Tuesday, November 26, 2013

UConn Lucky to Have a Player Like Lasan Kromah

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Lasan Kromah is a very valuable player to have on a college basketball team. He's talented, versatile, experienced and unselfish. He understands his role and isn't clamoring for minutes or to be in the starting lineup (though, reading between the lines, it sounds like he wouldn't mind seeing a little more PT).

Here's what Kromah had to say afterwards:

“Any way I can help my team out – points, defense. Tonight, it was a little bit of offense and defense, so it felt good.”

(on his role)

“It’s a little different. Right now, I’m coming off the bench and I’m a guy that sparks energy and everything. I’m fine with what I’m doing right now, just improving every game, every practice.”

“I like the role. Any role that coach wants me to do, I’ll be happy to do. So, playing defense, I’m with it, whatever he needs me to do.”

“I’m just coming in, whether I play 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes, five minutes, just come in, work hard and see where it gets me.”

“We just need to have that mentality, when we have a team down, we need to keep going, and even add more energy and really increase the lead.”

*** Oh yeah, about that last thing. Once again, the Huskies displayed a disturbing inability to put a team away after building a big lead. They led by 15 late in the first half yet by just three early in the second. They led by 17 late in the game, but Loyola had a chance to pull within six in the game's final minute.

Kevin Ollie: “When you get a 15-point lead, I want the lead to go to 25. So, no, I’m not jumping for joy, but I am jumping for joy that we’re 7-0.”

Asked if he was still happy with the win, Ollie got a little testy: “You know I’m not happy, when we give up 20 offensive rebounds. But I’m happy that we came out with a win. I’m happy that it’s Thanksgiving, and we’re 7-0. I’m very happy about that.”

*** Back to Kromah, Karl Hobbs recruited him and coached him for two years at GWU. So, it's no surprise Hobbs was instrumental in getting Kromah to UConn. 

Here's what Hobbs had to say about Kromah after the game:

“The way he played tonight, I’ve been waiting on this kind of breakout for him. That’s the type of player he’s been, the type of guy that, because of his versatility, he’s going to get three or four rebounds a game, three or four steals a game, he’s always been able to score. He’s always been a guy that makes an impact on the game. He makes an impact in a lot of different ways, even if he’s not scoring, he’s guarding the other team’s best player, or he’s getting a key rebound or a key steal. He does those little things that help you win.”

“He’s always been a tremendous defensive player. He uses his length and size, and he can guard different guys. He can guard point guards, a two-guard, the three-man. He’s starting to really show that. I think, as time goes on, as he begins to get a little more comfortable with the offense and things like that, I think he’s only going to play even better.”

“It wasn’t really a whole lot to sell (on UConn). No. 1, I recruited him and we had already established a great relationship. With Lasan, he wanted to go and be somewhere his senior year, someone he trusts, someone he felt understood him. That was the key with him coming here.”

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Monday, November 25, 2013

UConn Lands 2015 Guard Prince Ali

UConn has received its first verbal commitment from the Class of 2015 in Prince Ali, a four-star junior guard from Weston (Fla.) Sagemont Upper School.

According to national recruiting analyst Evan Daniels, Ali's family is from the Bronx and moved down to Florida a few years ago. But he still considers New York City home, and that's one of the big reasons he wanted to come to Storrs.

Kevin Ollie is another big reason.

“Their style of play is ideal for him,” Sagemont coach Adam Ross told Daniels. “He’s a very athletic guard that likes to play fast and get up and down. They’ve had guys like him that have been very successful. I think it’s a great fit.”

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Balancing Depth, Egos May be Toughest Part of Kevin Ollie's Job

Kevin Ollie believes all 12 scholarship players on his team can give significant contributions on any given night. Such depth is a blessing -- but also a bit of a curse. Maybe curse is the wrong word to use, but it becomes tricky to dole out minutes to everyone, keep everybody happy. Ollie's job is not only coach, but to a degree, also psychologist.

Sometimes, established players may see their roles diminish in certain games, depending on the opponent or how the game is going.

Witness Friday night against Indiana, when Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun sat out the final two minutes or so of the key, close game. Lasan Kromah stayed in to guard Indiana star Yogi Ferrell, and Niels Giffey found himself out on the floor over the final two minutes, as well.

"I just thought Lasan made Yogi’s life a little difficult with his length," Ollie said on Monday. "He was playing tremendously on the pick-and-rolls, and Niels gave us another rebounder in there. Some games, it’s going to happen that way, some games it’s not. You’re going to have to accept it as a basketball player."

Asked Shabazz Napier if he felt his teammates understood that -- that there will be some games where others are asked to step up in key spots.

“I hope so," Napier said. "That’s one of the things that guys have to know. We can’t have a lot of egos. If you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing on the court … we’ve got more depth now. Lasan played tremendous defense on Yogi, so he had to get back in the game. I hope everyone knows that. I’m not gonna score a lot. There may be a game where I’m on the bench, so you’ve got to put your egos aside and realize it’s more important for us to win games.”

Asked again if he felt his team grasped that concept, Napier responded: “I hope so, I don’t know. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem that way. Hopefully, they understand that for now on.”

Added Ollie: "Everybody’s got to step up and play better. If you expect minutes at the end of the game, you’ve got to produce during the game. They understand that … it is a product of the depth we have on our bench. We have a very versatile team – we can play big, we can stay small. I thought that lineup (Friday night) gave them trouble, because every player on the court besides ‘Bazz had some length. And ‘Bazz was doing just an exceptional job on the offensive end. I couldn’t take him out of the game.”

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My AP Top 25 Ballot for This Week

My AP Top 25 ballot for this week:

1. Michigan State
2. Kansas
3. Oklahoma State
4. Kentucky
5. Arizona
6. Duke
7. Louisville
8. Ohio State
9. Syracuse
10. Florida
11. Connecticut
12. Gonzaga
13. Creighton
14. Oregon
15. Wisconsin
16. Wichita State
17. Iowa State
18. UCLA
19. Baylor
20. North Carolina
21. Massachusetts
22. Michigan
23. Xavier
24. Virginia Commonwealth
25. Belmont

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sights and Sounds from the National Prep Showcase

Spent the morning at the National Prep Showcase at Albertus Magnus College. Many college assistant coaches were there, including UConn's Glen Miller and Ricky Moore, who were taking in the Brewster-South Kent game that featured 2015 Husky recruiting targets Donovan Mitchell and Jarred Reuter, both of Brewster, as well as a potential big star down the road: South Kent freshman Tremont Waters of New Haven.

Miller was there all day Saturday, watching kids like West Haven's Mustapha Heron, who poured in 35 points on 12-for-17 shooting in Wilbraham & Monson's 89-82 loss to Elev 8. Moore was slated to stay for most of the day Sunday, ostensibly to see Cushing's Jalen Adams play the tourney's final game at 6:30 p.m. And it appears Kevin Ollie showed up Sunday night, as well.

Here are some observations:

*** Waters, who's being touted as one of the top freshmen in the nation, seems worthy of that title. He popped off the bench about five minutes into the game and immediately knocked down a 3-pointer almost as soon as he touched the ball. Hit a few more treys as the game went on and finished with 17 points. On Friday evening, Waters, a 5-foot-10, 145-pound point guard, was 8-for-14 from the floor (including five 3-pointers) to score 26 points in a 94-91 win over Elev 8.

He's a quick, smart player with remarkable poise for a freshman. Perhaps just as important, his parents, Ed and Vanessa, are very protective and won't allow him to get swallowed up by all the hype. Waters is definitely one to keep an eye on for the future.

*** Perhaps the biggest revelation of the day was South Kent's Schadrac Casimir, a 5-foot-9 guard from Stamford. Casimir was lightning-quick and athletic and draining 3's all game, finishing with 36 points on 13-for-20 shooting (4-for-6 on 3's). He had 22 points on Friday in the win over Elev 8.

Casimir, a postgrad who starred at Trinity Catholic, hasn't been getting much recruiting attention. That could very well change after Sunday, with possibly even some high majors taking a greater interest.

"It's been really quiet," said South Kent coach Kelvin Jefferson. "I think what a lot of people are concerned about is his size. He's small, he's always going to be small. I love him. I saw him in high school, he was one of the top scorers, if not the top scorer, in Connecticut. I've seen him play AAU, he led his team to numerous championship games. And, I've seen him play here, and I think he's one of the best guards around. Regardless of size, all the kid does is put the ball in the basket, whoever he's playing against. I'm hoping that college coaches see what I see -- that he's a great point guard, he can put the ball in the basket, and he's got a lot of heart."

Casimir has another good guy on his side: ex-UConn guard Craig Austrie. Austrie is living in Fairfield and runs the Craig Austrie Basketball IQ Skills Academy in Stamford. Casimir is one of his prized pupils, along with several other high school kids from around the area. Austrie, who was at Sunday's game, said he'd like to get into coaching some day.

