Incoming Husky Sam Cassell Jr. a JUCO All-American

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There will be big shoes to fill in the UConn backcourt next season, with Shabazz Napier leaving and, Ryan Boatright, too, if he chooses to test the NBA Draft waters.

But the Huskies have some solid guards coming in to join sophomore Terrence Samuel, who began to come into his own late in the season. You know about Rodney Purvis, who transferred from NC State and had to sit out. “He’s like a Ferrari in  the garage I can’t use,” Kevin Ollie said late in the season.

Well, now the ignition can be turned, Purvis is recovering from shoulder surgery, but should be ready to go when practices start.

Sam Cassell Jr., who comes in next year, added to his list of credentials. He was named a First Team All-American by the National Junior College Athletic Association. Cassell, son of the long-time NBA point guard and coach, averaged 18.7 points per game for Chipola College in Florida this past season, leading his team to a 26-6 record before they lost in the national quarterfinals.He also averaged 3.7 assists, and shot 43.3 percent from the floor across 30 games.,

What makes this a positive for UConn: Neither Cassell nor Purvis are freshmen. Purvis, with a year of big time college ball behind him, and Cassell, who spent twp years in JUCO, are essentially juniors. With their experience, they should be able to step in and perform at a high level.

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… Kevin Ollie and Geno Auriemma rang the closing bell on Wall Street on Thursday – unfortunately it ended a bad day on the markets, but perhaps the coaches were able to give the downcast investors a pep talk.

… I’ve heard from both the Yankees and Red Sox that plans are in the works to honor the UConn championship teams soon, but no dates have been nailed down as yet.

… I will be joining the FoxCT team covering the parade in Hartford on Sunday, so do tune in. Will give you more details as I get them. Also, I joined Scott Gray on the Stan Simpson Show coming up this weekend.

… We’re putting out a special, commemorative section on UConn’s dual champions, which will be in  the Sunday Courant. Be on the lookout for that.

… We continue to have tecnhical issues with the blog, so check our main website, as well as he blog, for UConn content.

 

 

 

 

Terrence Samuel: ‘I See Us Getting Back Here’ … More Notes, Quotes and Thoughts From AT&T Stadium

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ARLINGTON, Texas – A few notes, quotes and stuff from the delirious UConn locker room, and  AT&T as we wrap up this unforgettable night …

Warde Manuel, as he said last week, plans to sit down with Kevin Ollie as soon as possible to discuss a new contract. “Right now, I’m going to a game tomorrow night in Nashville. I’m going to enjoy this. I have a love for this university. Kevin knows how I feel about him, and I know he has a love for this university. When we sit down, I think it’s going to be a great conversation.”

DeAndre Daniels was clutching the trophy. “I’m going to eat with it, sleep with it,” he said.

Asked about his future plans. “I’m not worrying about that right now. I’m just going to enjoy the moment.”

Ryan Boatright said the same thing, BTW: “I’m not worrying about my future. I’m  just going to celebrate with my teammates.”

Ray Allen and Rip Hamilton were in the locker room for a good long time.

Was that level six? “Definitely,” Ryan Boatright said.

Niels Giffey, who hit a couple of big threes down the stretch:

“I knew coming into these games that we might not get scoring from other guys. I had to get myself comfortable, realizing that this is my team. I’m a captain of this team and I had to step up.

On the advantage of veteran leadership: “I hope one of the things that our story, the story we wrote, really tells that people can see and learn a lesson from that. It can really work out if you stay with a program four years, and you stay with a core group of people and you really get to know each other on and off the court so well. You just create bonds that you will never forget and you will always have.”

 

Terrence Samuel: “I see us getting back here. That’s definitely my goal and I’m going to work hard this summer. I am going to start the next couple of days. I’m just trying to get better and now I know what it takes to get here. There is pressure because you have big shoes to fill, but I have to accept the challenge.”

Samuel made some important free throws down the stretch – just as Shabazz Napier did as a freshman.

Tyler Olander: “Coach Ollie is going to keep UConn up in the elite status of basketball. We just have extreme belief in each other, we have belief in a system. It doesn’t matter who is on the court.”

Phil Nolan: “It’s crazy and one of the best moments of my life.”

Kevin Ollie’s mother was in there for a while, and his family. And Jim Calhoun.

John Calipari was pretty gracious. “Kevin Ollie is one of the great guys of all time. I hate to lose, but I’m glad he won.”

The All-Final Four Team: Julius Randle and James Young of Kentucky, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels and, as Most Outstanding Player, Shabazz Napier.

There were 79,238 in the building for this game, 3,800 more than at Houston in 2011.

