Ollie's Rules Now

STORRS – For several years, Connecticut basketball fans speculated how things would change once Jim Calhoun stepped aside as coach of the men's basketball team.

On Saturday, Kevin Ollie provided the answer.

For the first time since 1986, someone other than Calhoun was in charge when the Huskies held their first official team practice of the preseason. The Huskies got their first opportunity to judge Ollie's style and mannerisms as the head coach.

After nearly four hours of practicing and learning, the Huskies gave their first impressions.

"They're kind of the same, it's just a lot less cuss words," guard Ryan Boatright said when asked to compare Calhoun and Ollie. "It's a lot of encouraging, then it is cussing you out, but they've just got two different ways of going about it. They both have their own way of bringing out the best in you."

And Ollie gave his impressions of the first day as well.

"We did some good things, we did some bad things," Ollie said. "It was the first day, but they were competitive and that was the one thing I wanted."

Ollie, a former UConn point guard and a 13-year NBA veteran, didn't make as many changes as some expected.

Forward Tyler Olander, who played under Calhoun in his first two seasons at UConn and spent years prior to that attending games as a fan at Gampel Pavilion, there isn't much difference.

s "The demeanor is a little different," Olander said. "As people, they are different, so in that essence you know practice is different, but you know the demand for perfection is still high. . . . He expects everything to be perfect, kind of like coach Calhoun."

Ollie approaches his interactions with players a little differently than Calhoun, who was never one to hold back the criticism or watch his language.

"My philosophy is that you give them the sugar first and then the hot sauce," Ollie said.

Freshman Phil Nolan said Ollie focused mainly on effort and rebounding. Ollie wants the team's effort to remain at what he calls "level five" and that means giving the highest level of effort during practice.

"We always have to be at a level 5," Nolan said. "Whenever it isn't at a level five he's definitely going to let us know… I knew it was going to be tough practicing with Coach Ollie, pretty much every practice is going to be tough with him this year."

Rebounding will be an area of emphasis for Ollie. He knows there must be an improvement from last season, especially on the offensive boards.

"That team last year was athletic so they might have just stayed with their athleticism, but that's not going to work," Ollie said. "We didn't out rebound our opponent; I think we were minus in rebounds. Especially for this team, that's not going to happen."

. According to Ollie, it all begins with boxing out.

"First thing you got to have heart and you got to be willing to hit somebody," he said. "That's what we're trying to set the tone with here; we're going to hit somebody."

At the end of practice, all the players got into a circle on the court. Each player held a basketball and commented on something they liked about practice, followed by something they wanted to fix. After taking a turn, the player would pass the ball to another teammate.

Although the coaches and the methods have changed, the physical nature of practice has not.

"First practice was intense," freshman Omar Calhoun said. "It was strenuous; we just had to keep pushing ourselves. It took a lot of focus just to get through it, but we were able to fight and stuck together throughout the practice. It had to be a whole team effort to get through it."

Calhoun's opening practices were notorious for players becoming exhausted and becoming ill to their stomach. Olander said one of the walk-ons got sick during practice.

"He hit the garbage can, but other than that everyone else did a good job," Olander said.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

UConnPlaybook publisher and managing editor Ken Davis contributed to this article.

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