Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Kevin Ollie looks ahead to 2014-15 season

Daniel Hamilton and Rakim Lubin are on campus, joining Sam Cassell, Jr. as all three of UConn's newcomers are enrolled in (or about to enroll in) summer courses.

Here's a story I did on Cassell, Jr. and his father, shortly after he committed to UConn.

And here's a piece on Daniel Hamilton, after while he was in Springfield, Mass. at the Hoop Hall Classic in January.

*** Had a chance to sit down with Kevin Ollie and two other reporters in Ollie's office at Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday afternoon to take a look ahead to the upcoming season. Here's some of what Ollie had to day:

(on Ryan Boatright taking over leadership role from Shabazz Napier)

“It’s a must. He has to do that. Not only for UConn, but for his basketball future. He has to take over that leadership role … I think Boat is going to do that. I see a lot of great qualities in Ryan. A lot of attention was given to Shabazz, but Ryan wants it. He has a great competitiveness about him. He competes at everything, and he wants to be great. He’s not going to settle for good. That’s the one thing I love about Boat. He’s never missed a practice. The guy just wants it. If a guy has a vision and he wants it that bad, yeah, we have to mold and change his approach sometimes, and he has to change his approach sometimes. But I think he’s going to get it. I think he’s already got it already. It’s for me to bring that out a little bit more, but it’s for him to give that gift away everyday – that leadership gift he’s got.”

(on how tough a decision it was for Boatright to return, rather than go pro)

“I know he reached out to a lot of people to get different advice for his decision. I know he and DeAndre are very, very close. It’s been well-documented, ‘We came in together, we’re leaving together.’ But I’m glad he thought about it and (realized), ‘What’s good for DeAndre, might not be good for me.’ DeAndre’s a different person. I’m glad he came back. I think he saw the model in Shabazz, who could have gone out last year and who knows if he would have been drafted, maybe in the second round. You just never know. Then he came in and won a national championship, now getting invited to the Green Room, got his degree, had a phenomenal year, Bob Cousy Award.”

(on some of the differences next year's team will have from this year's team)

“We’re not going to have DeAndre, Niels – that stretch forward we had last year. I think Amida’s going to be a tremendous asset for us. I think Kentan’s going to give us a different dynamic, where he can shoot the ball. Probably not off the 3 like Niels and DeAndre did – I know he’s working toward it, but those guys were exceptional shooters for us. Kentan brings us a guy running and jumping and getting rebounds. He’s working on his game very, very hard.”

“Phil is up to 230-235 lbs. now. That gives me the opportunity to play two bigs, that I haven’t been able to do the last two years … I’m excited to see Phil and Amida probably play together a little bit more.”

(on Omar Calhoun bouncing back)

“He’s a highly-motivated person before this happened. I think this is not going to destroy him, I think it’s going to open up room for him to get to the next level. I just believe in the kid, believe in the hard work he puts in. Results follow hard work. For him, last year was tough. But he grasped that, he embraced that, he was like a coach on the bench for me. That spoke volumes, because a lot of kids say, ‘I’m not in the spotlight,’ and they go away from team-oriented stuff. But he involved himself even more. I was like, ‘Wow.’ That shows me something, the growth in him. That’s what special people do.”

(on Brimah
’s rehab from shoulder surgery)

“Unbelievable. That kid is just working. This is no exaggeration – he’s in here at midnight, working on his game. He can’t do contact yet, but man, he is doing an unbelievable job, doing some things on the court with Coach (Glen) Miller … He’s just so self-motivated.”

Ollie noted that it will probably be another month or so before Brimah is cleared for contact.

(on Rodney Purvis)

“He’s working. Just having his leadership, too – I have to push him out of his comfort zone with that a little bit, and I’m willing to do that. Once he gets that aspect of being a more vocal leader, with his talents, I think he’s just going to explode. I needed him to be a leader last year, I wanted him to talk more. He started doing that. He resisted a little bit, he’d say, ‘I’m not playing.’ But you are playing. You’ve got to envision yourself in this role, because I knew losing Shabazz, we’re losing a lot. (He) has to step into that leadership role – him, Boat, all the guys that are going to have the ball in their hand.”

(on Purvis's role)

“Versatile player, being able to do multiple things on the basketball court. He can score on a high level. He definitely gives us a little different … he’s more explosive in transition, where he can go up and get over the rim. Power, big body, that we haven’t had. Terrence was kind of close to that, but Rodney has more explosiveness to the rim. He shot very well from the 3-point line at NC State, and I think he’s working towards improving that. I think he’s a good shooter, I think he can get better with his shot, get it off quicker. These are the different things we’re working on this summer to allow him to improve.”