UConn is 4-0 in championship games, three playing in Texas – - here, Houston and San Antonio.

UConn is the first team to win a national championship without winning its conference regular season or tournament title since Arizona in 1997. The Huskies are the first team to win a title without playing in the NCAA or NIT the previous year since NC State in 1974, but, of course, UConn would  have played in the tournament last year if eligible.

Steve Fischer, who won a national title as Michigan’s interim coach in 1989, was the last to win a title within his first two seasons as a head coach.

UConn is the first team to win a title after going to overtime in its first NCAA Tournament game since NC State in 1983.

Shabazz Napier joins Kemba Walker, Derek Rose and Larry Bird as the only players to score at least 125 points, get at least 25 rebounds and at least 25 assists in a single NCAA Tournament.

Ray Allen was in the locker room after the game with fellow former Huskies Richard Hamilton and Boo Willingham. Khalid El-Amin was also lingering after the game.

“It shows great determination and resiliency of this team,” Allen said. “We had a great regular season. I’ve seen a lot of these kids coming into this program as freshmen. I’ve known Kevin [Ollie] for 20 years. We played in Seattle together. It’s been a great ride and I am so proud of them.

“Nothing surprised me about [Ollie]. You know his spirit. You know his personality. You know what he is capable of doing and what he has in him. He is a person who will never give up on you or anyone else.”

Jim Calhoun: “I am so proud of our university, every one of those guys out there and the seniors. They have stuck with the program all the way through.”

And Calhoun has this to say about Napier: “He is a great player. I think that when Chris Smith came here, the only thing we had was an NIT championship and Shabazz is like him when he take it to another level, when the team needs him to. That are great, great players. When you talk about Ray [Allen], when you talk about Emeka [Okafor], Kemba [Walker], and now Shabazz, you talk about greatness.”

Kevin Ollie as he walked down the Hall: “Can’t wait for the women to win the NC tomorrow night. It’ll be deju vu all over again.”

Once again, tons of content is on our main website, get to it here.

Shabazz Napier In His Own Words … ‘This Is What Happens …’

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ARLINGTON, Texas – Shabazz Napier took the micophone and directed some thoughts at the UConn fans and the worldwide viewing audience. In effect, he said, “This is what  happens when you ban us …”\

Here’s more from Shabazz, Most Outstanding Player of the East Regional and the Final Four, at the podium, again, thanks to ASAP Sports for the transcript …

“We’re hungry.  When you stop, when you prevent us from trying to go to the post?season, and it wasn’t our fault, we worked since that day on.  Coach Ollie told us, this is going to be a two?year plan, and since that day on we believed.
Like I said, man, I just wanted to grab everybody’s attention and introduce the Hungry Huskies, because it’s been two years.  It’s quite funny because I was laying down and I was thinking of something to say, because I knew we were going to win.
I’m being real humble and not trying to be cocky, when you believe something so much, you understand what may happen in certain situations.  I told myself, if I was on that podium I was going to say that.
I’m just so happy that I was in that position, because, man, these guys worked so hard, the coaches, the managers, our trainers, and last, but not least, the players.  We worked so hard for this.  We didn’t want to lose it.  We worked so hard.
So here we go, celebrating.
  We didn’t come out here to get any revenge or anything like that.  We came out here to play.  When you have the greatest fans to back you up, you’re going to play for them.  That’s what we did out that first year under Coach Ollie.
And the second year we did the same thing, but we understood we had a chance to get to the promised land.  And when you have the great fans that the University of Connecticut has, along with these great coaches, great trainers, and great managers, these players, something good’s going to happen.
You got to continue to believe.  We had faith in each other, and we are here.  We won the whole thing.  We didn’t listen to any doubters.  We just went out there and did what we had to do.
“… We have been playing against tall people in our entire life.  But we’re both short.  We kind of understand how to maneuver our bodies in certain ways that we can create fouls or get to the basket.
“… You got so much heart, you got so much passion for the game, you’re going to give everything you got.  Even if you mess up, and there was times where me and him butted heads in the game, I told him I was going to get the rebound, I’m going to throw it to him, and he jumped with me.  But we went on to the next play.  We just so passionate about it and it happens.  I’m just so happy we won.

