Friday, December 27, 2013

Bridgeport Report: Shabazz Napier Sits Out Part of UConn Practice, Should be Fine Saturday

UConn put in a somewhat light practice at Webster Bank Arena on Friday, after going hard on Thursday evening up at Gampel. The Huskies host Eastern Washington on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the WBA in Bridgeport.

Shabazz Napier sat out the latter part of practice, but expects to be full-go for Saturday. Here's what he had to say:

Said Kevin Ollie: “He’s alright. You know he’s a gamer, so he’ll be there.”

*** The Huskies seem to have tepid enthusiasm about playing a game in Bridgeport. But local fans see very enthusiastic: the game is a near-sellout, with only scattered single-seat tickets still available.

“It’s not home, but it’s not too far from home," said Ryan Boatright. "With us not having to be on a plane and being jet-lagged and stuff like that, I feel like that’s an advantage, always. Getting off the plane is always tough.”

Added Napier: “I don’t know why we came out here, but I guess we’re trying to get all of Connecticut with the UConn way. It’s good to play in front of different fans. They all love us. Sometimes they can’t get out to us, but we’re coming to them now so it’s much easier for them. It’s definitely good.”

*** Ollie's wife, Stephanie, hails from Bridgeport, so he knows the city well.

“All her Filipino side of her family is gonna be here, so it’s gonna be exciting. They don’t usually get a chance to come up to our games, so it’s gonna be exciting for her to come out and share a special time.”

Sadly, Ollie's father-in-law, who passed away a few months ago, will not be there.

“It’s an unfortunate time," Ollie noted. "My wife is hanging in there. It’s a tough time for here, especially with the holidays, this is the first time her father is not there, and the father-in-law that treated me like his own son, is not here. But she’s making it through, she’s my strength, and I know he’s gonna be upstairs watching down on us.”

*** Ollie was asked if he'd be tempted to stick with the starting lineup -- Napier, Boatright, DeAndre Daniels, Omar Calhoun and Amida Brimah -- that got him a road win in Seattle on Sunday.

“I might be tempted, but we’re just gonna keep playing basketball. I’ll sit with the coaches and evaluate practice, and we’ll come up with the starting lineup. But, at halftime, if I see someone not playing or doing different things we want to get done – and it’s not Omar, it’s not anybody – we’re just going to get the first five out there. Our motto is, be fair to everybody, and everybody will get the opportunity. The best five, I thought, after halftime was that group we had out there. Then Omar came in and was good in the second half. All our guys have to come in and be live and be ready to play.”

*** Ollie and Boatright celebrated birthdays on Friday -- Ollie turning 41, Boatright 21. Both got mugged by their teammates after practice, though the players went a little light on the coach.

“We got him a little bit," Boatright noted. "We tapped him. But, you hit him a little too hard, he might put you on the bench.”

Ollie said the only gift he wants from his players is "to get a win and keep getting better. That’ll be a good birthday gift for me.”

He was reminded that, a year earlier, Ollie was rewarded with a long-term contract extension on his 40th birthday.

“I don’t think that’s gonna happen anymore – or hopefully for a couple more years," he said with a smile.

*** Asked what he wants his team to keep getting better at, Ollie responded, "Everything ... Tiger Woods still has his swing coach.”

*** Eastern Washington has three Germans on its roster. One of them, 6-foot-10 junior Martin Seiferth, is friends with Niels Giffey.

"I've known him since I was 12," Giffey said. "He's the younger brother of one of my real good friends back home who plays for the national team, too. It’s gonna be fun to see him. What are the chances, really, to play against one of the guys from Germany who you actually know pretty well. I’m on the East Coast, he’s on the West Coast. When we saw the schedule at the beginning of the year, he called me and said, ‘We’re coming over to Bridgeport to beat you guys.’”

*** Class of 2015 guard Donovan Mitchell, who lives in Greenwich (plays at Brewster Academy), will be at Saturday's game. So might New Haven's own Tremont Waters, a Class of 2017 guard who plays at South Kent Prep.

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