Huskies Add a Big Man

Phillip Nolan didn't hear from the Connecticut coaching staff until two weeks ago. He's never been on the UConn campus in Storrs. He knows it's pretty much a lock that the Huskies won't be eligible for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. And he has no idea how much longer Jim Calhoun will be coaching at UConn.

None of that stopped Nolan, a 6-foot-10 power forward from Milwaukee, from committing to UConn on Thursday. Nolan told the world about his decision on Twitter with a simple "Just committed to UConn" tweet Thursday afternoon.

Nolan will make his first visit to Storrs on Sunday. And when the Huskies open the 2012-13 season, he is counting on wearing the Huskies' uniform.

"I got a good vibe from everyone," Nolan said by telephone Thursday. "From the last two or three weeks, I felt comfortable enough to commit. I considered UConn to always be high on my list – even I didn't have a scholarship [offer] from them.

"I've always considered UConn to be one of the better programs in the Big East. It's a great opportunity for me. Next year, they have some guys who entered the [NBA] draft and they've had some guys transfer. So minutes are going to be available to me as a freshman and it just depends on how hard I work as a freshman."

Once considered a virtual lock to stay home and sign with Marquette, Nolan said he was beginning to feel that time was running out on him and he needed to make a decision soon. The spring signing period that began April 13 ends on May 18.

And the Huskies, who have endured a mass exodus within the program this spring, probably felt they needed to make a move soon as well. Since the season ended with a loss to Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies have lost three frontcourt players and a swingman. Freshman center Andre Drummond is entering the NBA. Forwards Alex Oriakhi (Missouri) and Michael Bradley (Western Kentucky) have finalized transfer plans and small forward Roscoe Smith has been granted his release with the intent to transfer as well.

Bradley took his last final exam at UConn Thursday and then finalized his intentions to go to Western Kentucky. In addition, leading scorer Jeremy Lamb is entering the NBA Draft after his sophomore season.

Nolan had visited Oregon and Clemson. Just last weekend he made a visit to St. John's. That certainly doesn't make his recruiting story unusual. But Nolan has bounced around during his prep career, attending two high schools, two prep schools and making plans and then cancelling a transfer to another school.

That is the type of activity that often raises eyebrows, creates sketchy academic records, and gives many coaches reason to back off in the recruiting process – even if Nolan is ranked 30th in nation by among power forwards in the 2012 class.

Nolan says he achieved a qualifying score on the ACT last fall and his grades should be fine but he will have to qualify through the NCAA Clearinghouse.

After starting high school at Milwaukee Vincent for his freshman and sophomore years, Nolan transferred to Huntington (WV) Prep. That didn't work out and he played his junior season at St. Benedict's (NJ) Prep. He wanted to switch again to Arlington Country Day in Florida, but changed his mind and returned home to Milwaukee and enrolled at Milwaukee Riverside for his senior season.

Here's what Nolan said when asked why he jumped around so much:

"I thought at prep school I could better my grades and play against better competition. I went for it but I was 16 at the time and I was pretty much on my own. I was a little immature and I ended up coming home, then went to another prep school. I'm not going to talk down on any coaches or schools. But it wasn't right for me; I'll just put it that way. Coming back home, instead of going to my original school, I actually went to one of the top public schools in Milwaukee. It's right by my house and academically, it was much better than the first school."

But Wisconsin's governing high school body wanted Nolan to sit out a year after transferring back.

"I only played the last seven games [this season]," he said. "I got an attorney and we ended up winning the case. I was at practice every day and we had some of the best bigs in the state. So I believed I was going against the best competition every single day in practice.

"It was pretty frustrating but my coach [Tyrone Lewis] kept me encouraged. He helped me fight through it and stuck with me the whole time. He reassured me things were going to be OK. There's a bigger picture out there after high school. Through it all, I had my ups and down, but I was OK."

Nolan's senior averages of 16.7 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and three blocks must be viewed through that shortened season. But he is billed as a serious shot blocking threat with a tremendous upside to his overall game. He is thin but has been working with a personal trainer to bulk up.

He said his prep school time served as a "learning experience" and will help him relocate to Connecticut. Nolan said he is ready to leave Milwaukee but he wouldn't comment on Marquette or coach Buzz Williams other than to say he had not heard from the Big East school since he announced his commitment to UConn.

"I'm still strong on UConn even if it does turn out [they are banned from the postseason]," Nolan said. "I don't really want to comment on that either. I'm just happy to be part of the UConn family. They explained everything that's going on.

"[Calhoun] didn't tell me how long he'll be there. I feel pretty strongly he will be [coaching in 2012-13]."

Nolan said lifelong friend Trevor Trimble played a big role assisting in the recruiting process. Trimble is the father of North Carolina incoming freshman J.P. Tokoto, a guard from Menomonee Falls, Wis. Nolan said Trimble is a friend of UConn assistant coach Kevin Ollie, who has had daily contact with Nolan the past two weeks.

"I want to see the campus and put a picture to every face," Nolan said of his upcoming visit. "We'll take it from there. UConn is just a great program. It's big time."

Finding another big for UConn's frontline became a priority for the coaching staff when Bradley left, followed by Smith, who didn't want to make the move from small forward to power forward to replace Oriakhi.

The UConn coaches tried hard to keep Bradley, who never played a minute at UConn in two years. They made a proposal that would have given Bradley time to leave and visit his ailing grandmother in Tennessee.

"The plan could have worked, but with everything I've seen in my life experience, I know that everything doesn't always go to plan," Bradley told "I wasn't really willing to take any chances with my grandmother, because you only get one of those.

"There were other factors, but the tipping point was my grandmother. At the end of the day, I don't regret coming to UConn. If I could get it worked out, I would have, but I tried and it didn't work out."

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