.4 rebounds per game. Gaston apparently made a visit to St. John's in that time, but wound up staying at Fordham.

“He’s just energy," Ollie said of Gaston. "With hard work, he’ll have a shot at the NBA. I think he can handle the ball, can get it at the perimeter. He can rebound, and he can stretch it out to 3-point land and take the opponent off the dribble.”

He also knows Napier well: the two share a Puerto Rican heritage and both tried out for the Puerto Rican National Team this past summer in San Juan.

“We used to communicate all the time," Napier said. "I kept in touch with Mike Rosario, also. You’ve got to keep in touch with people who are the same as your culture. You’ve got to keep them close, because you never know when you might need that person.”

*** R.J. Evans, who sat out the Maryland-Eastern Shore game largely as a precautionary measure, is good to go tomorrow night vs. Fordham.

*** Jim Calhoun, UConn board of trustees vice chairman Tom Ritter and others will gather with employees of several Hartford businesses to participate in the state's observance of a moment of silence for victims of the tragic school shootings in Newtown.

The observance will take place on Friday at 9:15 a.m. at CityPlace in downtown Hartford. Calhoun will give remarks. The moment of silence will be observed at 9:30 a.m.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jim Calhoun Speaks Candidly on Sandy Hook, Gun Control

Jim Calhoun was at St. Monica's Episcopal Church in Hartford Tuesday night, distributing holiday meals to needy families with UConn players and coaches, as he's done for some 14, 15 years now.

For all the criticism Calhoun gets -- some of it deserved -- he's always been sincere about his many charitable works, has always cared about his community. And, of course, he has six beloved grandchildren on whom he dotes.

With all that in mind, I wanted to get his thoughts on the Sandy Hook tragedy and on the burgeoning issue of gun control. Not surprisingly, he had plenty to say:

"I don’t think there’s any politics about gun control. In my opinion, nobody should have an automatic weapon unless they’re … protecting the country. The idea that children would be faced with that, or teachers that were trying to help them … there are other things in my lifetime that I can explain – a distraught kid, a fired employee. But this is so nonsensical."

Here's the video:

"Having six grandchildren … there’s no way I can get around this. The most difficult thing is, people say, ‘Let’s give money.’ I don’t think money is the issue at this time. I think giving hope, caring. This is well-said by the President: Let’s make sure they understand they aren’t alone in this. This is a Newtown issue, a Connecticut issue, an American issue, a worldwide issue …"

Calhoun said he was at one of his outings on Sunday with about 60 other people.

“Trust me, I hugged a lot of kids. I hugged them, with that thought in my mind.

He said he hadn't seen or heard about Jim Boeheim's scathing comments on gun control he made Monday night, but he pretty much agreed with what Boeheim said:

“I just don’t know why. If you’re going to kill a deer, I don’t think it’s very sportsmanlike to get 100 rounds off in 10 seconds.

"I went to Israel on nine occasions and have seen young people carrying guns around who are military people. Yet if you’re found with any type of weapons in a city like Tel Aviv, you’re put in jail – no if’s, and’s, but’s or maybe’s. We’re not asking to take away people’s rights. The right to bear arms was put in there for tyranny, the fact that the government could come back and abuse us ... As a former American history teacher, I can tell you it wasn’t put in for us to shoot each other."

And the idea that we should arm our principals and teachers?

"It’s already been proven, 1,000 times over, if you own a gun, you’re three times as likely to use it on somebody you don’t want to use it on, or somebody uses it upon you. I was a teacher for five years in high school. You don’t sign up to become an enforcement person, nor should you be. What those people did … they’re heroic people.

“I would call a Town Hall meeting, get both sides together – you don’t want to come, OK, we’ll put your picture up there just to let everybody know that you’re not for this. It’s not a political issue, it’s a moral issue. It’s an issue of protecting the lives of 5, 6, 7, 8-year-old kids .. it’s hard to even say that. There are ways. And to quote our President, who was so eloquent on this – as was our Governor – ‘We’re better than this.’”

"Last year, 13 massacres occurred worldwide. Eleven occurred in the United States. You don’t have to pay anywhere near that price for freedom.”