*** There are some good bloodlines on the South Kent team: Jordan Strawberry is the son of Darryl, who was also at the game. Meanwhile, guard Kalvin Hobbs is the nephew of UConn assistant Karl Hobbs.

*** Brewster won the game, despite just seven points from Mitchell and 10 from Reuter. On Saturday, Mitchell had netted 17 in a win over Kiski School.

Here, Mitchell drives to the hoop and misses, but Reuter is there for the rebound putback and foul:

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Friday, November 22, 2013

News Flash: Shabazz Napier is Clutch

Some notes and quotes off Friday night's stirring 2K Sports Classic championship victory:

*** Shabazz Napier hit 10 baskets. Seven of them either tied the game or gave UConn the lead, including three over the final 4:21. He scored eight of the Huskies' final 11 points and 27 overall.

The kid is clutch.

“That’s that Mission Hill coming out of him, that Boston," said Kevin Ollie. "He’s just a fighter, he’s just a warrior. He never gets down on himself, and I told him, he has a special gift. For him to really get to that next level, he’s got to start giving away his gift. That’s what he did.”

“It’s not all about the buckets, it’s the leadership he’s providing right now. He didn’t do that early on in his career. Now, he’s doing it. It’s just a great thing.”

“When he steps up, it’s money in the bank. Especially when he’s going left and he can get that pull-up. He’s so herky-jerky with his dribble, it kind of throws guys off.”

“We had seven overtime games last year and we won five of them and he was a big part of that, making 3’s. He just relishes the moment. Some people run away from the moments, he embraces them. It’s just a special quality to have as a young man, and a special quality to have on the basketball court.”

Tyler Olander: “I think he’s proven that ever since he was a freshman, sophomore he hit a game-winner against Villanova. Last year in overtimes, he was unreal. This is another case where, when it matters most, he steps up and puts us on his back.”

That's the thing: Napier was Kemba-clutch last season, as well, but it was all largely under the radar, as UConn spent the season in some sort of postseason-less purgatory.

*** Here's what Napier had to say afterwards:

(on his charging foul with 22 seconds left)

“It was a bonehead play for me, I should have passed it. I don’t think it was a charge. Yogi fell, and I was going towards the basket. With the new hand-checking rules, it’s supposed to be a foul on Yogi. But, the ref called it an offensive foul, and I had to change my mindset and try to get a stop. Sometimes, you get bad calls, sometimes you miss free throws when you need it. It’s all a part of the game.”

(on being compared to Kemba Walker)

"That's my brother. I try to emulate everything that he does, but also put my type of talent and skills on it. I’m not trying to be him, those are some hard shoes to fill. I’m just trying to be Shabazz. If I go out there and play the way I play, minus the free throws and minus the turnovers, I think I should be good.”

(on his seven turnovers and 3-for-7 foul shooting (5-for-his-last-11 dating back to the final 30 seconds of Thursday's win over BC)

“Honestly, when I miss free throws, that’s one thing I worry about most, other than turnovers. When I miss ‘em, sometimes my head wanders off and Coach Ollie’s there to tell me to forget about it, it happens. Today I just forgot aabout it, even though I missed a ton of them. I just told myself that my team needs me and I went out there, made some plays, my teammates gave me the ball in right opportunities, and I was fortunate enough to make the play.”

*** It felt had the feel of a Friday night Big East tournament game. The crowd of 10,051 was loud and electric -- and, seemingly, about 70-percent Hoosier fans.

“When I come to games, I just see a lot of blue-and-white," said Napier. "I don’t hear any other fans or anybody else, I see a lot of blue-and-white.”

*** Late in the game, it appeared Indiana coach Tom Crean was yelling at the officials that Ollie was too far out of the coach’s box.

*** With the 2K Sports Classic championship, UConn has now won 20 in-season tournaments over the years: 13 Connecticut Mutual Classic, two Maui Invitationals, two Paradise Jams, one ECAC Holiday Festival, one Orange Bowl Festival and now this one.

*** See-saw affair: Friday’s game featured eight ties and 13 lead changes.

*** Indiana freshman Noah Vonleh, a major UConn recruiting target, was in foul trouble all night and wound up scoreless with two rebounds. He also missed the game’s last shot at the buzzer, after the Hoosiers inbounded to him with .7 seconds left on the clock.

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UConn's Last, Short-handed Win over Indiana Was Emotional for Jim Calhoun

Greetings from Day 2 in NYC for the 2K Sports Classic. UConn faces Indiana and former recruiting target Noah Vonleh tonight. The game won't likely start until about 7:30 p.m.

UConn last faced Indiana on Jan. 26, 2008, a 68-63 victory at Assembly Hall that actually nearly brought Jim Calhoun to tears. The Huskies were down two key players (Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins) who were suspended after having been arrested a night or two earlier for underage drinking, but still pulled out a gutsy victory.

Wiggins returned soon after, but Dyson allegedly flunked a drug test and was gone for another month. I'll never forget when Calhoun & Co. walked into the team hotel to meet with the media the night before, we were informed that there were "no legalities involved" with Dyson and Wiggins.

Well ...

Still, it was a stirring victory, one that really had you start believing the Huskies could be better than expected that season. They wound up returning to the NCAA tournament after a one-year absence, though got bopped in the first round by San Diego.

UConn had lost to the Hoosiers the prior season, 77-73 in Hartford. I wasn't on the beat yet, but I'm told Calhoun was in rare form after that loss.

The Huskies are 5-3 all-time against Indiana.

*** In today's JV game, Washington squares off against BC. Washington features Mike Anderson, a Hartford native. Anderson, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, was an all-league player at Weaver High in 2009. He subsequently played at Taag Academy in Tampa in 2010, spent a year red-shirting at Iowa Western CC, transferred to Lincoln Trail College in Illinois before ending up at Moberly C.C. in Missouri. At Moberly last year, he averaged 17.2 points and 10 rebounds per game and was the No. 47 JUCO player in the country, according to jucorecruiting.com.

Anderson will get the chance to play his hometown team on Dec. 22, when UConn heads out to Seattle to face Washington in a battle of Huskies.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ryan Boatright Has Been More Than Alright for UConn So Far

Gotta like what we've seen from Ryan Boatright thus far this season.

Sure, he's only averaging 12 points per game, after averaging 15.4 a year ago. But he's playing far more in control, within himself, than he did his first two seasons in Storrs. And he's playing a much better all-around game.

Witness Thursday's 72-70 win over BC. Boatright scored just nine points on 2-for-8 shooting, but he pulled down five rebounds, doled out a team-high four assists and had as many blocked shots as Amida Brimah (two), including the biggest of the night, on Lonnie Jackson's last-second 3-pointer that could've won the game for BC.

“I knew there were only 2.2 seconds on the clock," he reported. "I knew when the big dude came in the middle, he held it for at least for a second. I knew as soon as my man got his hands on the ball, he was gonna try to chuck it up. I just tried to contest it and stay away from body contact as much as possible. He tried to sell it. I thought he was going to call it, the way my fouls were going. But, thank God he didn’t call it.”

It's not easy going for a block on a play where you know you can't foul.

“I think with a little more time on the clock, it would’ve been tough to go for the block," Boatright added. "But there were only two seconds on the clock. If two people touch it in two seconds, he has to put it up there right away. He didn’t even think about it, he just caught it and chucked it … I don’t think he thought I could get up that high that quick. I surprised myself, I got up there pretty fast.”

As for Boatright's improved all-around game, here's what Kevin Ollie had to say:

And here's what Boatright had to say:

“I’m just slowing down. I’ve really matured, really watched a lot of film over the summer, trying to become a pure point guard, because that’s what I’m going to have to be at the next level. I’ve learned that getting my teammates the ball early boosts their confidence and makes my job a lot easier. I know I can get to the basket and score when I need to. But having my teammates’ confidence really helps the team and gets everybody going.”

*** So whatta ya say these two teams get together more often?

“I’d love to renew the rivalry, but I’m not the guy who’s going to, per se, make the schedule," said Ollie. "We’ll sit down as a group, me and my coaching staff, my great AD Warde Manuel, and we’ll come up with a great schedule for our fans to come and watch. I’d love to renew it, but that’s not up to me totally.”


“I’ve had a lot of great conversations with Brad Bates about different things. We’ve known each other for a long time, he played at Michigan before I did, we were in the MAAC together. We’ve talked since he’s been there. There’s nothing that is going to be in the works at this present time, but we’re leaving the door open. We have great relationships, we have great respect for BC and what they’ve done. The past is behind us, we’re moving forward. It was a great game tonight. I think we’ll be a great rivalry again in the future for our fans, but we’ll see where it goes in the future.”

Even Boatright chimed in: “If they want to consider it a rivalry, it’s always good to have a rivalry. I think having that game or that feel, with that label on it – ‘rivalry’ – will bring a lot of fans out. It’ll make it a great game. Any rivalry is great to me.”