“We worked so hard, you prepare yourself for these moments, and we continued to push each other and continued to work as hard as we possibly can until we’re tired so that when we get in the games, we’re not as winded as our opponent.
Today was just up and down, up and down.  Them guys got a little winded and we just kind of took advantage of it.
I think it was kind of understood.  From the beginning, Coach Ollie told us that we have a chance to be on the top if we worked hard.  He always told us that.  We always knew that the words were ‘if we work hard.’  We wanted to be on top.  We wanted to feel like we were the champions.  And there were times when we were down and guys were picking us up.
“I remember telling these guys after we lost against Louisville at home our first game, I remember telling these guys, I said, Everybody pick your head up.  At the end of the day, I said, We’re going to be the team that’s going to be holding up that trophy.  I promise you that.
“And it’s so surreal that it actually happened.  I told them, we were in the podium and I told everybody, Look at me.  I said, What did I tell y’all when we lost against Louisville at home?
And everyone was, like, Man, you said we were going to hold that trophy.
And I was like, Man, we’re the best team in the country.  It’s not the Shabazz show.  No, I don’t need to get recognized.  They understand that.  It’s the University of Connecticut Huskies.  We went out there and proved it.”

“We kind of understand that we slow it down a little bit when we’re playing against zone and we have been getting a lot better.  But with DeAndre out and Boatright out, it’s even tougher because them two guys are superior threats on that zone, especially with DeAndre getting in the middle.
“When they put the zone in, everybody filled in.  I felt like Niels stepped up, Terrence, Phil.  Phil could have had 12 points if he didn’t get it blocked all the time.
But everybody filled in though.  It was amazing.  When these two great players were on the bench because they have two fouls or whatever, everybody fills in.  That’s what a team is.  I’ve been saying that from the beginning.  This team is so well?rounded that if one guy falls down, another guy picks it up.  Coach Ollie’s been stressing that since the beginning.  One guy falls down in practice, he wants everybody to go pick them up.
That’s just the showing that no matter what’s going on, the next guy got to step up.”

 

UConn 60, Kentucky 54 … Kevin Ollie And The National Champs

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ARLINGTON, Texas – Well, they went and did it.

UConn Huskies. National Champions. Kevin Ollie is returning from Texas to hang a banner, just like he said he would on March 5.

The Huskies saw themselves on the ridiculously big scoreboard, with the confetti coming down, just as Ollie envisioned for them on Jan. 2.

When they lost to Louisville on Jan. 18, Shabazz Napier told his teammates, “pick your heads up. We’re going to be the team holding the trophy,” and when, indeed, they were, he reminded Amida Brimah on stage.

Throughout the year, the Huskies had the look of a good, but not great team, a Sweet 16 team, not a Final Four or championship team. But, Kevin Ollie said he believed they had the talent to do this, and they did.  And who is going to doubt him again?

Tons of content on our website, from Paul Doyle, Jeff Jacobs, Sara Grant, Rich Messina, Steve Dunn and myself, plus our reporters on campus. Check all  that out.

It’s getting late and I want to get as much stuff up here as I can, so, without further adieu, here is Kevin Ollie, as transcribed by ASAP Sports:

“It feels great, four national championships and do this championship with these students, these student?athletes is amazing.  They have been amazing and resilient the whole year.  But I keep telling you, it started 18 months ago when they keptbelieving and they stayed loyal to the program.
It’s just a wonderful feeling to hold that trophy up and do it the right way.  I think we did it the right way for 18 months and we did it the right way in this NCAA tournament.

It’s a great feeling.  It’s unbelievable.  It’s unbelievable because those guys, my players, stayed with the program.  I’m the first one to deflect all the attention.  Those players that was up here, they should get all the attention, because if it wasn’t for them, this program Continue reading

UConn Vs. Kentucky For The Title: Setting The Scene At AT&T

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ARLINGTON, Texas – Okay, here we go. National championship game is about 40 minutes away and both teams are out on the floor.

Let’s set the scene:

UConn is in white tonight; they are the higher seed. Kentucky is in blue. There were 79,000 in AT&T Stadium on Saturday, one would expect a similar crowd tonight. The UConn Pep Band is pounding out “Sing A Song,” which is my favorite among their repertiore.

Tons of content on UConn men and women from Sunday and today, you’ll find all that here.

The Huskies are going with the same lineup they have used since the start of the AAC Tournament: Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Niels Giffey, DeAndre Daniels and Phil Nolan. Last game for Napier, Giffey and Tyler Olander. Could be the last game for Boatright and Daniels, if they decide they have nothing left to prove at the college level.

Kentucky starts its five freshmen – James Young, Aaron and Andrew Harrison, Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson. … Will this be John Calipari’s last game?

Just a hunch: You will see more of Terrenece Samuel and Lasan Kromah in there tonight on the Harrisons, who are 6-6. The Wildcats have played with exceptional maturity in this tournament – just four turnovers in the semifinals. The Huskies will probably show them something defensively they haven’t seen, try to rattle them.