OK, Calhoun has always been a bit fuzzy on statistics, and I haven't fact-checked all of his numbers.

But his overall point was very well-made.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

UConn Honored Newtown Victims Both as Team and Individually Monday Night

Some people feel oversaturated by Newtown coverage by now. While it may be tough to watch on TV, with children being buried, I feel the tragedy must continue to be on our minds and not get lost in the inevitable next news cycle. I've concentrated just about all of tonight's game story to tonight's tributes to Sandy Hook's victims.

Apparently, Kevin Ollie agrees with me.

"We're going to continue to not just have moments, but have a movement, where we can stop this violence," he said after UConn's perfunctory, 84-50 whipping of awful, 0-10 Maryland-Eastern Shore. "Because I think a movement is not enough. We always have moments and they go away. Hopefully, we have a movement."

Ollie added he'd like his team to visit Newtown sometime after Christmas to conduct a practice, a youth clinic, an autograph session or "something, for the kids." The Huskies honored the victims Sunday night at a vigil in Mansfield, and again tonight in many ways, both as a team and individually.

Ryan Boatright had "S-H" written on his left cheek. Shabazz Napier wore a t-shirt that read "Sandy Hook 26" during pregame and halftime warm-ups. DeAndre Daniels and Enosch Wolf each had Sandy Hook-related messages inscribed on their high-tops.

Prior to the game, the players and cheerleaders gathered in a circle around midcourt, holding candles during a moment of silence. The Nova Youth Choir sang the national anthem (sorry some of it got cut off):

Here's some more video from what Ollie, Napier and Boatright had to say about the tragedy and their respective ways of remembering it:

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Special Pre-Game Ceremony Tonight to Honor Newtown Victims

The University of Connecticut will hold special pre-game ceremonies before the men’s basketball game on Monday and the women’s basketball game on Wednesday in honor of the tragic incidents that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last Friday.
Fans are asked to be in their seats for these games by 6:50 p.m. for the ceremonies. The UConn men play Maryland Eastern Shore on Monday at 7:00 p.m. while the women play Oakland on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Both games are at the XL Center in Hartford.
The UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams will both be wearing patches on their games jerseys in recognition of the tragedy. The patch is a rectangle with a green background, a black outline and the letters “SH” in white. The school colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School are green and white.
UConn bench personnel and others associated with the game will also be wearing special green and white ribbons.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

My AP Top 25 Ballot For This Week

This week's ballot, for those interested:

No UConn, which goes into Monday's bout with Maryland-Eastern Shore with heavy hearts.

1.       Duke
2.       Michigan
3.       Louisville
4.       Indiana
5.       Ohio State
6.       Arizona
7.       Syracuse
8.       Kansas
9.       Missouri
10.   Florida
11.   Illinois
12.   San Diego State
13.   North Carolina
14.   Creighton
15.   Oklahoma State
16.   Cincinnati
17.   Gonzaga
18.   Pittsburgh
19.   UNLV
20.   Notre Dame
21.   NC State
22.   New Mexico
23.   Michigan State
24.   Minnesota
25.   Butler

Kevin Ollie, UConn Players Address Newtown Tragedy

Not much talk about basketball today. Nor should there have been. And it has nothing to do with Maryland-Eastern Shore being 0-9 and Monday night's game holding little challenge for UConn.

It had to do with the Newtown tragedy. Here's what Kevin Ollie had to say:

He added that the Huskies are planning to head down to Newtown at some point over the coming days to offer whatever help they can.

“Hopefully we can do something that can help just a little bit, bring some encouragement for the people down there, the families, make sure they know they’re in our hearts, on our minds," he said. "I don't know if it's going to help, but it's better than us just sitting here, doing nothing."

Ollie added: “That could have been any of our kids that got on that bus. I walk my daughter to the bus every day. Twenty families didn’t get their son or daughter back. It’s just tough … go home and love your family, because you never know.”

Tyler Olander and Shabaz Napier also talked about the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School:

Finally, there was some basketball talk, as Ollie addressed the Catholic schools' departure from the Big East, and other issues:

“It’s what they feel is right for their schools. They have that right. We have a right to position ourselves the best possible way. I hate to see them go, but they made a path for themselves going forward. We’re trying to do what’s best for our university. We can’t blame them. We’ll miss them, but we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do. I know we’re working very, very hard, and I know our president and our AD will get us in the best situation.”