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Daniel Hamilton, Sam Cassell, Jr. Sign "Agreements" to Attend UConn

UConn has received agreements from both Daniel Hamilton and Sam Cassell, Jr., to attend the school next year. Hamilton has sent in a financial-aid agreement, which doesn't bind him to the university, while Cassell has sent a national letter-of-intent.

Apparently, the school hasn't received anything yet from Rakim Lubin.

Here's the press release UConn sent out this evening:

UConn men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie has announced that Sam Cassell, Jr. and Daniel Hamilton have signed agreements to attend UConn beginning with the 2014-15 academic year.

Cassell, a 6-4, 195-pound guard out of Baltimore, is the son of 15-year NBA player Sam Cassell, who is currently and assistant coach with the Washington Wizards. The elder Cassell was teammates with Ollie on the 2002-03 Milwaukee Bucks.

Hamilton, a 6-7 guard/forward from Los Angeles, also has family ties to the NBA with older brother Jordan currently playing for the Denver Nuggets.

“I’m very pleased and excited to have these two young men joining our basketball program,” Ollie said. “They are excellent players and more importantly, high-character people. I expect both Sam and Daniel to do great things at the University of Connecticut.”

Cassell is currently attending Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., for the second year. He redshirted last season but is on the roster this season. In three games, Cassell is averaging 18.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game. He will have three years of eligibility at UConn after enrolling next fall.

“Sam is just an outstanding guard who can do a number of different things on the basketball court,” Ollie said. “He brings a level of maturity after two years in junior college. He’ll be a great addition to our team, especially with his experience.”

Hamilton is a senior at St. John Bosco High in Los Angeles. He is ranked among the top 25 players in the country by most recruiting services. Last season, he averaged 14.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 7.1 assists for Bosco.

“Daniel is just full of versatility,” Ollie said. “He’s 6-7 and can do everything. He can play 1, 2, 3 and 4 …just an exceptional basketball player. It’s always great to have a West Coast guy come to the East Coast.”

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A Look at Some UConn Targets Who'll Be in New Haven This Weekend

UConn and Boston College resume their rivalry on the court tonight at Madison Square Garden. They could even play again next year in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tourney.

But one area where their rivalry has never ceased is on the recruiting trail. UConn won the battle for Shabazz Napier four years ago (though BC didn’t put up much of a fight for the Roxbury kid).

Currently, there are quite a few recruits both schools are in on – and some of those kids will be in New Haven this weekend, at the National Prep Showcase at Albertus Magnus College.

Here’s a look at some of the players UConn is recruiting who’ll be playing in the tournament:

Jalen Adams, 6-2 G, Class of 2105, Cushing Academy: A Boston kid who was at the Huskies’ First Night festivities last month. UConn has offered Adams.

“For what it’s worth, I don’t know the staff there that well now, but they’re telling me and his AAU coach that he’s a priority for them,” said Cushing coach Barry Connors. “They’ve probably been up on campus multiple times this fall. They’re definitely pursuing him pretty good.”

Connors added that Adams is a combo guard, an undersized scoring guard, who’s playing off the ball more this year because Syracuse-bound Kaleb Joseph is manning the point.

“I think he kidn of is a UConn guard,” said Connors. “He’s good with the ball in his hands, being given free rein to make plays with the ball. He can definitely score it. He reminds me a lot of guys that they’ve had: Kemba, Shabazz is more a true point guard.”

When asked who else is recruiting Adams, Connors quickly responds: “Providence.” But the Friars aren’t the only ones: Kansas State, Minnesota, Creighton and VCU are all in on him, as well.

“Jalen’s a funny duck, he doesn’t talk much about (his recruitment),” Connors said. “I don’t know if he’s intimidated by the process or uninterested in the process, or he’s just not far enough along that he hasn’t given it a huge priority. It’s best to say that he is definitely wide-open.”

Kimani Lawrence, 6-6 G/F, Class of 2017, Cushing Academy: A Providence native who hasn’t been offered by UConn yet, though they’re believed to have interest. The two Rhode Island schools – PC and URI – have already offered Lawrence.

Donovan Mitchell, 6-3 G, Class of 2015, Brewster Academy: Mitchell, who recently moved to Greenwich with his mom, was slated to be at UConn’s First Night but wasn’t able to get there. Don’t put too much stock in that, however.

“I think he had the crazy notion that Midnight Madness would actually start at midnight,” Brewster coach Jason Smith joked. “I think that he’s just taking his time, going through the process, developing relationships with people.”

PC, BC and UConn have been recruiting Mitchell the longest, Smith noted, while St. John’s, Iowa, Maryland, Kansas, Florida and Syracuse have also jumped aboard recently.

Mitchell is more of a combo guard, according to Smith.

“As a kid, he’s tremendous, off-the-charts, extremely high-character,” the coach said, “somebody any community would love to have. From a basketball perspective,  he’s a tremendous athlete, very explosive. He shoots the ball very well.”

Jarred Reuter, 6-8 C/F, Class of 2015, Brewster Academy: It’s appeared that UConn has cooled off on Reuter’s recruitment recently, though that may not necessarily been the case. Again, it’s been PC, BC and UConn who’ve been in on him the longest. Northwestern, Iowa, Virginia and Nebraska have also joined the fray.

Smith said Reuter has lost about 35 pounds since last June and now tips the scales at about 230.

“When people see him this weekend, they’ll see a noticeable difference in how athletic he is, how well he moves,” the coach noted.

Devonte Graham, 6-1 PG, Class of 2014, Brewster Academy: Now that UConn has received a commitment from Sam Cassell, Jr., it no longer appears to be in on Graham, who still hasn’t been released from his letter-of-intent from Appalachian State. He’s currently in the process of his final appeal.

Terance Mann, 6-4 G/F, Class of 2015, Tilton School: It seems BC, Georgetown, George Washington, Florida, Iowa State and VCU are most interested in Mann, though UConn has shown interest, as well.

“We’ve heard from them about Terance,” said Tilton coach Marcus O’Neil. “It’s still just the start of his junior year, I don’t think he’s come out and said his final list. We have tremendous respect for UConn. We’ve had a couple guys go there, win a national championship with Calhoun. Kevin Ollie’s done a tremendous job, he’s a world-class guy. Anybody they recruit out of here is gonna give it serious consideration.”

Indeed, just because the UConn careers of Tilton grads Alex Oriakhi and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel didn’t end well, doesn’t mean there’s any negative feelings about UConn up at the New Hampshire school.

“I don’t, personally or professionally,” O’Neil said. “Alex went a long way towards graduating (at UConn), he built a lot of important friendships he maintains with players, coaches that were there. It’s a high-pressure situation. It would have been nice for them to cross the finish line, but we had two guys go there and win a national championship.”

Mustapha Heron, 6-4 G/F, Class of 2016, Wilbraham & Monson: A Meriden native who now lives in West Haven, he’s getting serious looks from major programs all over the country. More on him this weekend.

Tremont Waters, 5-10 G, Class of 2017, South Kent School: It’s never too early to start inquiring about a New Haven kid who is projected to be one of the top freshmen in the nation this season. And UConn has inquired, according to South Kent coach Kelvin Jefferson.

“He does a lot of things well,” said the coach. “He’s got a really high IQ, he understands the game. He’s one of those guys that makes it look easy. Not too many guys who can do that, but he can make shots, really pass ball, sees a couple plays ahead, and he really, really handles ball. He’s a talented kid.”

More on him this weekend, as well.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Shabazz Napier Understands BC Rivalry; Kevin Ollie Understands LOI Hesitancy

UConn takes on Boston College Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in a 2K Sports Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project game. On Friday, the Huskies will face either Indiana or Washington, at either 5 or 7 p.m., again at the World's Most Famous Arena.

First things first: the Huskies will be wearing special pregame warm-up shirts for their two games. It's easy to forget that the whole idea behind this tournament is to honor and benefit the brave men and women who sacrifice so much for their country.

On to basketball: The UConn-BC "rivalry" resonates with Shabazz Napier more than anything.

“I’ve got a lot of history with BC. My older brother (Steve Hailey) used to play with them. Tyrese Rice, when he played, I was up there a lot with him. He was like an older brother to me, as well. When I was 13, I was up at BC just playing in the gym with my older brother Stevie Hailey, who went there."

Hailey, it should be noted, isn't Napier's biological brother.

"When I was younger, someone else took care of me, and he was one of the guys who took care of me," Napier explained. "I have six brothers that aren’t my real blood brothers, but I call them my brothers … It was hard for my mother to feed us, but they took care of me.”

Any way, Napier was surprised BC never offered him a scholarship until real late in the process.

"When I came here for my unofficial, and Coach Calhoun talked about how I was thinking about leaving my junior year, that’s when I got a call from BC," he recalled. "That’s when Al Skinner was getting fired, so they were just trying to see if they could grab me up. I was just like, ‘Man, y’all had so many opportunities to do that, and you never did.’ It’s OK. I’m glad where I’m at.”

