CINCINNATI – Some notes, quotes from the lobby, as the UConn team filed in Friday evening.
Shabazz Napier, who did not practice Friday, is still in the walking boot. His right foot, surgically repaired last summer, has been acting up the last few games and nearly knocked him out against Georgetown. He is considered a “game-time decision” for the Bearcats Saturday at 2 p.m.
“I know he’s a winner,” Kevin Ollie said, he loves this university, loves playing for UConn, and I imagine if he can go he’ll probably do his best to be out there and try to get us to another win.. He’s not a person that just takes himself out of situations, so if he can go I know he’ll be there.”
UConn’s plan was to get Napier as much rest as possible, so no practicing, and save what he can give for the game. “You want him to show up at 2 O’clock tomorrow,” Ollie said.
Napier said he doesn’t feel pain when he is walking in the boot, but without the boot it’s different. He changed shoes, to a pair with more support, during the Georgetown game and it helped, “but not too much,” he said.
“Hopefully, I’ll wake up [Saturday] and feel good and I’ll be able to play,” he said. “If I don’t, then I can’t play. … I can’t put myself ahead of the team.”
The medical staff consider the injury a “sprain,” it’s a re-aggravation of the chronic problem. Napier is working on strengthening exercises, to strengthen muscle around the foot.
The latest Big East news, if it shakes out as it appears it will, is not going to help UConn’s recruiting in the future. The loss of the Big East name to something new and unheard of, and the loss of Madison Square Garden as the league tournament stage, take away two selling points. UConn, remember, has had tremendous success recruiting in New York City.
“Madison Square Garden is THE most attractive thing about the Big East tournament, about the Big East,” Napier said. “That’s where the stars play. I’ve played in the Garden before, so it doen’t other me too much. But for newcomers, t he freshmen, people coming in this year coming up, it might hurt. But for myself, I played in the garden before and its super spectacular, as everyone should know. “
Omar Calhoun, from Brooklyn, grew up with Big East rivalries and The Garden’s role in them.
“It’s definitely sad [losing MSG],” he said. “It’s everything you look forward to when you play in the Big East, so it’s something sad. The Big East, it’s great teams matching up against each other, rivalries and stuff like that. There’s a lot of history behind those games, and it’s upsetting that people are not going to be able to see them.”
Ollie, who will have to do the recruiting the next five years, said the UConn brand, and tradition, is what he must, and will, sell
“As long as I don’t lose Connecticut on my jersey, I’m fine,” he said. “We can play [the league tournament] in the back yard. I’m fine. I’ve got UConn nation behind me, I’m fine. I got a great president, a great athletic director to put us in the best situation possible. So, as long as they’re not taking away uconn and I don’t think they are, I’m fine.
“[The uconn name, tradition], that’s all I got. That’s all I got. It’s all I know, it’s what I’m going to sell until I go into the grave. … That’s the only thing I can control. I can’t control realignment, whose leaving. I can control attitude, and the guys I put out on the court. I can control their attitudes and they can help me control mine. That’s the only thing I’m fighting for at the end of the day.”
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Calhoun said his sore right wrist, which has been an issue since Feb. 16, “hurt a little more” in practice Friday, but like Napier’s injury, the only thing that will cure it is rest, and there is no time. “I’m going to be dealing with it the rest of the year,” Calhoun said. “I’ve just got to fight through it, and do what I can.”
Ollie said having played Cincinnati eight days ago means UConn will have to “do some tweaks” to their game plan. A key to the last game was Ryan Boatright’s defense on Cashmere Wright. Interesting to see what Cincinnati changes.