“We’re in a situation where we’re going to go forward. We’re going to do that. Some people might say it’s worse, but every time it’s worse, something good’s going to happen. That’s what I believe. I believe it happens for a reason. We’ve got to be ready for our next step. We can’t sit back and have a pity party. ACC, Big 10 call, or we stay where we’re at, if we have a pity party, I don’t care what conference we’re going to, we’ve got to continue to be able to recruit and sell this university.”

What's he telling prospective recruits?

“We’re a great university, our brand is still strong, we’re going to keep going forward. We’ve got a great president, we’ve got a great AD, we’ve got some great players and (a wry smile spreads across his face) we’ve got a terrific coaching staff.”

On what he tells recruits about how long he'll be at UConn:

“I’m going to be here for a lifetime. It’s not seven months, seven years, 27 years … I’m going to be here. That’s what I believe. Until somebody comes in my office and says, ‘The keys don’t work,’ I’m going to be in my office. Until I find that out, then I’m going to go out and find the next chapter in my life. But, I wholeheartedly believe I’m going to have a lot of chapters in my career at the University of Connecticut as head coach. It’s not all up to me, but it is up to me to have these guys ready to play and have our recruits believe that.”

And, on no overlooking 0-9 UMES Monday night:

“I want them to respect their opponents. By respecting their opponents, they come out with effort. You play hard on defense, you play hard from the start, and you go home. I want them to respect every opponent we have.”

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Catholics are Leaving Big East. Before Friday, I Would Have Called This Sad

What's essentially been known for several days now became official today: the Catholic schools -- I like "The Big Priest" -- are breaking off to form their own conference.

Big East commish's Mike Aresco's statement:

“The basketball institutions have notified us that they plan to withdraw from the BIG EAST Conference. The membership recognizes their contributions over the long distinguished history of the BIG EAST. The 13 members of the Conference are confident and united regarding our collective future. We have a strong Conference with respected national universities, and are working together to forge the future. We have a variety of options, and are looking forward with great partnership, collegiality and optimism.”

(I love it how schools are either called "the football schools" or "the basketball schools." Schools do play other sports, you know. In fact, that's a factor when you consider sending money-bleeding programs like field hockey or tennis from Storrs to SMU or Houston or wherever to play their games).

Here's the joint statement from the seven "basketball schools":

Earlier today we voted unanimously to pursue an orderly evolution to a foundation of basketball schools that honors the history and tradition on which the Big East was established.

Under the current context of conference realignment, we believe pursuing a new basketball framework that builds on this tradition of excellence and competition is the best way forward.

We are grateful to our Commissioner, Michael Aresco, for his exceptional leadership of the Big East Conference. We have been honored to be associated with the outstanding group of institutions that have made up the Big East. While we pursue this opportunity for our institutions, we believe the efforts of the past two years have established the foundation for an enduring national football conference.

We look forward to building this new foundation with an emphasis on elite competition and a commitment to the development of our students engaged in intercollegiate athletics. That is where we will now spend our energy as we move forward.

Here's Susan Herbst's tempered response, which I have no problem with:

"The tragedy that took place in Newtown on Friday should be the focus of the thoughts of the people in Connecticut and all Husky fans this weekend.

"The University of Connecticut believes that the BIG EAST Conference will continue to be a strong and exciting conference that is comprised of highly-regarded national universities.

"We ask our fans to steer all passion and concern to Newtown, and we will honor those lost when we gather together as a university community for events this upcoming week."

Meanwhile, the Catholic schools are giddy. Here's the reaction from Providence:

“Providence College has enjoyed a proud tradition as a founding member of the BIG EAST Conference,” Providence College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. said. “I want all our donors, alumni, fans, students and especially our student-athletes to know that we have worked diligently to get to this point. We believe that today’s vote moves us further toward a solution that will put Providence College and the other six basketball institutions in a position for long-term success. We are working toward a model that is very similar to what BIG EAST founder Dave Gavitt first envisioned more than 30 years ago when he left Providence College – a conference comprised of basketball schools that would be branded and which would compete at the highest of levels in the national spotlight.”