*** Napier, by the way, is averaging 9.5 rebounds per game -- nearly six more than his closest teammate:

*** One more Shabazz note: UConn announced today that it will be playing in next year's Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Nov. 21-24 in San Juan, P.R. Napier's mother is Puerto Rican, and he takes pride in his heritage, even trying out for the Puerto Rican National team a couple of years ago.

"She cared a lot about being Puerto Rican," he said of his mother, Carmen Velasquez. "My grandmother who came up to my game last game against BU, I take good pride in it, because I know where they come from. They take great pride in being who they are, their culture. It’s exciting to know that. I wish we had went there this year. But, it’s not something I’m upset about.”

Especially if he's in the NBA.

“If I’m blessed enough to be there, yeah.”

*** Interesting comments from Kevin Ollie on the trend of top recruits no longer signing national letters-of-intent.

“You’ve got to be comfortable with it," he said. "That’s their decision. I’m comfortable with it. We’ve got verbal commitments, and we’re gonna stick by ‘til they de-commit. If they de-commit … we’re a pretty lady. A lot of people want to come here.”

Ollie didn't (and can't) comment specifically on UConn's three commits. The school has yet to announce whether its received LOI's from Daniel Hamilton, Sam Cassell, Jr. or Rakim Lubin.

“If they don’t want to come, then we’ll keep moving on. It ain’t like we’re an ugly duckling and nobody wants to marry us. We’ve got some other choices.”

“If you’re committed, you’re committed. Sometimes, it hurts when a coach opts to go to the NBA like Brad Stevens. I understand where the player’s coming from. Hopefully, the coach is telling you the right things and he stands by his word, too. It’s a give-and-take. Some kids are doing the financial aid so they won’t be bound, just in case I get fired, they can leave. I know some of the big-time players, the top-10, top-15, will choose to do that. But some of the top-15 are signing letters-of-intent, too, because they believe in the university.”

“As long as they show up when we start up on June 25, when our freshmen come up, that’s the thing I’m waiting for.”

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

BC Coach Steve Donahue on BC-UConn: "It Just Makes Sense That We Play"

Add BC coach Steve Donahue to the growing list of people who’d like to see this BC-UConn thing continue past Thursday night.

“I would love to play the game,” he said Tuesday morning on a conference call. “I’ve talked to Kevin (Ollie) about it … We’re both from up in this area, it just makes sense that we play.”

When asked if he feels a buzz on campus about Thursday night’s game at Madison Square Garden, Donahue replied: “I think if it’s a game on either one of our campuses, there would be more (of a buzz). On my six months on the road before the season, talking to alums … it’s something that really excited our fan base. Like any rivalry, you’re gonna get some really passionate feelings about it. Both sides would say, ‘We want to play each other.’ That’s really the resounding opinion I get.”

Donahue has plenty of respect for this year’s Huskies, particularly Shabazz Napier.

“Napier’s as good as there is in college basketball, in terms of helping his team win,” the coach said. “He’s just incredible, almost averaging a triple-double. He just really plays for the team, not a lot of selfishness to him at all. He’s willing to make passes, give up his body. Everybody else feeds off him. There are very few weak players on their squad, and they all understand their roles. I think Shabazz really makes them go.”

As for his own 1-3 Eagles: “At times we’ve played really well. We’ve had double-digit leads well into the second half in three of those games. We’ve played good basketball teams. That said, obviously we haven’t defended, rebounded, taken care of the ball in key times. There’s a lot of room for growth.”

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Jim Calhoun: "I Wasn't Upset with BC. I Was Upset with Decisions Made, Behind the Scenes"

UConn faces Boston College for the first time in nearly nine years on Thursday at 7 p.m. in a 2K Sports Classic game at Madison Square Garden.

The two former Big East rivals are, of course, no longer in the Big East. BC left for the ACC in 2005, a controversial move at the time that proved to be somewhat prescient. While the Eagles' athletic teams are now largely wallowing in obscurity and neglect, the programs are, at least, flush with money.

When BC announced it was leaving 10 years ago, Jim Calhoun vowed never to play the Eagles again. His very public dissing of BC and animus toward athletic director Gene DeFilippo helped lead to a Cold War between the two schools for years. A couple of years ago, DeFilippo admitted to the Boston Globe that BC was instrumental in keeping UConn out of the ACC as conference expansion raged on.

"It was a matter of turf," DeFilippo told the Globe. "We wanted to be the New England team."

Tensions have eased in recent years. As far back as 2007, Calhoun admitted he wouldn't mind scheduling the Eagles. I asked Calhoun about the whole situation last week, and he's happy to see the two schools renew their rivalry -- and hopes to see it continue in the future.

“I wasn’t upset with BC. I was upset with decisions made, behind the scenes, which I’m not going to go in great detail about," he said. "But, in 2005, a lot of us kind of had to hold the thing together. They were a verbal, ‘Yes, we want to hold this thing together.’ But what they were saying and what was going on, not through the school itself but from the athletic department, wasn’t necessarily fact. So, from a selfish standpoint, to have a good rivalry in Boston, because I enjoy going back there every year … Rivalries are great, and BC should be a very natural rivalry, them being in the ACC and we being, certainly, at that level.”

“I’ve never been one to hold back on how I felt about things, and that’s how I felt about it. I don’t apologize for it. I mean, why would we ruin a New England rivalry?”

While Calhoun said he wasn't upset with BC, there's no doubt that he and DeFilippo, who's now retired, didn't see eye-to-eye, to put it mildly.

“No, not at all, when that started. He and I got along before that. But he and I had a disagreement over the direction they said they were going, but they weren’t going. But, that’s all in the past, it’s all in the future now. I think it’ll be a very good game for us.”

Calhoun would like to rekindle more New England rivalries, not just with BC.

“I watched UMass (at the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament in Boston last week), the best team of the six. I’m not telling Kevin (Ollie) who to play, but that’s not a bad rivalry for us, either. When John (Calipari) got there and they got good, we played them.”

*** On a conference call today, Kevin Ollie also talked about rekindling the BC-UConn rivalry:

"It’s a great team, right in our region. We had a lot of wars in the Big East. I remember a lot of them when played at UConn. Coach Steve Donahue is doing a great job, they’re explosive on the offensive end. (Olivier) Hanlan is one of the top point guards in country, he's doing wonderful job. They’re going to continue to play their type of basketball."

Ollie said his fondest memory of BC-UConn was a game up at Chestnut Hill lwhen "we were down 29 or 30 -- I may be exaggerating, I get that from Coach Calhoun -- and we came back. I remember that game vividly. We always had some tough battles. I love the challenge Boston College presents every game."

UConn, of course, was 8-0 vs. the Eagles when Ollie was a player, in the midst of an amazing 23 straight wins the Huskies had over BC from 1988 to 2000. UConn won 28 of the last 31 meetings and is 54-35 all-time against BC -- though the Eagles did win the last match-up on Jan. 5, 2005 in Hartford.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

My AP Top 25 This Week

Here's how I rank 'em this week (assuming Gonzaga holds on to beat Oakland. If not, I'll change things in the morning, but I'm tired and heading to bed):

1. Michigan State
2. Kansas
3. Louisville
4. Kentucky
5. Duke
6. Oklahoma State
7. Arizona
8. Ohio State
9. Syracuse
10. Michigan
11. Florida
12. Connecticut
13. Virginia Commonwealth
14. Memphis
15. Gonzaga
16. Creighton
17. Oregon
18. Wisconsin
19. Wichita State
20. Iowa State
21. UCLA
22. Baylor
23. New Mexico
24. Massachusetts
25. Xavier

Michigan State stays at No. 1 after beating Kentucky, and Kansas jumps from No. 5 to 2 after beating Duke. North Carolina drops out completely after losing at home to Belmont, who has also defeated Indiana State and was under consideration from me. But Belmont has also lost to Richmond, and didn't quite make the cut. Newcomers Wisconsin (which beat Florida), Iowa State (which beat Michigan), Baylor, UMass and Xavier (which beat Tennessee) are in. UNC, Marquette, Tennessee, Virginia and Notre Dame are gone.

UConn moves up one spot from No. 13 to 12. I've like the Huskies more than most so far and considered jumping them ahead of Michigan, Florida, even Syracuse. But the lack of rebounding is concerning, and for now, UConn just moves up one notch.

Kevin Ollie: "If We Rebound the Basketball, I'll Put My Money on Us Every Night"

The good news for UConn: a 77-60 win over BU; a big game (24 points) from a noticeably more aggressive DeAndre Daniels; a solid effort from Ryan Boatright (16 points); and another sterling all-around game from Shabazz Napier, who had 12 points and led the Huskies with 12 rebounds.

The bad news for UConn: Napier led the Huskies with 12 rebounds. In fact, he now leads the team in rebounding this season at 9.5 per game. Next? Boatright (a 6-0 guard) and Niels Giffey, with 3.8 each.