(Is Sam Cassell, Jr. more a shooter, a ballhandler ... or both?)

“Sam can handle the basketball. I was very, very pleased with him. He’s been up here, working. His attitude, his leadership, he’s in phenomenal condition. He’s been around pros his whole life, so he knows how to conduct himself. He’s not afraid of competition. Actually, he relishes it. He can shoot the basketball. You want your two’s to dribble, shoot and pass. He does all that well. He’s going to be a player for us. Terrence (Samuel) is going to be a player for us. We’ve got some talent, we’ve got to pull it together.”

(on Samuel)

“You’ve got to take active steps to make your weaknesses your strengths. And shooting the ball is No. 1. He’s got to come in here and shoot the right way, and don’t be afraid to do it. Sometimes, you’ve got to take one step back and do it badly to get to that next level. I think he’s understanding that.”

(on Daniel Hamilton)

“I know he has great expectations for himself, which is great. I heard something that came out, somebody said he’s the eighth-rated small forward in the country already as a freshman. That don’t matter. You’ve really got to show, each and every day, that you can play on this level, that you compete on this level, and that you can be a separator on this level. We don’t want him to come and blend in. We want him to be an outstanding player on our team and make an impact. We’re going to need it, because we lost a lot.”

“He’s position-less. Even the four. There are situations this year where I’m going to have four guards … we might have five.”

(on Rakim Lubin)

“Just kind of like Amida last year. We found him. He’s definitely going to give us a different look running out the tunnel. He’s a little bit bigger than our guys … He’s not 7 feet, he’s 6-7, but we’ve got a guy walking around on our coaching staff who’s 6-7, 6-8, and he did pretty damn well. It’s all about heart. I think he’s got heart, he’s got a confidence about himself. He’s not shy or timid. He walks around and he knows he’s good. He knows he belongs. We’re going to have to temper that down a little bit, make him humble a little bit on that first day of practice. But I like that. I’d rather have that than have a guy that’s timid and not sure of himself. He has a lot of confidence. He has a chip on his shoulder. He wasn’t ranked in the Top-200, or whatever that stuff is. He’s going to come out here and prove that he belongs, and I think he’s going to give us a different dynamic that we didn’t have. One of those guys that can take a bump and also give a bump, too.”

(Will next year's team rebound better than last year's?)

“I hope so. I hope our point guard doesn’t lead us in rebounding, until the second half of the last game when DeAndre got those last two rebounds to beat him out. I hope that’s not the case. I hope Amida steps up, I hope Phil steps up … I think Daniel’s going to be a great rebounder. He’s had great rebounding games in high school. We’re going to have bigger guards out there – Rodney, Sam, Terrence, Omar. Hopefully, Rakim can come in and give us a life on the backboards.”

(on Shabazz)

“We sat at this table and we said, ‘These things can happen if you come back. This is where you’re putting yourself. You can do something that nobody else was ever able to do in the NCAA.’”

(on Shabazz's coursework this past season)

“He wasn’t taking electives, he was taking real required stories. He had big-time classes: labs, sciences, biology, chemistry. It was big-time stuff. And for him to do that, and lead his team … he is remarkable.”

“He’s doing great in every one of his workouts. Now, it’s what team needs a point guard. There are a couple of teams outside the lottery that need a point guard. He might slip into the lottery, who knows? I just know it takes one guy to love you. I think he has a lot of people that love him.”

“I was very fortunate, when I got the job, that he stood by my side. I wouldn’t be here without Shabazz.”

Ollie noted that DeAndre Daniels had a workout on Wednesday with Detroit, who supposedly like him a lot. It was one of 14 workouts Daniels had slated over the past two weeks.

(on next year's schedule)

“We’ve got a tough schedule. Which is fine, that’s how I like it. We’re playing some top-notch teams: going down to Florida, playing Duke. Texas is going to be top-10 … It’s going to get us prepared for a nice tournament run, hopefully. We wanted to keep our RPI the same. Losing Louisville hurts our RPI a little bit, but we’re playing a great out-of-conference schedule that’s going to boost our RPI up.”

(on the AAC)

“I like the conference, I like the coaches. Tulsa is going to be great – I know we lost Danny Manning, but Frank Haith has done a great job at Miami and Missouri. Getting Orlando Antigua … the conference as a whole is going to be great. We’ve got some great freshmen coming in, the No. 1 point guard coming into our conference, Emmanuel Mudiay down at SMU, so it’s going to be exciting.”

Ollie said the new basketball practice facility should be completed in another 1 1/2-2 months. Here's how it looks right now:

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