“We are also working to provide Head Men’s Basketball Coach Ed Cooley with the resources he needs to compete and excel at this level. We have committed to Coach Cooley that we will extend his contract and we are working on the details of that at present,” Fr. Shanley said.

“This is a monumental day for Providence College and its Athletics Department,” Athletics Director Bob Driscoll stated. “We are taking the necessary steps to secure the future of our basketball programs and of our entire athletics department. We felt it was vital for us to strengthen our bond with the other six basketball institutions and to provide a long-term solution in an ever-changing conference landscape. Having Coach Cooley lead our men’s basketball program for the long-term and ensuring that he has the necessary resources to compete on a national level are key components for a strong and vibrant future for our athletics department.”

“I am very excited about the direction of our men’s basketball program,” Cooley stated. “I want to thank Fr. Shanley and Bob Driscoll as they are working extremely hard to position us and to put the pieces in place that will allow us to continue to build Providence College men’s basketball so that we can compete and win at the highest echelons of the sport. Providence is my home and it is where I want to be. We still have work ahead of us in our quest, but today marks another big step towards our goal.” 

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Andre Drummond: 'Newtown's Not Far from Where I Grew Up ... My Heart Goes Out to Them"

I don't know exactly how to go about my job right now, writing about trivial things like conference realignment and Catholic school revolts and UConn's athletics future and sports in general. I really don't care much about all that right now, and I'm sure most of you don't either.

The unspeakable tragedy at Sandy Hook School on Friday puts things in heart-wrenching perspective. Your family is the most important thing in the world (I'll leave religion out of this), and everything else is a distant second. The senseless killing of these innocent children (and the adults at the school) has left a sick feeling in my stomach and has really hit me hard.

My daughter is a first-grader at an elementary school about 45 minutes from Newtown. Yesterday morning, I had to bring in her Daisy Scouts smock, which she had forgotten at home, to the front office. I went to the main entrance and hit a buzzer. Almost immediately, I heard a click. The door was unlocked, and I was able to walk right in, no questions asked.

Fortunately, I was a father just dropping off his daughter's Daisy Scouts smock (a reminder of how innocent these beautiful children are). I could have been anyone, with anything in my hands. Kinda scary.

I learned of the deaths of the children in Newtown while on a train to NYC to catch up with Andre Drummond, who's in town with his Pistons to take on the Nets. I wanted to get off at the first stop and pick up my daughter at her school. But I knew that wasn't necessary; my father-in-law was already slated to pick her up, and everything would be fine. And, I had a job to do.

Maybe you care about how Drummond's doing as a rookie right now, maybe you don't. I'm fine either way. Who knows when it's appropriate to start talking sports again? Even ESPN has barred its reporters from tweeting anything sports-related until Sunday at noon (gee, wouldn't want to ban tweets during NFL games. Hey, that's real important).

Anyway, here's my story and video on Drummond -- who is having a very nice rookie season, and was genuinely saddened by the Newtown tragedy:


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Big East Crumbling; Big Priest On Its Way?

The Register's Jim Fuller gives a good synopsis of what's going on with the Big East. As does Brett McMurphy, as always.

Sounds like UConn could be helped out by what could be a 27-month waiting period the seven Catholic teams apparently have to observe before leaving. By that time, UConn could very well be in the greener pastures of the ACC or Big Ten ... or at least know its heading that way.

Crazy times. Sad, too. The days of Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Pearl Washington, Walter Berry, Rony Seikaly, Billy D., Ray Allen, Allen Iverson, Gerry McNamara, Kemba Walker, etc., etc., are all over. I guess as a lifelong native of the Northeast, I'll never quite "get" the whole college football thing. But I certainly "get" that the rest of the country's obsession with it, and the incredible amounts of money that football-related TV contracts, BCS bids, etc. bring in is essentially the reason that this great basketball conference is deteriorating before our very eyes.

And that's sad.

Dan Gavitt Rues Crumbling of Conference His Dad Founded

On vacation for most of this week, but obviously by now we've all heard that the Big East appears to be about to crumble, as the seven Catholic, basketball-oriented schools seem set to break off.