"If we rebound the basketball," Kevin Ollie said, "I'll put my money on us every night. Every night."

The Huskies also let a 19-point first-half lead evaporate and actually trailed, 43-42, about 2 1/2 minutes into the latter half.

“We started off the game pretty well," said Ollie. "Then we kind of took our foot off the gas pedal, which I don’t like to see. Tough team to guard. Their guys can penetrate, they shoot 32 times from the 3-point line. They were going to make some, sooner or later, and that happened in the second half.”

*** Olllie on Daniels' tough start to the season prior to Sunday: “No excuses. He said, ‘Coach, I’m going to stay in this gym, get it done. I’m going to be there for you.’ I appreciate his hard work. A lot of guys on other teams maybe would have come to my office and complain, but I didn’t hear a peep out of him. That’s a good thing.”

The coach was asked if Daniels suffers from lack of confidence at times, and it was point out that Napier has suggested as much in the past.

“That’s Shabazz saying that … People are going to go through slumps. I wanted Shabazz to take a little bit more shots today and be more aggressive. Shabazz wants to protect his teammate, but DeAndre’s got confidence. He went in a little mini-slump. Let’s talk about the last three halves he’s put together. They’ve been pretty damn good.”

*** Niels Giffey finished with a season-low three points. He took just two shots.

“Niels walked by me the other night and said, ‘Coach, they’re not leaving me,'" said Ollie. "I was like, ‘That’s pretty good.’ If you make so many shots, they’re not going to leave you. They’re not going to keep giving you open 3’s. He’s got to adjust, and we’ve got to adjust as a team.”

*** Amida Brimah blocked two quick shots to get the crowd riled up, but played most of the game in foul trouble.

“Gotta play early. You’ve got to get in a defensive stance, move early," Ollie said. "You can’t always depend on the blocked shots, especially when you’re under the rim … All freshmen go through that. That’s good for Amida. He’s going to learn from it, and when he gets to New York, he’ll be ready.”

*** Napier on one of the key plays of the game, a Daniels tomahawk jam off Napier's own offensive rebound and pass. It appeared Napier could have gone back up with the shot, but instead dished to the cutting Daniels.

“I was missing so many shots (3-for-9) that I didn’t feel confident taking that easy layup," Napier said. "I saw DeAndre coming in, he made a great play and dunked it over the guy. I’ll definitely take that over my layup.”

*** Daniels: "I just wanted to stay aggressive the whole time. I played terrible the first two games, I wasn’t able to knock down my shots. I didn’t let that get to me. I was staying aggressive, keep shooting, and I was able to hit some shots tonight.”

(on his first two games this season)

“I played awful, plain and simple. Shot the ball (poorly), didn’t rebound, I was selfish, I wasn’t playing hard because I wasn’t making shots. It was getting to my head and I wasn’t focused on it, just being selfish.”

“My confidence is still there. Make or miss, I’m going to just stay aggressive, keep shooting the ball, and just go from there.”

*** Wallingford’s John Papale, a 6-3 sophomore guard, hit a pair of 3-pointers and finished with six points in 35 minutes for BU. Papale, a former Choate Rosemary Hall star who was the Register’s boys basketball MVP in 2012, had about 25 family and friends in attendance.

“It was a great experience, I was looking forward to it,” said Papale, who had never before played at Gampel. “Obviously, they’re a great team, a great program, so it was very exciting. It was definitely something that I’ll remember for a long time.”

Papale’s first 3-pointer was a big one, just under two minutes into the second half that brought the Terriers to within a point (42-41). After averaging 9.3 points and making the America East all-rookie team last year, Papale is now averaging 7.6 ppg and shooting 27 percent (4-for-15) from 3-point land.

“I thought I could have played better, I missed a lot of open shots,” he said. “But they’re tough to play against. They’re big, they’re long, they’re athletic. Against a team like that, it’s hard to play well. I’m just trying to get better. I’m off to a slow start shooting, but hopefully I’ll get better.”

Papale gets to play even closer to home on Dec. 2 at Quinnipiac, where his brother, Mike, is director of basketball operations.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Is Amida Brimah the Next in UConn's Long Line of Great Shot-Blockers?

A lot of talk about and with Amida Brimah at practice Saturday, after UConn prepared for Sunday's 2K Sports Classic with Boston University. Kid's off to a great start, with 14 blocks in his first three collegiate games. The Huskies were 55th in the nation in blocked shots last year. They're fifth early in this season, thanks largely to the 7-footer from Ghana via Miami.

Here's a story I wrote about Brimah shortly after he committed to UConn last February, chronicling his path from the soccer fields of Ghana to the hardwood of the U.S.

Asked Brimah today if he knew about UConn's legacy of shot-blockers (Emeka Okafor, Hilton Armstrong, Hasheem Thabeet, etc.) before coming to America. Not even close. In fact, the only basketball player he knew about while growing up was Michael Jordan.

Brimah went up against Thabeet this summer during pick-up games at Gampel. He said he played well against him -- didn't block any of his shots, but didn't get blocked, either -- and marveled at just how big and strong Thabeet was.

Thabeet also gave Brimah a bit of advice.

“He told me, when I was playing against him, even though he was bigger than me, I was playing hard, and he just gave me the advice to keep playing hard and stuff," Brimah said.

It's natural to compare Brimah and Thabeet. Both are 7-footers from Africa who were converted soccer players relatively new to basketball when they arrived at UConn. A.J. Price noticed the similarities during the Greater Hartford Pro-Am this summer.

"You hate to compare somebody to somebody, but that's the first thing you see," Price said. "I watched Hasheem be the same way when he first came here, not really knowing how to use his body, know how big he is. (Brimah) has the same problems right now, but he has a good basketball IQ, which is unteachable."

I asked Jim Calhoun if Brimah was ahead of where Thabeet was as a freshman, and he quickly answered, "No." But he also pointed out that Brimah is ahead of where Thabeet was offensively.

Kevin Ollie was still in the NBA when Thabeet arrived at UConn as a freshman.

“I know Hasheem was blocking shots and was amazing," Ollie said. "They used to have Hasheem in the sand pits, working on his hands and things like that so he could probably catch a little bit better. But it would be unfair for me to compare him, because he’s going to be his own player, anyway. He’s not going to be Hasheem Thabeet, he’s going to be Amida.”

Shabazz Napier recalls when Brimah committed to the Huskies, nobody knew much about him.

“I think we looked, but he didn’t have a lot of highlights on YouTube. He had one where he was just blocking little kids’ shots, so we were like, that’s one thing he knows how to do well, but we didn’t expect much. We expected a helping hand, but he’s been doing so much for this team.”

Napier was impressed by what he saw from Brimah this summer, however.

“He didn’t whine about getting hit down in the post, he blocked a lot of shots in pick-ups. I saw a lot, but you don’t know what was going to happen during the game atmosphere. You didn’t know if he was going to play well against Maryland, with that big atmosphere. That’s kind of a shock to a lot of freshmen coming in.”

“It’s rare, but when you have it, it’s spectacular … We’re just happy he’s on our team.”

*** No official word on letters-of-intent from Daniel Hamilton, Rakim Lubin and Sam Cassell, Jr., though it appears UConn is waiting to receive all three (or two, or however it may work out) before making an announcement.

But we'll reiterate: the Huskies are not worried about Hamilton backing off his commitment, as has been speculated.

*** Napier knows UConn can't keep shooting 54 percent form 3-point land forever. When the shots aren't falling at some point, he'll be ready to step up.

"That’s when I’ve got to be more aggressive," he said. "I haven’t taken a lot of shots, just because my teammates are making a ton of shots. That’s good for us. As long as I put myself in the right position to get my teammates open, they’re going to knock it down. Niels is on a crazy streak shooting … I don’t expect him to make his next eight in a row again. But he’s a great shooter, guys are getting it to the right spots, Omar’s getting to the right spots. Once that point in time comes when a lot of guys aren’t hitting shots, then I’ve got to be more aggressive.”

*** UConn is in the midst of a stretch of six games in 14 days.

“It’s a good grind, the grind we like. It’s how it’s going to be in the tournament in Memphis, then we’ve got to come back and play in the march to the Final Four. I like this kind of grind. We’ve got to understand that it’s part of basketball, every team is going to go through it. Even in conference play, you’re going to be in a grind and a bind when we get into January and February. This is going to be a great tune-up for us.”

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Detroit Breakdown, Motor City Shakedown for UConn

Some notes 'n quotes off UConn's 101-55 romp over Detroit on Thursday -- the most points the Huskies have scored in a game since a 103-47 clobbering of Tennessee-Chattanooga in a first-round NCAA tourney game in 2009.

