STORRS – Exciting day at Gampel. The Huskies practiced, met with reporters, hit the chow line and then boarded the bus to the airport to get to the Final Four. There won’t be much time for fun down there, Ollie said, maybe a team dinner at a nice restaurant on Wednesday. But this, he said, is “a business trip.”
… Here are some notes, quotes, thoughts. First, Kevin Ollie:
“You see how hard the [UConn] women play every night, and it’s great to see their effort. I wish them the best of luck. We’re going down to Dallas, hopefully both of us can prevail.
You just take it one step at a time. When I got this job, this was one of my goals, we want to improve each and every day, if the Final Four happens it happens, but we want to get better every day. I think we did that, I think we’re playing our best ball now. That means guys are really accepting coaching, they’re staying together and they’re playing hard. When you do those things you reap the benefits.
“[Going to Dallas?] It’s great. Most of my family is down there. My mother is from there. I was born in Oak Cliff. My mother and father got divorced when I was five but my dad stayed down there and I always came back every summer. I’m very fond of Dallas, got some great friends down there. Got a lot of ticket requests. I’m going to be going into my wallet.
[Having players with Final Four experience is] tremendously valuable. They know what it takes, they know what the feeling is. I don’t think they’ll be overwhelmed with the crowd and they’ll be helping our young guys understand what it takes, they won’t get distracted.”
“Last year really made [the statement], yeah, this year we’re here. But if we’d have got dejected last year, it would have hurt us and we wouldn’t have been ready for this year, and this flood of flavor that’s coming our way.
Last year was remarkable, not only on basketball court, but academically. We were still under sanctions and if we had a bad year academically it would’ve been even worse. But we took care of business. On the basketball court and won a lot of games, and then we came into this season with one goal in mind – to improve and get back in the tournament. We’re playing our best basketball.”
“… Me and Geno [Auriemma] have a funny relationship. My freshman year, I felt he was always picking on me. Not in a bad way, but in a good way, a funny way. There’d be a bunch of people and he’d see me and say, ‘Hey, this guy here is Shabazz,’ and they’d say something funny because he’s a comedian. I used to watch their practices a lot and he would come up to me and say, ‘you need to stop fouling’ or ‘you need to take control of the tream.’ He’d just give me advice that was much needed. He’s a great coach, he understands the game. It’s always good to pick somebody’s brain. I’d take advice from him any given day, he’s been helping me grow and I appreciate that.”
“[With Ryan Boatright] … No, it’s not two guys on the court who want the ball in their hands. We understand we can make plays for each other. There is no beef with us at all. We may get at it on the court, but that’ s just because we’re passionate about our game. We’re passionate about winning the game.We understand that, we don’t take it any further than that. I want him to play up to his game and he wants me to play up to my game. We take it in stride. We leave everything on the court. His heart, no matter what, he’s going to give it his all and that’s what I want. I want people to give their all for the team and to realize that’s what I do. That’s all you can ask of somebody, to give up their heart. You’re going to respect them for that.”
“[Coach Ollie] and Coach Calhoun are amazing people I have in my life now and I know they’re always a resource you can go to. This is a family, they’ll always be supportive of me. It’s always nice to have someone like that. … [Ollie is] the same way coach Calhoun was. A little different in the way they do it, they’re different people, but they have the same will for greatness and success. They demand greatness and success every day. They don’t let you slack off. They just do it in different ways.”
“This team is a reflection of Kevin Ollie, just the way he is in life every day. He’s always passionate about what he does. … he always had the workouts and he used to kill guys, the hardest individual workout you could possibly go through. There is never a day he doesn’t bring it in practice or a game. It’s great to have somebody like that, during timeout in that Michigan State game, he got us amped up even more when Shabazz got hit in the nose and started bleeding. [Ollie] was saying ‘We’r e not going to let them punch us in the face’ and stuff like that. And he got the team amped up and we went out there and started fighting even more.”
Lots of content going up now on Courant,com. I asked Ollie and players to take me back to AT&T Stadium and describe the now famous Husky Tour there on Jan. 2. … The Final Four hoopla can sidetrack some teams, but the Huskies experience there should be a help. That leads the UConn notebook. … My buddy Nick Greene has a cool story, and video, on the dance that’s taking the internet by storm, the “three sweep.” … Some video here. … Paul Doyle writes on DeAndre Daniels.