Friday, January 3, 2014

Ryan Boatright: "A Ride Home with K.O., 0-2, Would be Terrible"

The red pom-poms were placed at just about every seat at Moody Coliseum on Friday afternoon. SMU will be sporting its red uniforms, as well (UConn will be playing in its home whites). A sold-out crowd will greet the Huskies for Saturday's 2 p.m. game as the newly-renovated arena is christened.

The Huskies will be walking into a hornet's nest, but they say they're ready for the challenge.

“I think that’s going to help us out,” said Ryan Boatright. “If we come out like we did against Houston, with a crowd like that and the intensity, we’re going to get blown out of the gym. It’s going to be embarrassing. If we come out there and see how many people are against us, and we’re coming off a loss, we’re going to be ready to play.”

And, Boatright added, falling to 0-2 in the American would be “just terrible all the way around – bad for the league, bad for the record, bad for RPI."

"A ride home with K.O., 0-2, would be terrible.”

No doubt.

*** Getting the win won't be easy. Not only will the crowd be hyped, but the Mustangs are pretty good. They're coming off a road loss to Cincinnati in their AAC opener Wednesday, but SMU (10-3) is a deep team (10 players play double-digit minutes) led by its strong guards and domineering defensive big men. Yanick Moreira, a 6-11 junior, and 6-9 sophomore Markus Kennedy have helped SMU hold opponents to a mere 35.7 percent shooting, second best in the nation. They're also holding foes to 61.4 points per game (second in the AAC) and lead the league in rebounding margin (plus-9).

*** Among those expected in the sellout crowd are Dikembe Mutombo and (possibly) Allen Iverson (though it appears Iverson may not make it; two of his uncles may be there, instead). The two players were teammates with Kevin Ollie on the 2000-01 Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia 76ers. Also on that roster were George Lynch and Eric Snow, who are currently on SMU's staff. And, of course, that team was coached by Larry Brown, now in his second year at the helm with the Mustangs.

“That was the most special team I’ve been on,” said Ollie. “Now that team was tough. We had a couple of guys that didn’t get the basketball a lot, let Allen Iverson do his thing – George Lynch, Eric Snow, Aaron McKie, Dikembe, even when Theo Ratliff was there. There were some tough guys, mentally and physically. That’s how I want my teams to perform, too.”

This is becoming a bit of a tradition at SMU. Last year, when the Mustangs hosted Tulsa (coached by Danny Manning) nearly all of the 1988 national championship Kansas team led by Manning and coached by Brown came for the game.

*** Ollie wants his entire team to come out with more fire than it did in Tuesday night's loss at Houston.

“We want (Shabazz Napier) to come out with that intensity the whole game, and DeAndre (Daniels) to pick it up, I could go down the list,” Ollie said. “I’ve got to pick it up. I might have to smash two clipboards instead of one.”

*** If UConn needed any more incentive to make this a special season, a trip to the Dallas Cowboys’ mammoth new stadium a few miles down the road in Arlington on Thursday may have done the trick. The stadium (a.k.a. The Death Star) is home to this year’s Final Four in April.

“I know I had a couple of moments where I looked around and said, ‘Man, wouldn’t it be great to have UConn on that big JumboTron up there, or Niels Giffey’s name or Shabazz’s name called out in the starting lineup, with their pictures up there,’” Ollie said. “Hopefully the guys got a little feeling of that.”

They did.

“We see what it can be like, we went down there on the field, we know the court will be there on the 50-yard line,” said Boatright. “Just to see it right there and look around, it’s going to be an amazing feeling if we get back there.”

*** After going with the same lineup for their first 10 games, the Huskies may be employing their third different starting lineup in their last four. Tyler Olander practiced with the first group Friday, though Ollie said it'll still be a gametime decision as to whether he or Amida Brimah starts.

*** What made Brown such a special mentor to Ollie?

“I wasn’t playing a lot and he’d go down and be with us playing 3-on-3 and letting the other coaches coach Allen Iverson. The time he spent with the other guys, he made us all feel important. That’s the one thing I try to do with my team, I want to make sure even the walk-ons know how important they are to our team. That’s one thing I learned from him and from Coach Calhoun – just being that type of person that’s detail-oriented and wants things done right. One thing he always said is play the right way, whether you’re up 30 or down 30. That’s what I try to have my guys do on a day-to-day basis.”

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