*** Niels Giffey is now averaging 14.3 points-per-first-half this season and 0.0 points in the second halves.

“Let’s not talk about that,” he said, with a laugh. “I don’t know, to be honest. I know I can pick it up in the second half. I just didn’t force any shots. I’m just trying to be really picky with my shot selection, trying to take the right shots. At that point, the game was pretty much over with, so I tried to get other people involved. I guess I should have taken one or two shots.”

Actually, this time, Giffey's exact final line was predicted before the game.

“Shabazz told him, you’re gonna get 15 and you’re not gonna score again," Ryan Boatright said. "Everybody laughed … but he actually did. That was crazy.”

“He’s giving us another spark,” coach Kevin Ollie said of Giffey. “We’ve got to execute in the second half for him to get him some shots in the second half, but those first halves, he’s been coming in and giving us that spark. He’s been spacing the floor for us, too. Shabazz is finding him, Ryan’s finding him, our point guards are doing a great job finding the hot hand.”

*** Napier finished two assists and two boards shy of a triple-double, and probably could have notched it had he played the final 10 minutes. Boatright wasn't far off, either, with 12 points, seven assists and six boards. 

*** When UConn fell behind, 8-6, in the early minutes, it was the first time its trailed in a game this season.

*** Ollie was happy to see DeAndre Daniels, who went through his third straight scoreless half over the first 20 minutes, score 11 second-half points on 4-for-6 shooting.

“We didn’t do anything special, didn’t run any plays for him," Ollie said. "We ran one play for him, ‘Bazz found him on a slip, he hit a 3, and then his energy just started picking up. He ran the floor, got a dunk. When he was (going) good, he was hitting 3-4 baskets in transition, then getting 3-4 putbacks. Everything was flowing off that. He’s just been working. You can’t get down on yourself. Me and him had some great talks. He said, ‘Coach, I’m just gonna keep on working to get out of this.’”

*** Tyler Olander didn't enter the game until it was a blowout with 10:09 remaining, but managed to score 10 points.

*** Leon Tolksdorf, who had family in from Germany, made the most of his 10 minutes, as well, driving to the hole with authority a few times and scoring four points.

*** As of Thursday night, it appeared UConn had yet to receive national letters-of-intent from any of its three recruits: Daniel Hamilton, Sam Cassell, Jr. and Rakim Lubin. Cassell did send out a tweet, however, that he had signed his LOI. 

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There'll Be No Gardner-Webb in This Year's 2K Sports Classic

Tonight's UConn-Detroit bout is part of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project. The 12-team tourney has four main regional sites -- Storrs, Chestnut Hill (Mass.), Bloomington (Ind.) and Seattle. Each of the regional host schools -- UConn, Boston College, Indiana and Washington -- will entertain two opponents before moving on to Madison Square Garden. The eight remaining schools will also move on to play three more games at two sub-regional sites.

After tonight, the Huskies face Boston University on Sunday at noon. Win or lose either game, it's on to MSG for UConn. Why is the tourney set up this way? Well, to avoid a situation like what happened in 2007, when Gardner-Webb knocked off Kentucky at Rupp Arena to earn a trip to the Garden, where it faced UConn. Tournament hosts were surely figuring on a Kentucky-UConn match-up.

Funnily enough, UConn was nearly knocked off in its first game of the event that season, barely eking out a 69-65 win over Morgan State. If you remember, Jim Calhoun also campaigned against having Holy Cross play in the event that year, not wanting to face a slow-it-down opponent like that in UConn's first game after a postseason-less 2006-07 season.

Even funnier, UConn beat Gardner-Webb in the Garden, 78-66, then played them again five days later at the XL Center in a regularly-scheduled game, winning that one 89-73. The Huskies wound up playing Gardner-Webb more than they played Big East rivals like Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville that season.

Anyway, there will be no Gardner-Webb-type team at the Garden this year. It'll be UConn, Boston College, Indiana and Washington. Even if Detroit wins tonight, its prize is a bout with Florida Atlantic in the Detroit Subregional on Nov. 22 at Calihan Hall.


*** Talked to Brendan Allen, who was seated behind press row, prior to the game. Allen said he didn't want to return to the team as a walk-on after being on scholarship last season. He also said he's a Biology major, and it's tough to juggle the books with being on the hoops team.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Kevin Ollie, UConn Talk Howard, Jr., Hand-Checking

UConn faces Detroit on Thursday at Gampel (7 p.m.) in a 2K Sports Classic game. (Here's today's game preview, focusing on the spate of hand-checking fouls currently plaguing college basketball teams, including UConn). The Titans, of course, are the last non-conference team to win a game at Gampel, a 67-61 win over the Huskies in the second round of the 2001 NIT (the team was known as Detroit-Mercy back then).
UConn isn't likely to get as much of a challenge this time around. Detroit posted its second straight 20-win campaign last season but lost high-scoring Ray McCallum to the NBA draft (second round, Sacramento) and also lost sweet-shooting guard Jason Calliste to Oregon as a transfer.

The Titans are led by redshirt-junior forward Juwan Howard, Jr. Yes, son of the ex-Fab Fiver and longtime NBA journeyman. Seems the senior Howard and fellow journeyman Kevin Ollie never crossed paths in their respective long NBA careers, though the two have long been friends.

"We were the same class, so we played a lot of AAU tournaments together," Ollie recalled. "Back then, they had the Nike camps. We'd go to Princeton, we'd always stay there and hang out together. He's always been a good friend of mine since I was in the NBA."

The younger Howard's got some game, too, averaging 20 points per game over his first two contests for the 1-1 Titans.

"He's a real big, crafty player,"Ollie said of the 6-foot-6, 210-pound junior forward. "Not an explosive player, but he's got a lot of stuff to his game, a lot of pump-fakes. He's an integral part of their offense."

Ollie was a bit more descriptive during practice.

"He can come in here and put 25 on you!" Ollie shouted during a break. "They run everything for him!"

*** Most of the talk today focused on the NCAA's new crackdown on hand-checking, which has led to a slew of fouls all over the country.

Here's what Ollie, Niels Giffey and Ryan Boatright had to say about the situation:

Ollie: "They're calling a lot of fouls. We've been fouling a lot. A lot of teams are going zone. I'm pretty much a man-to-man coach, but we've got to have that zone in our back pocket. I do have it in my back pocket, I just haven't felt the need to use that yet."

"We've got to keep adjusting to the rules, I'm telling my guys that every opportunity I get."

"Moving your feet, just keep emphasizing ... You can't just say I'm not gonna play defense because I don't want to get in foul trouble. You've got to learn to play hard, pursue the basketball, but know a foul's a mistake."

"If you're not talking, you're not playing defense. Doc Rivers used to always tell me that. He's absolutely right. You've got to talk. Our communication breaks down sometimes."

Giffey: "It affected us in the way that we really had to change our mindset a little bit. We can't use our arm guard anymore that much. You really have to work on moving your body a little more than before. It's an adjustment you have to make."

"And one thing, right now I'm really not too worried about it because if I'm getting beat, I know Amida (Brimah) is going to block the shot."

Giffey was kidding. Or, half-kidding.

Boatright: "I knew it was going to make a dramatic change in the game. I feel like sometimes it slows the game down, because there's a free throw after every possession. But at the same time, it allows the games to be a lot more high-scoring."

"It's hard, it's definitely an adjustment. But it's gotta be done. The main way you get a lot of those fouls is if you're late on close-outs. If you're closing out late, your automatic instinct is to throw your forearm out there. That's where a lot of fouls are going to be called."

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Jalen Adams, Donovan Mitchell, Mustapha Heron Among UConn Targets at Prep Showcase in New Haven Next Week

On Nov. 22, while UConn is playing either Indiana or Washington in the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden, some of the program's most sought-after recruits will be playing at the prep basketball season's unofficial kickoff in New Haven.

The National Prep Showcase at Albertus Magnus College runs Friday, Nov. 22 to Sunday, Nov. 24, and will feature some of the top prep players in the country, some of whom are prime targets for the Huskies.

Among the large amount of underclassmen talent in the tourney will be Cushing Academy's Jalen Adams, a Class of 2015 point guard who attended UConn's First Night festivities last month; Brewster Academy's Donovan Mitchell, another '15 point guard whom UConn is recruiting; and Terance Mann of Tilton School, a Class of 2015 small forward.

As for the Class of 2016, there will be Meriden's own Mustapha Heron, a 6-4 shooting guard who's now at Wilbraham & Monson Academy. And it's never too early to start thinking about Class of 2017 players: South Kent point guard Tremont Waters, a New Haven native, is truly one to watch.

Many of the top Class of 2014 players who have already committed will also be on-hand, including Ray Kasongo, who recently was down to UConn and Oregon before selecting the Ducks, then seemingly backing out, then selecting them again.

