There was a lot of chatter about Connecticut sophomore Tyler Olander this past summer. Word was he was working hard, getting in shape, looking stronger, and adding weight so he wouldn't be pushed around in the lane during Big East Conference play.
Sometimes the talk pans out. Other times it can be misleading. In the case of Olander, the talk was right on the mark. In fact, it's possible there wasn't enough chatter about Olander – especially after freshman sensation Andre Drummond announced in August he was bringing his inside game to UConn.
Many people felt Drummond's arrival would slice into Olander's minutes. Funny how far perception can be from reality at times. While Drummond is struggling with his adjustment to college ball, and while Alex Oriakhi is off to a slower than expected start, Olander had been UConn's best big man in the exhibition season and the first two regular season games.
Coach Jim Calhoun has been praising Olander after every game.
"Tyler really understands concepts, he understands angles, he understands how to hedge," Calhoun said after the AIC exhibition game. "He did exactly what we wanted him to do – he hedged on every player, he helped, and recovered back to the shooter. I thought he was just terrific tonight."
Against Columbia and Wagner, Olander was UConn's top rebounder with 15 (averaging 7.5 heading into Thursday night's games against Maine.) After an 11-point, 10-rebound effort Thursday, Olander is leading UConn in rebounding with an 8.3 average and also averaging 8.3 points (fifth among the Huskies).
Olander is listed on the roster at 6-9 and 225 pounds. But he admits he bulked up so much this summer that he actually had to cut back at the start of school. He gained 15 pounds, found that was too much for him, and trimmed back to the point where he is comfortable at 235 to 240 pounds.
"I just really worked on my body and my endurance as well, so I can be physically ready and fit for the Big East – to run up and down the floor," Olander said of his summer activity. "I feel real good with my body. I'm running real well and jumping. But I'm still able to bang around inside.
"I'm running the court faster and longer. I'm a lot stronger on the boards and around the rim. My confidence is real high."
Olander shot just over 37 percent from the field last year, but often turned down open shots. Oriakhi began in preseason encouraging Olander to take more shots and make offensive moves rather than kicking the ball back out to the perimeter. Through two games, he is 5-for-13 (38.5 percent) but has definitely become more active in UConn's offense.
"Alex tells me to just go up and get used to finishing when there are people around you," Olander said. "And the coaches tell us every missed shot is a pass. If I don't get the ball and there's a missed shot, I can put it back up."
Against Wagner, Olander had seven points, seven rebounds, four assists, one block and one steal. He played 33 minutes and is averaging 34.5 in two games.
"I'm just a lot more aggressive, attacking the rebounds and not shying away when I get the ball in the post," Olander said. "I'm playing with a lot of confidence. I've been playing pretty well in practice, so I feel good."
Those minutes might decrease when Drummond gets more comfortable. But right now it is a comfort to Calhoun and the entire team that the Huskies have three efficient big men inside.
And if you watch closely, it is obvious Olander's teammates have more confidence in him as well. The guards do not hesitate to dump the ball inside to him.
"Tyler, he's gotten a lot better," Jeremy Lamb said. "He's knocking down that jumper. He's playing good defense, blocking shots, and he's really improved since last year. I like what I see and I think the coaches do too."