Saturday, December 28, 2013

Kevin Ollie: Great Character Game for Omar Calhoun, Phil Nolan

Kevin Ollie can't emphasize enough that it really doesn't matter who starts games, it's who does the most with their minutes and who's in at the end.

He's right, of course. But when a couple of usual starters come off the bench (Phil Nolan for the last two games, Omar Calhoun on Saturday), well, we in the media have to ask ...

Ollie continued:  "His energy is like, out the roof right now. He’s running to screens, he’s calling out blue coverages, which is our pick-and-roll defense. I can hear him from the other side of the court. The ball always finds energy, and I think that’s what he’s bringing, and he’s getting rewarded for it.”

Nolan finished with a career-high 11 points in a season-high 22 minutes. He also went 7-for-7 from the foul line and has hit his last 11 from the stripe.

Calhoun had started every regular-seasaon game of his UConn career (except last year's season finale vs. Providence, which he sat out due to injury) until Saturday. He scored 12 points and grabbed a season-high six rebounds.

Both players have handled their respective situations well.

Calhoun: “It definitely means something. But, I know I’ve been struggling. Coach is working with me. Obviously, you can’t start someone playing the way I’ve been playing. He just wants me to get back after it and things are going to fall into place at the end of the day.”

Calhoun said he had been told by Ollie on Thursday that he wasn't starting.

“He told me he wasn’t going to start me today, but he wanted me to bring that energy, get it going and be aggressive and stuff like that. We had a good talk about it, so everything was fine.”

(on his rebounding)

“I know I can rebound as a big guard. I haven’t really been doing a great job rebounding. He’s always harping about rebounding, so I wanted to make it my effort to rebound more.”

(Calhoun didn't start his first exhibition game last season and the first exhibition game this season. Other than that, he'd started every game in which he'd played at UConn)

“It was definitely tough, but I’m more mature than I was last year. I wasn’t going to argue or anything like that. I obviously knew that I wasn’t playing my best. He told me he was going to have me come off the bench, but I’m still going to play a lot of minutes. He just wanted to see what that does to me, give me fuel and put me in a different position, get my groove going. That definitely helped.”

Nolan and Calhoun's coach and teammates are impressed with the way they've responded.

“I think Omar responded well," said Shabazz Napier. "Phil didn’t start against Washington and he responded well, as well. Today, I was happy to see him scoring, seeing Omar scoring, because Omar was in a little slump.”

“We need Omar and Phil to get to where we want to go.”

Added Niels Giffey (who started over Calhoun on Saturday): "It just shows that they have a great mindset, not being discouraged but actually encouraged in that situation. Just bouncing back is really hard … I think they had to understand that we’ve got to take certain shots, and we’ve got to pass off some of the shots Omar had. We talked about it a lot, which shots he takes. I think he did a great job today of changing up his game, because he’s so versatile. I think he’s doing a good job with that. It’s good to see other guys scoring before we go into the AAC.”

Said Ollie: “Phil was great. He responded the right way. That’s what I like. It wasn’t a benching. He was out of the starting lineup, but he had his career-high tonight. It’s not about who’s starting, it’s about who’s taking care of their minutes. I thought Omar came in and finally got his shot going. He hit two 3’s, played very well, had six rebounds … All in all, it was a great character game for us. Two of the guys who showed great character were Omar and Phil.”

*** The crowd of 9,274 was the largest ever to watch a sporting event at Webster Bank Arena. Granted, the crowd was a bit ... umm .. quiet at times. But it was a good showing, nonetheless.

"I think there were a lot of families in the audience that probably hadn’t ever seen us play before," Ollie noted. "I felt the energy from the crowd, it was just a great family atmosphere. It took them awhile to really start cheering, because we didn’t really give them opportunity. We were playing good defense, then giving up offensive rebounds.”

So, will we do this again next year? Maybe more than once?

“We’ve just got to go back to the drawing board," said Ollie. "To have a great program, you’ve got to schedule the right way and recruit. I’m glad that Warde (Manuel) and Paul McCarthy, Glen Miller, we sat down and scheduled this game. If it comes to it, we have a favorable team we want to bring down here and it works out, we definitely won’t be opposed to it. I can’t speak because I’m not the only person making the decision. I’m part of the decision. But, I wouldn’t think twice if Warde said let’s play another game down in Bridgeport.”


“We’re gonna see. I’m very pleased with the fans, the turnout here. It’s been great, great for our team, great for the fans here. We’ll assess it after the women’s game, at some point. We’ll look at whether or not we’ll come back here next year, or how we’ll do it.”

What will Manuel be assessing?

“The fit. Does it fit for our team? How everything went for our teams. I haven’t talked to Kevin, obviously Geno and his team are coming down here in two weeks. We obviously like the fan support and what it brings.”

Multiple games?

“We could, yeah. We could. We haven’t made a decision on whether or not we’re going to play one again. But, we’re very happy with the way the fans have turned out, the support down here. Obviously, it’s one of the things we want to do is get out, we know we have some season-ticket holders down here. They’ve come up to me and told me they’re glad we came down here. They make the trip all the time, either to Gampel, XL Center or Rentschler Field. Obviously, by the sellout, it’s something our fans really appreciate.”

How about a league game? Doesn't look like it.

“I don’t know that. It’s better for us when we’re on break, for our students, to be able to come down here.”

*** UConn director of basketball operations Kevin Freeman wasn't at the game. His wife, Nicole, gave birth to a boy on Friday. He's the Freeman's third child. 

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