Among the other future college stars in action will be: Blair Academy’s Marial Shayok (Marquette); Brewster Academy’s Isaac Copeland (Georgetown) and Jared Terrell (Oklahoma State), Cushing Academy’s Kaleb Joseph (Syracuse); Fishburne Military Academy’s Jabari Craig (USC) and Robert Harris III (Kansas St); Hargrave Military Academy’s Donte Grantham (Clemson); Massanutten Academy’s Dwayne Foreman (Rutgers); New Hampton’s Tory Miller (Colorado) and Tyler Lydon (Syracuse); Notre Dame Prep’s Daxter Miles (West Virginia); Our Savior New America’s Damon Wilson (Pittsburgh); and Wilbraham and Monson Academy’s Goodluck Okonoboh (UNLV) and Max Hoeztel (Indiana), in addition to a host of other unsigned prospects.

Among the underclassmen that UConn doesn't appear seriously involved with are (from the Class of 2015) Our Savior New American big man Cheick Diallo is ranked among the top 10 juniors in the countrym New Hampton’s A.J. Turner and Jeremy Miller and Brewster's Jarred Reuter and Northfield Mount Hermon’s Aaron Falzon. And from 2016, Our Savior New American big man Kassoum Yakwe.

Here's the schedule:

Friday, Nov. 22

10:30a.m. Fork Union Military Academy vs. Notre Dame Prep (MA)
12:00p.m. Hargrave Military Academy (VA) vs. St. Thomas More (CT)
1:45p.m. ELEV-8 Prep (FL) vs. Brisbane Academy (SC)
3:30p.m. ELEV-8 HS (FL) vs. South Kent (CT)
5:15p.m. Fishburne Military Academy (VA) vs. Bridgton Academy (ME)
7:00p.m. Canarias Basketball Academy (ESP) vs. Massanutten Military Academy (VA)
8:30p.m. St. John’s NW Military Academy (WI) vs. Northfield Mount Hermon (MA)

Saturday, Nov. 23

9:30a.m. St. Thomas More (CT) vs. Fork Union Military Academy (VA)
11:15a.m. Notre Dame Prep (MA) vs. Hargrave Military Academy (VA)
1:00p.m. New Hampton School (NH) vs. Fishburne Military Academy (VA)
2:45p.m. Northfield Mount Hermon (MA) vs. ELEV-8 Prep (FL)
4:30p.m. Kiski School (PA) vs. Brewster Academy (NH)
6:15p.m. St. John’s NW Military Academy (WI) vs. Bridgton Academy (ME)
8:00p.m. Wilbraham & Monson Academy (MA) vs. ELEV-8 HS (FL)

Sunday, Nov. 24

10:00a.m. Brewster Academy (NH) vs. South Kent (CT)
11:45a.m. Massanutten Military Academy (VA) vs. New Hampton School (NH)
1:30p.m. Brisbane Academy (SC) vs. Kiski School (PA)
3:15p.m. Blair Academy (NJ) vs. Tilton School (NH)
5:00p.m. Vermont Academy (VT) vs. Our Savior New American (NY)
6:30p.m. Canarias Basketball Academy (ESP) vs. Cushing Academy (MA)

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Shabazz Napier Notches 10th Triple-Double in UConn History

Notes and quotes from UConn's 80-62 win over Yale on Monday afternoon:

*** Shabazz Napier's triple-double (14 points, 11 boards, 10 assists) was the 10th in UConn history. He's the first player to do so twice, and he was very well aware of how close he was to notching it in the latter minutes of play.

*** Napier on Niels Giffey: “How I was as a freshman, I came in to be that spark. He can be that ‘spark’ guy. We need that from him. He brought it in the Maryland game, and he brought it today. We just need him to score in the second half. How I was last year, I didn’t score in the first half and scored in the second, I think he’s got that sickness.”

*** UConn was outrebounded 43-31. Yale had 21 second-chance points, UConn just 1.

“Second half, they took it to us on the rebounds," said Kevin Ollie. "That’s the one thing I’m coming in here dejected about. Our rebounding effort is pride, and we didn’t have pride to put that jersey on tonight. I’ve got to go back to the drawing board and find out the guys who are going to rebound, to go get the ball and put bodies on box-outs.”

*** DeAndre Daniels had no points and one rebound in 18 minutes of action.

Ollie: “You want to keep his head up, but at the end of the day, you can’t baby him. With DeAndre, if you’re not scoring, you can do other things. The stat sheet if filled with other different columns where you can have a positive impact on the game. You get one rebound in 18 minutes … he’s just gotta play. You can’t worry about scoring, you’ve got to use your length, use your energy.”

“He’s got to change to a different person when he’s out on the court. Hopefully, he does that. If not, we can’t wait for anybody on this team, and the minutes are going to be where the minutes are at.”

Napier: “It’s too early, I’m not too worried about that. I think DeAndre’s gonna be OK. I did talk to him after the game. He just didn’t settle in right today, because he didn’t get a lot of rebounds, Coach took him out, and he wasn’t really mentally in it, as you could tell. He’s gonna be OK.”

*** Giffey, on how his experience on the German National Team this summer helped his confidence: “It helped me a lot, just being able to go against all these great guys. On the other hand, it was a lot of time with good coaches, too. I wasn’t restricted to the NCAA rules and all the hours you can only put in during the week. I was working out twice a day for pretty much two or three months. I think it helped me a lot physically, too. I came into the season really fit and with solid strength. I’ve just got to look to keep that up and stay healthy.”

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UConn and Yale's Businessman's Special

A little pregame blogging from the XL Center, where UConn faces Yale at 3 p.m. Why 3 p.m.? Well, originally, the game was slated for this evening, with the UConn women facing Stanford Sunday night. But ESPN wanted the women's game, so the men looked into switching to Sunday. However, Yale played Saturday in the Connecticut 6, so it wasn't about to play on back-to-back days.

So, here we are.

Elsewhere: UConn dropped from No. 18 to 19 in this week's AP Top 25 poll, despite its win over a good Maryland team on a neutral court. Don't blame me, I kept the Huskies where I had them in my preseason poll, at No. 13.

*** Shabazz Napier was named to the AAC's Weekly Honor Roll. Rutgers' Kadeem Jack was named Player of the Week after scoring 30 points on 12-for-18 shooting in a win over Florida A&M.

*** UConn commit Daniel Hamilton was at the Maryland game in Brooklyn, having made the cross-country flight from California. He's back in Cali now, we're told, but word is he was impressed by the Huskies' run-and-gun style of play Friday night.

*** UConn is 43-21 all-time vs. Yale, though the last time they played was in the 2003 Preseason NIT. Yale led the No. 1-ranked Huskies by three at halftime, but UConn rallied for a 70-60 win. The Huskies have won 12 straight over the Bulldogs, dating back to a 77-75 overtime loss in 1986.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

My AP Top 25 Ballot for This Week

Only one team on my AP Top 25 ballot lost last week -- Georgetown, who I had at No. 25, lost to (my) No. 20 Oregon. So, the Hoyas are out, New Mexico slides into No. 25, and everything else still pretty much stays the same. UConn, which faces Yale in a rare 3 p.m., Veteran's Day game on Monday at the XL Center, remains at No. 13.

1.       Michigan State
2.       Kentucky
3.       Duke
4.       Kansas
5.       Louisville
6.       Michigan
7.       North Carolina
8.       Oklahoma State
9.       Florida
10.   Arizona
11.   Ohio State
12.   Syracuse
13.   UConn
14.   Memphis
15.   Gonzaga
16.   Virginia Commonwealth
17.   Marquette
18.   Creighton
19.   Tennessee
20.   Oregon
21.   Virginia
22.   Notre Dame
23.   UCLA
24.   Wichita State

25.   New Mexico

Friday, November 8, 2013

Kevin Ollie: "I've Got 10 Guys That Can Start"

We've said it before, and we won't keep belaboring the point, but there's no doubt that UConn has plenty of depth this season.

"I've got 10 guys that can start," Kevin Ollie said after the Huskies held on for a 78-77 win over Maryland Friday night in Brooklyn. "I really believe that."

Here's a quick bit of video from Ollie's postgame presser:


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Kevin Ollie Compares Shabazz Napier to NBA Veteran Andre Miller

Shabazz Napier took exactly six shots in UConn's two exhibition game romps. Played only 14 minutes in the second one. Is he injured? Just reverting to 'Shabazz-the-distributor' mode? Anything to be concerned about?

Ummm, no.

"I didn't want to tire out 'Bazz," Kevin Ollie pointed out. "I wanted him to have fresh legs for the (Maryland) game. And I wanted to have good gamesmanship, too. I didn't want to run up the score."

Think of it as sort of like a spring training game, where the stars get one or two at-bats and leave the rest of the game to guys wearing numbers in the 70's and 80's. Still, Napier admitted to being "kind of upset" about not seeing much playing time against SCSU or Concordia.

No doubt, Napier goes through stretches where it seems he'd rather distribute than look for his shot. But Ollie has no concerns.

