New Start for Huskies

STORRS – A new era in Connecticut basketball begins Thursday night when the Huskies play their first game under the direction of coach Kevin Ollie. Sure, it's just an exhibition game against American International College. But it will be the first glimpse into a new direction and a new philosophy for UConn basketball.

The last time you could say that was 1986, when Jim Calhoun really shook things up in Storrs.

Ollie doesn't have to be that drastic. But he will put his own, unique brand on the program. Every new coach does that. Ollie just wants fans to know that this will not be a finished product on display Thursday night.

Not even close.

"It's going to be a process," Ollie said Wednesday when asked what he will be looking for. "We're going to have some ups and downs like every team in America is going to have. It's all about how we take care of business when we're in those valleys. If you stick together and play hard in those valleys, you'll overcome it."

This UConn team, banned from postseason play in 2013 by the NCAA because of past academic deficiencies, already seems to have a stronger bond than the squad that turned out to be Calhoun's last.

"A lot of people have said negative things about them and I think they are turning it into a positive," Ollie said of the Huskies. "I think these guys are going to stay together because that's who they are. And that's what we've tried to build since I got this position."

Ollie expects the Huskies to play hard. Not just part of the time, but all the time.

"You can always play hard," Ollie said Wednesday.

UConn fans can expect to see more transition, getting the ball off the boards and running. Ollie wants his team to run, he wants them to defend and crash the boards. And he wants ball movement.

"There's five people out there but the only way you connect is by moving the basketball," Ollie said. "You can have five guys out there but they can just be individuals. Find the open man. I'm going to play a bunch of combinations. I want to see what combination works going into Michigan State."

Ollie wasn't ready to announce a starting lineup. Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Tyler Olander would seem to be three certainties, but Ollie wasn't saying.

"It's pretty set," he said. "I've got three lineups floating in my head. I think I'm going to let my daughter pick [the starters].

The regular season begins Nov. 9 against Michigan State in the Armed Forces Classic at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. That's just over a week away and the Huskies have a lot to figure out between now and then. But the players are excited.

"One of the main differences is that a lot of the offense is run through the 4 and the 5 – out of the high post, making passes," junior forward Tyler Olander said. "It's a lot of read and react. When the defense does one thing, we're going to do another thing. It takes a lot of focus.

"That's why I think we are more familiar with each other at this point. The offense that has been put in forces you to know everyone's role and what they're good at. It has really come together on the court and off it."


Ollie had enormous praise for transfer R.J. Evans. The guard from Holy Cross is a graduate student and when he arrived this summer, Evans said he expected to provide leadership.

"He's been wonderful," Ollie said. "I can't say enough words about him. He's been great. He's given us that rock when we needed it. He's that person in the locker room that can talk to guys.

"At first the other guys were saying, ‘He's that guy from Holy Cross' and they didn't really respect him. But when they got out on the court they started respecting him. He got the attention of the locker room. He just knows how to play. That's what you need on a team. You need those rock guys that you can hang your hat on. I know what I'm going to get from R.J."


Junior center Enosch Wolf, gradually recovering from a concussion, took part in practice – officially with "no contact." He will not play against AIC but there is hope he will be ready for Sunday's exhibition against UMass-Lowell. Ollie said Wolf has done everything asked, including treadmill work, with no side effects "I think he's going to be back and hopefully he will be able to play in our second exhibition," Ollie said. "But we haven't had him do full contact yet. Actually, I might have cheated a little bit because he was doing quite a bit today." . . . Guard Ryan Boatright missed the end of practice with a mild left ankle sprain. But he will play Thursday. We took him out for precautionary reasons. But he'll be ready to perform and ready to be Ryan Boatright." . . . Former coach Jim Calhoun was at practice as an observer. He is still using one crutch for his fractured hip but says he is doing well. "I miss the kids. I miss the [coaching] bunker," he said. "But there are a lot of things I don't miss." . . . Ollie said he is ready for his coaching debut. "I'm ready for tomorrow," he said. "I have no choice. You could call it nervous energy. I call it excited energy. I'm happy to be coaching this team."

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