Obviously, this is bad news for UConn, which remains in limbo as a BCS football school that hasn't been invited to another conference (ACC or Big Ten) yet. Cincinnati and South Florida are in the same tough spot.

We'll have more on what this all could mean for UConn as we anticipate a statement from the Big East and/or the Catholic schools sometime later today.

In the meantime, I thought I'd post this quote I got from Dan Gavitt a little over a week ago, before the Catholic school revolt was imminent. Gavitt, of course, is the son of Big East founder Dave Gavitt, who passed away last year. I wanted to know how he felt about watching the conference his father founded and helped build to, for many years, the most dominant basketball conference in the country, basically crumble and fall apart.

Gavitt was very deliberate in his answer -- perhaps choosing his words carefully, perhaps choking back his emotions.

"Definitely sadness," he said. "It's heartbreaking to see something so special for so long be changed irrevocably. That's not a comment on the new members coming int. But just ... Syracuse-Georgetown, Syracuse-UConn, Pittsburgh-West Virginia -- you can't replace those things. Just like Kansas-Missouri can't be replaced, either. Not to say there aren't a lot of good things left -- Villanova-Georgetown, UConn-St. John's -- and other new ones will develop. But conference realignment has had an unfortunate impact on college basketball across the nation."

Incidentally, Gavitt also believes that things will eventually work out for UConn. "They have too much value for someone to pass on," he said.

That was, of course, before news broke of the Catholic schools likely breaking away.

It's also worth noting that Gavitt himself is no longer with the Big East. He took a job last year as the NCAA's vice president of men's basketball championships. He had served as the Big East's associate commissioner for men's basketball for several years.


Monday, December 10, 2012

Top High School Teams, Players Featured on Thursday Night

For those who love all things recruiting and watching high school prospects -- and you know who you are -- it doesn't get much better than on Thursday night.

The GEICO ESPN High School Basketball Showcase kicks off on Thursday, when it will feature five of the top seven senior players in the country, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU, when Seguin and faces Kimball in a battle of Texas heavyweights. At 8 p.m. on ESPN, Archbisop Mitty of California (featuring No. 7 national recruit Aaron Gordon) will face Travis of Texas (No. 3 Andrew Harrison and No. 5 Aaron Harrison) in Houston.

Then, at 9:30 p.m., top-ranked Simeon (Ill.) and No. 2 prospect Jabari Parker faces No. 19 Desoto (Texas) in Dallas. Desoto is led by No. 36 prospect Matt Jones.

The Showcase continues in January at the Spalding Hoop Hall Classic in Springfield. Wiggins, New Hampton School's Noah Vonleh, Gordon and Parker will be among the top-rated players in that event. We'll have more on that later.

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My AP Top 25 This Week

My AP Top 25 for this week. Illinois (perhaps somewhat belatedly) moves in with a bullet, to No. 11, after its impressive victory at Gonzaga. The Illini are unbeaten and looking good. The whole Big Ten looks pretty good. What's going on here?

UConn, meanwhile, drops out.

1.       Indiana
2.       Duke
3.       Michigan
4.       Louisville
5.       Ohio State
6.       Florida
7.       Syracuse
8.       Arizona
9.       Kansas
10.   Missouri
11.   Illinois
12.   San Diego State
13.   North Carolina
14.   Creighton
15.   Oklahoma State
16.   Cincinnati
17.   Gonzaga
18.   Pittsburgh
19.   UNLV
20.   Notre Dame
21.   North Carolina State
22.   New Mexico
23.   Michigan State
24.   Wichita State
25.   Kentucky

Friday, December 7, 2012

DeAndre Daniels Does His Dr. J Impression, UConn Beats Harvard

Some notes, quotes and observations from UConn's 57-49 win over Harvard Friday night at Gampel. We'll have some video up later:


(on his big night -- a career-high 23 points -- and his lingering back issues):

(on worries his lower back will continue to nag at him all season)

“If I keep playing like this, I’d like it to keep nagging me. Hopefully, it doesn’t, but we’ll see.”

(on perhaps being the third option UConn is looking for)

“I can help those guys, take the load off them. Everybody’s going to be scouting them, trying to double-team them and get them off their game. I just need to step up and get the load off their back.”