"The game's going to dictate it," said the coach. "You go out and say, 'I'm gonna shoot 25 shots,' that's when you don't have a good game. If the game dictates him to take 20 shots, he'll take 20. If the game dictates him to pass it and get off the ball and get 10 assists, then he'll dictate that. He's got great basketball IQ. I've been around probably one guard that's had better basketball IQ than him, and that's Andre Miller, when I was at Philadelphia."

Napier appreciated the compliment.

"That's kind of unexpected, actually. Andre Miller's got a great IQ. He's still in the league because he's a smart point guard. That's a great compliment."

Ollie continued: "I want him to be aggressive. That doesn't mean shooting. Sometimes I get on him not being aggressive -- probing the defense, getting in the thick of the defense. Maybe that's passing 20 times in a row, but that's being aggressive. I never talk about shooting with him, I just talk about aggressiveness."

A few more notes and quotes from today's practice:

*** Napier was asked how much concern the team has for Maryland on Friday night.

"I don't think anybody on this team is scared or nervous of Maryland, or anybody. Once you step on the court, everything goes out the window. Maryland ties their sneakers the same way we tie our sneakers. They've just got Under Armours, we've got Nikes."

"It's gonna be tough. Dez Wells is a great player, one of the best players in college basketball. He's big, strong, he's lie 6-4, 6-5. It's gonna be hard. But one thing I can tell you, we'll be ready to play them."

*** Gotta love Phil Nolan.

"I do't have a go-to move or anything," Nolan said. "When I catch the ball, I have, like, 10 different moves in my head. Whichever one happens, it just happens. I have a couple of favorites, but I just like switching it up. I just don't know what I'll do."

*** Ollie said he has no set starting lineup at this point.

"I'll figure that out on my trip down to Brooklyn ... The starters get their name called out, but that's who I like. Who I trust is the guys who are in at the end of the game. When I was a player, I wanted to be in to finish the game."

*** Brooklyn natives Omar Calhoun and Terrence Samuel get to play a true home game on Friday.

"I'm definitely excited, that's where I grew up," Calhoun said. "There's gonna be a lot of people there -- family, friends, coaches -- coming out to support me."

Does he have to guard against trying to do too much for the hometown fans?

"At the end of the day, everybody knows I'm focused on the game. I want to win, I'm a competitor."

Ollie was asked if Samuel, a freshman, also had to be careful not to get too amped up.

"I"m just gonna say calm down, play your game, be a point guard," said Ollie. "If he gets too jacked up, he'll sit by me. I've got a lot of guards on the bench."

*** Jim Calhoun will join Joe D'Ambrosio on the WTIC-AM 1080 broadcast, just as he did in UConn's season-opener last year in Germany -- an impressive win over Michigan State.

"Coach Calhoun is on the broadcast again, that's a guaranteed win right there," Ollie said with a smile. "We're 1-0 with coach on the broadcast with Joe D., so hopefully we're 2-0."

*** Sometimes in recruiting, it's the not ones you hit on but the ones you miss on that turn out to be a bit of a blessing.

Last year, UConn lost out on a pair of recruits -- Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Brandon Austin -- who they certainly wanted badly. Rathan-Mayes, despite his father being a New Haven native, elected to take his talents to Florida State (his pop's alma mater). Austin, a Philly native, selected Ed Cooley and Providence over the Huskies.

Now, Rathan-Mayes is out for the year after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA. And now Austin, along with fellow frosh Rodney Bullock, is suspended indefinitely from the Friars after "not upholding their responsibilities as student-athletes."

Certainly, no one wishes ill will on either player, and hopefully both are able to get their respective issues resolved and (at least in Austin's case) return to the basketball court as soon as possible. And certainly in Austin's situation, there's no telling whether whatever he did or didn't do at PC, he wouldn't have made the same mistakes at UConn.

But fans that live and die each time a recruit chooses another school over UConn should realize that, sometimes, it's UConn that drops interest (in the cases of Rathan-Mayes as well as Ray Kasongo), and sometimes not getting a particular recruit ends up being a blessing in disguise.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Shabazz Napier On Another Watch List

The U.S. Basketball Writers Association has selected 15 outstanding players for its 2013-14 Oscar Robertson Trophy Preseason Watch List. Members of the association's board of directors chose the players to be included on the list as contenders for the Oscar Robertson Trophy.

The award is to be presented to the national player of the year by its namesake at the Devon Energy College Basketball Awards on April 14, 2014, at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. The Henry Iba Coach of the Year Award and the Integris Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award will also be presented at the gala to be held annually the Monday following the NCAA Men's Final Four.

Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart, the 2013 Big 12 Player of the Year and Wayman Tisdale Award winner as the national freshman of the year, leads the watch list and is the USBWA's preseason selection as the Player of the Year. Creighton forward Doug McDermott, a first-team USBWA All-American a year ago, also headlines the list.

The Big Ten, led by Michigan State teammates Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, leads all conferences with four players recognized, and seven total conferences are represented. Overall, the watch list includes seven seniors, four sophomores and four freshmen. The four freshmen all appear on the Wayman Tisdale Award Preseason Watch List.

Following is the complete watch list:

Pos. Player, School (Ht., Wt., Yr., Hometown)
G Jahii Carson, Arizona State (5-10, 180, So., Mesa, Ariz.)
G Aaron Craft, Ohio State (6-2, 195, Sr., Findlay, Ohio)
F C.J. Fair, Syracuse (6-8, 215, Sr., Baltimore, Md.)
F Aaron Gordon, Arizona (6-9, 225, Fr., San Jose, Calif.)
G Gary Harris, Michigan State (6-4, 210, So., Fishers, Ind.)
G Joe Harris, Virginia (6-6, 225, Sr., Chelan, Wash.)
F Doug McDermott, Creighton (6-8, 225, Sr., Ames, Iowa)
F Mitch McGary, Michigan (6-10, 255, So., Chesterton, Ind.)
G Shabazz Napier, Connecticut (6-1, 180, Sr., Roxbury, Mass.)
F Jabari Parker, Duke (6-8, 235, Fr., Chicago, Ill.)
C Adreian Payne, Michigan State (6-10, 245, Sr., Dayton, Ohio)
F Julius Randle, Kentucky (6-9, 250, Fr., Dallas, Texas)
G Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State (6-4, 220, So., Flower Mound, Texas)
G Russ Smith, Louisville (6-0, 165, Sr., Brooklyn, N.Y.)
G Andrew Wiggins, Kansas (6-8, 200, Fr., Vaughan, Ont.)

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Flight of Concordia to UConn a Worthwhile One, Even in a Rout

Feel a little guilty about being a bit sarcastic the past couple of days regarding UConn's exhibition matchup with a team that went 4-21 in Division 3 last season.

Sure, it's the mother of all mismatches, but Monday's bout with Concordia of Chicago was for a good cause, as Cougars coach Tyler Jones, an East Hartford product who once coached Kevin Ollie with the Connecticut Pride of the CBA, was able to promote his cause of cancer awareness.

"It's an honor and pleasure to come back to Hartford," Jones said after his team was predictably trounced, 98-38. "My relationship with (Ollie) is why this all happened. I want to thank UConn for allowing it. The game is great, and the reason to play it is even greater. What a terrific forum to do it and allow me to come home."

As for the game itself, here's about all you need to know: walk-on Pat Lenahan (seven points) outscored Ryan Boatright (four).

In truth, there were some positive signs. Omar Calhoun knocked down four 3-pointers and finished with a game-high 16 points and seven rebounds. A recent visit from his dad helped Calhoun's confidence in coming back from his two hip surgeries last spring.

Terrence Samuel had a double-double (10 points, 12 assists) and earned Ollie's praise.

“Terrence played incredible. He’s been doing that the whole preseason. He’s always playing hard. I can get on him, he just keeps playing. He’s revealing a side of himself each and every day ... A double-double really shows his vision, really shows his patience."

I keep being impressed with Lasan Kromah, too, who hit a trio of 3-pointers and finished with nine points.

“Help the team out in any way possible -- score the ball, rebound, defense. Anything the team needs," Kromah said of his role this season.

It's worth noting that UConn won the rebounding battle 49-26, though Concordia had just one player taller than 6-foot-4. Of course, the Huskies were outrebounded by Southern Connecticut last week, though Ollie said that was somewhat misleading.

“I apologized to my big guys. They boxed out. It was the guards, lack of guards boxing out, in that first game against Southern. Then we gave up a lot of points in transition.”

Now, the Huskies get ready for their season-opener Friday night in Brooklyn against a good Maryland team.

"I'm itchin'," said Ollie. "We're ready to go."

But before a nice reunion on Monday night with his old coach, who could have cut him back in '99 but didn't, helping to pave the way not only to a CBA title that year but for Ollie's ensuing 13-year NBA career.

“(Jones) always had my back, even my rookie year when we had Rumeal (Robinson) and Tate George, there were rumors of me getting cut," Ollie recalled. "He said he was going to stick by his first-round draft pick. He’s just a great man. I believe I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for him.”

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