Thursday, March 27, 2014

Omar Calhoun: "Coach Ollie Knows What Kind of Player I Am"

In case you haven't heard, UConn is back in a New York groove for Friday's Sweet Sixteen bout with Iowa State. Huskies might just have a bit of a home court advantage.

It's not just the sights and sounds of New York that make it special to those who grew up in the Big Apple. It's the smells, too.

“When we got here on the bus, all the people from New York were like, ‘Man, it smells different here,'" Brooklyn native Omar Calhoun said on Thursday ."It’s definitely good to be home."

Calhoun is one of four Husky players on the UConn roster with New York roots, along with fellow Brooklynites Terrence Samuel and walk-on Tor Watts, as well as Kentan Facey, who grew up in Jamaica but moved to Long Island about four years ago.

“As a kid growing up in New York, playing basketball, you always dream of playing in Madison Square Garden," Calhoun said. "There’s nothing better than this.”

Of course, Calhoun has had better times on the basketball floor than this season. The sophomore guard hasn't scored a point since Feb. 6, and played exactly one minute in the Huskies' first two NCAA tournament games against St. Joe's and Villanova last week (one minute vs. the Hawks, DNP vs. the Wildcats). The few times he has touched the ball in recent weeks, it seems something always goes wrong.

Calhoun, who averaged 11.1 points per game as a freshman, attributes his woes to off-season surgery on both hips and the inability to work out over the summer at all.

“It’s been tough for me, coming off off-season surgery, not having time to work on my game," he said. "But I’m trying to stay team-oriented, helping guys, because I’ve still got knowledge for the game, even though I’m not all the way back where I need to be. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team out.”

There has been plenty of speculation that Calhoun may want to transfer after this season. But that doesn't appear to be in his plans right now. Asked if he believes his future is at UConn, Calhoun said: “Yeah, yeah, definitely. Coach Ollie’s a great guy, he definitely knows what kind of player I am. He’s going to keep working with me. Off-season, I’m definitely going to put a lot of work in and build in to be the kind of player I’m supposed to be.”

But it's not the off-season yet. Just imagine what a great story it would be if Omar Calhoun, the New York kid, broke out of his season-long slump and made some sort of big contribution for the Huskies Friday night at the Garden.

“That’s definitely what I’m looking to do," he said. "Playing at home, if I get the opportunity to make big plays to help this team win … everyone knows I can do that, so that’s definitely what my mind’s still focused on.”

*** Here's UConn at its open practice on Thursday at the Garden. The practice was open to the public, though not much of a crowd showed. Probably had something to do with the fact that it was at noon on a Thursday:

*** Facey's freshman season has been marked by inconsistent playing time, as well. There have been highlights (10 points against USF, seven points and seven boards vs. Cincinnati), but for the most part, the PT hasn't been there. He's played exactly one minute in UConn's last four games (in garbage of time of the Round of 32 win over 'Nova).

He's not complaining.

“Being in the Sweet Sixteen kind of covers up for a lot," he said. "Not playing a lot, you know you’re on a good team so you‘ve got a good chance to learn from guys who are seniors or experienced vets. I don’t mind not playing, because I get to learn from them each day.”

He's happy to see fellow frosh Terrence Samuel getting some productive run lately.

“Terrence needs to go out there and take charge of this team. ‘Bazz being a senior, he needs to learn as much as he can from him right now.”

*** With the recent NLRB ruling stating that Northwestern football players (and, by extension, college athletes at private institutions) can unionize, Shabazz Napier was asked whether he feels like an "employee" at UConn.

“I don’t see myself as so much as an employee," Napier said. "But when you see your jersey getting sold, it may not have your last name on it, but to some (degree), you want something in return. Sometimes it feels that way. But I don’t think student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars. But there are hungry nights, when I go to bed starving. Something can change, something should change. But if it doesn’t, at the end of the day, we’ve been doing it this way so long …”

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