(on Daniels)

“He’s been working hard … he puts in the work after practice, and today it kind of showed.”

“When you start scoring and that adrenaline gets in you, unless you have serious back problems, that goes out the window.”

“We know he can score, it’s just up to him to believe he can score. His confidence level is kind of low. But I believe after today, it should be high. When the Big East comes, we have to have that guaranteed slot for our next scorer.”

(on his own six-point, nine-assist, seven-rebound, four-steal, one-turnover night)


“Great victory today. I’ll definitely take 7-2 ... Once again, this team showed their fight, showed their resiliency to come back. And our sixth man, our crowd, was unbelievable. I definitely want to praise them. I told Coach Blaney after we came out at halftime, I don’t know why they can’t get excited for this … I wanted to play. It was a terrific crowd. They got two shot-clock violations for us because they were counting down.”

(on Daniels)

“He just controlled the game. We knew we had a mismatch problem. And he showed the toughness we wanted.”

"DeAndre’s a player. He’s got to have that confidence to take it to the rim, be aggressive. That’s what we wanted him to do today. I don’t know if they thought his back was messed up or not, but he decided to play today. He’s a load on that sweet spot. Not right on the block, but on that sweet spot where he can take that one dribble. He’s so long. One time, he looked like Dr. J. He went under the rim, under the backboard and made a scoop shot. We’ll need that coming up in Big East play and after the break, because we’ve got some good teams coming in here.”

(on starting Enosch Wolf over Tyler Olander)

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Can Anyone Name This Member of UConn Family?

We've learned that Enosch Wolf will be starting tonight's game over Tyler Olander. UConn's hoping to "light a fire" under Olander, who's been slumping most of the season.

Here's a quick preview of tonight's UConn-Harvard matchup. I don't foresee many easy games for UConn this season, and tonight is no exception.

Meanwhile, we ask: Can anyone name this member of the UConn family?

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Enosch Wolf Earns Praise, DeAndre Daniels' Back Bothering Him, Harvard No Pushover

Some quick notes and quotes from UConn today, prior to its practice at Gampel:

*** DeAndre Daniels suffered back spasms at the begining of Tuesday night's NC State game and it affected his performance.

"It was hard for me to move around, bend down, do all types of other stuff," Daniels reported. "I couldn't play as hard as I could, move as fast or go 100 percent."

Daniels said his back is still tightening up on him, but overall feels better. Still, Kevin Ollie was going to wait to see how Daniels responded in today's 3 p.m. practice before he commits to starting him vs. Harvard Friday night.

*** Ollie didn't say who'd start in Daniels' place if he couldn't go. Enosch Wolf would seem a candidate. Wolf, who was a popular subject today, has certainly earned more playing time. It would be a boon for both him and struggling Tyler Olander, in my opinion, if the two shared the court more often. That would free up Olander to play his natural, face-up power forward position more often.

Ollie on Wolf's 12-point, nine-rebound effort vs. NC State: “I’m very encouraged about it … That’s what I want from him. He’s had some glimpses, but I want it more on a consistent basis. He had a great practice yesterday, and hopefully he’ll continue that performance. I’m not asking for 12 and nine every night, that would be a lot, but he’s proven he’s capable of it. He’s 7-1, we need some of that girth down low.”

Wolf is shooting 68 percent (17-for-25) from the floor.

“We’re not shooting particularly well as a team," Ollie noted, "but I look at his stats and I get a smile on my face.”

Here's what Wolf had to say about his improved play this season:

"I just worked a lot on my conditioning (over the summer). When I got tired, I’d start making bad decisions. And just my overall game, a lot of reps.”

“(Ollie) just told me, ‘Don’t rest on it.’ That’s what I’m going to do. I’m just going to keep working, keep grinding, and good things will happen.”

*** Harvard lost its two co-captains (including top scorer Kyle Casey) to the school's cheating scandal back in September, but it's no pushover. The Crimson are 4-3, fresh off a 16-point win over Boston College Tuesday night. Of course, Harvard has beaten the Eagles five straight years and, in fact, is 12-0 vs. Boston-area teams (BC, BU, MIT) since 2008.

That's all we've got for now. Check back for more later ...

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