Calhoun Praises Fairfield

STORRS, Conn. – Davidson beats Kansas. LSU upsets Marquette. Illinois hangs on for a 64-60 win over Cornell. ‘Tis the season for upsets, but Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said he doesn't need any of those examples to get his team's attention this week.

All he needs is to share the facts about No. 8 UConn's next opponent – the Fairfield Stags (Thursday, 7 p.m., XL Center, Hartford).

"I think Fairfield could play a heck of a lot of teams within [the Big East] and do well," Calhoun said after practice at Gampel Pavilion Tuesday. "It's been a while since an in-state team came in that I really, really think on paper can match up to us – physically and skill-wise."

Don't be fooled by Fairfield's 7-4 record. The Stags are getting accustomed to a new system under first-year coach Sydney Johnson and bring a four-game winning streak into the game. Senior forward Rakim Sanders averages 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds. Guard Derek Needham is scoring at an 11.2 page. And center Ryan Olander – brother of UConn sophomore forward Tyler Olander – is scoring at an 11.9 clip with 4.1 rebounds per game.

When Ed Cooley left Fairfield to coach Providence after the Stags won 25 games last season, Johnson left his alma mater, Princeton, with the hope of directing the Stags to the NCAA Tournament.

"Every time you get a new coach, there's going to end up being a little bit of a learning curve," said Ryan Olander, who is also averaging 1.8 blocks per game. "Coach Johnson has done a great job making it as smooth a transition as possible. We definitely had some bumps in the road early in the year, but we also played some very good teams."

Olander said the Stags are starting to hit their stride and Calhoun agrees.

Calhoun first watched the Stags fall to Providence 80-72 on Nov. 14. That was followed by a 67-57 loss at Minnesota. Fairfield's other losses are to Dayton and Indiana State. Calhoun said the Stags didn't look like the team he thought they could be against Providence, but that they should have defeated Minnesota.

"In New England, they're probably as good as anyone right now," Calhoun said. "As far as their talent level goes, Sanders certainly is an NBA prospect. Tyler's brother is 7-foot and can play. Needham can play. They're a talented team.

"Early in the season, when they lost to Providence and a few people, Coach [Johnson] was trying to put in his Princeton system – he played at Princeton and coached at Princeton. Then, five or six games ago, he seemed to switch to a little more open offense. They've kind of combined the two, they post up a lot and back you up a lot. They've turned into a very good basketball team. We're going to have our hands full."

And even though the game is in Hartford, the town of Mansfield couldn't be more excited about the Olander brothers playing against each other for the first time. Ryan and Tyler both returned to E.O. Smith, where they once were teammates, last week to watch their sister Morgan play.

But these brothers know better than to trash talk – at least publicly.

"We didn't talk about the game at all," Ryan said.

"They're having a good season," Tyler said of Fairfield. "Ryan says they're ready."


The Fairfield game is the last game before Calhoun starts serving his three-game suspension as part of the NCAA sanctions handed down earlier in the year for recruiting violations in the Nate Miles case. Calhoun announced Tuesday that he will not travel with the Huskies to the Dec. 28 game against South Florida.

Calhoun also will not coach the Huskies against St. John's on Jan. 31 or at Seton Hall on Jan. 3. He said he hopes to receive clarification regarding what he can and cannot do during that period in a meeting on Wednesday.

"This will be my last game for a little bit, I guess," Calhoun said. "I just know I can't coach three games."

Calhoun will also meet with his staff about coaching duties and responsibilities during his absence. Associate head coach George Blaney would likely handle bench duties as usual, but Blaney missed Tuesday's practice due to family issues and his ability to be with the team isn't clear at this point.

In the event that Blaney isn't available, Glen Miller would likely be called upon to coach. There is speculation that Kevin Ollie is being groomed to replace Calhoun when he retires, but moving Ollie over two chairs at this point isn't viewed as the optimum opportunity. Miller and Ollie were both on a recruiting trip Tuesday.

Calhoun was cited by the NCAA for failing to create an atmosphere of compliance with the UConn program.

"It will be difficult," Calhoun said of missing three games. "It's something that, according to the NCAA happened six years ago - 5 ½ years ago, actually. Some of these [current players] were probably sophomores in high school. It's for, I guess, an atmosphere. So I'm sitting out three games. With me it would probably be an attitude, as opposed to an atmosphere. I know my attitude.

"There were alternatives presented to them, which the NCAA didn't want to do. And that's unfortunate because I just don't think we should drag these things on, particularly in light of an awful lot of things that have gone on in college athletics. They said it was an atmosphere of compliance, or lack thereof, that they cited us with. I'm just not so sure it does anybody any good with the penalty but we are going to go by what we've been told to do."

The UConn players will be allowed to return home after Thursday's game against Fairfield but must return by the night of Dec. 25. They will travel to Florida on Dec. 27 and play USF on Dec. 28.

"It will be weird, not having him there," freshman center Andre Drummond said.

"Same system with a different voice," Calhoun said.


As a long practice grinded down to the end, sophomore guard Shabazz Napier appeared to twist his right ankle as he went after a loose ball. Napier stayed on the floor for a couple of minutes as play ended. Trainer James Doran attended to Napier but he was able to get up under his own power and walk off the floor. There was no reason to believe Napier will miss any time.

"I think he wanted to stop the drill," Calhoun said when asked about Napier's status.

Practice ended just a few minutes later.

Napier is one of 65 candidates for the 2012 Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame released the candidate list on Monday. UConn's Kemba Walker won the award last season.

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