Sunday, February 10, 2013

Snowball Fights, Wrestling Matches, Alley-Oop Dunks: Fun Times for UConn

The Peter Pan bus that UConn was taking to New Jersey for Sunday’s noon bout with Seton Hall got stuck in a hotel parking lot near Hartford, where it was picking up the coaches who weren’t able to get to campus due to the heavy snowfall.

(Huskies have some fun beating Seton Hall on Sunday)

UConn players got out of the bus to try to push it out of the snow – something they were able to do back on Dec. 29, following a win over Washington in Hartford. This time, it was to no avail.

“We all looked at each other like, ‘We need to get in the weight room,’” recalled guard Shabazz Napier.

Still, the Huskies made the most of it. Snowball fights ensued, Napier and Omar Calhoun engaged in a Boston vs. New York wrestling match that Napier said he clearly won, and an already close-knit team got even closer.

“We were just enjoying every minute we had with each other,” said Napier. “That helped us forget about the five-hour bus ride.”

Indeed, once the Huskies boarded a new bus, the normally three-hour trek to Newark turned into more than five as team bus driver Scott Kirkpatrick encountered stalled trucks at nearly every exit and ultimately had to travel through the backroads to get back on the highway.

But the Huskies made the arduous journey worth the trip by taking care of the Pirates, 78-67, before 7,634 at the Prudential Center.

“I’m proud of these guys, because they had every excuse in the world to make, and they didn’t make (them),” said coach Kevin Ollie. “They probably had five, six hours of sleep. We got in late last night (shortly after midnight), but no excuses. They came out and played.”

Evans talked about the frolicking in the snow at the hotel parking lot as a “good, team-bonding experience” until Ollie came out and said, “Get back on the bus before we do something stupid.”

Said Napier of his wrestling bout with Calhoun: "I snuck up on Omar the first time. He grabbed me. I've got to teach the freshman a little bit."

Boatright on the long bus ride: “It was an extremely long trip. I’ve never been on a bus that long. But it was cool. We had some movies, we were doing a little homework, things like that.”

***The good times spilled over into late in Sunday’s game, when Napier got out on a fast break and tossed the ball off the backboard. Boatright flew in to catch it and slam it home for an alley-oop. That’s something that Ollie might have labeled as “stupid,” had the play been botched (though UConn was up 14 at the time).

“He doesn’t care what we do as long as we complete the play,” Boatright insisted. “Now, if I had missed, it would have been another story. He doesn’t mind. He lets us play how we play.”

Said Napier: “Boatright’s just outstanding. He’s so athletic. I was kinda nervous because I didn’t think he was going to jump. He told me, ‘Off the backboard!’ I kept looking back and he wasn’t right behind me. I just did it, and next thing you know I turned around and he dunked it.”

Added Ollie: “I wouldn’t have done it, but let the kids have fun, they deserve it. They’ve been through a storm, got in here at (midnight), I got them in early to eat breakfast. It’s something I wouldn’t do, but I’m fine with it, as long as it goes in.”

*** Napier addressed the "violation of team rules" that kept him out of the first five or six minutes of Wednesday's loss to St. John's.

“It was bad communication, to be honest. I felt like I let the team down. I told Coach I’m sorry for that, it was bad communication on my part, and I won’t let it happen again.”

“He took it as a man and he was better," said Ollie. "I’m so proud of him, because he’s making the choice to change. He’s doing a great job. Without him, I don’t know where we’d be at.”

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