Officials tonight: Verne Harris, Joe DeRosa, Doug Shows. The standby is Mike Roberts.

No Mike Stuart.

Okay, going to be fun. Rock your RA’s world.

 

 

Kevin Ollie: ‘We Want To Win One More Game …’ Notes, Quotes and Thoughts From Arlington

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ARLINGTON, Texas – We’re about 24 hours away. UConn and Kentucky go for the while thing.

It’s a fascinating matchup, a No.7 and No. 8 seed, but it’s not as simple as that. No one would have been surprised, back in November, if they knew Kentucky would be here. The Wildcats were ranked No.1 in  the preseason poll.

They are loaded with talent, again. Five freshmen, again. Lot of likely one-and-dones, again.

This makes them tough to prep for. Kids this age get better by leaps and bounds, and are unpredictable. They can get rattled, or surprise you with their poise. They had turnover problems most of the season, but had only four – four – in their semifinal against Wisconsin.

But the way this NCAA Tournament has gone, who is going to doubt the Huskies now? Kevin Ollie will come up with something, that’s one of the prevailing currents at AT&T Stadium today. UConn’s defense will rattle the Harrison twins.

Kentucky plays the kind of fast-tempo game UConn prefers, but may have the speed and athletic ability to beat UConn at this style of game, we’ll see. Right now, I like UConn’s chances. Just think the Huskies have “caught lightning in a bottle” as the saying goes.

Here is our main advance on the game. … and, from Paul Doyle, a look at UConn’s defensive tradition. … I imagine you might be interested in Jim Calhoun’s take on the game?

Our capsule look at the game is here.

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Kevin Ollie at the podium, (thanks to ASAP Sports for the transcription):

“First of all, we want to get back in transition.  That’s our No. 1 key every game, especially them.  They got a lot of great athletes.  They use their quickness, their speed, their jumping ability, to get inside the paint.  So we want to locate, want to get back, want to keep them in front of us, and then play solid defense.  We want to limit the penetration and make them shoot over the top.

“… Things happen throughout the season.  They got great players. But Florida beat Kentucky three times.  So, I mean, it’s all about going out there, playing each and every day, each and every game.  It’s something different.  You got to be able to step up to the challenge.
I tell these guys all the time, You don’t play the game, let the game play you.  I thought we did that last night when they came out, and 16?4, we didn’t get down.  We kept allowing our defense to take over and our unselfishness to take over and our togetherness to take over.
So I thought we built last night, but I thought we built on a lot of up?and?downs throughout the season.  That’s what great teams do.  They take the challenge and they get better from it.
So we want to go out there and we want to win one more game.  That’s our only goal.

“… We just want DeAndre [Daniels] to play.  We always talk about DeAndre with Continue reading

DeAndre Daniels Was Almost A Wildcat: ‘It Was Really Tough To Turn John Calipari Down’

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ARLINGTON, Texas – College basketball has many unexpected twists and turns, and so often a decision made far from the spotlight of the Final Four has impact that reverberates for years.

For example: What if DeAndre Daniels had chosen Kentucky instead of UConn?

“I was very close to going to Kentucky,” Daniels said, “but my family and I thought I t wasn’t the right fit for me.”

Daniels had finished up at Taft High in Los Angeles and was doing a post-grad year at IMG in Bradenton, Fla. Calipari wanted him to come to Kentucky, enroll mid-year and play right away, in January of 2011. “I didn’t feel I was ready,” Daniels said.

His recruiting was wide open. Daniels had a long list of schools that did not include UConn, but he ended up committing to the Huskies and the rest is history. But with UConn and Kentucky now playing for the national championship, fate finds Daniels and Calipari on opposite sides.

“Not a lot of people know that [Calipari] is a great person off the court,” Daniels said. “He really Continue reading

Shabazz Napier Wins The Bob Cousy Award

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ARLINGTON, Texas – Chalk up another award for Shabazz Naper, and it’s a prestigious one – especially for a Bostonian.

Napier won the Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard, as presented by the Hall of Fame.

“It is an honor for us to award such a worthy athlete of this prestigious award,” said Cousy, the Celtics legend, in a statement released by the Hall. “Napier fought hard in the NCAA Tournament Continue reading

‘One More To Go;’ UConn 63, Florida 53: Wrapping Things Up From Arlington.

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ARLINGTON, Texas – A member of the UConn traveling party asked me before the game, “what do ya got?”

I answered, “they’re supposed to lose, but I think they’re going to win.”

You’ll have to take that on faith. I was on 22 radio stations this week, and whenever I was asked to make a prediction, I didn’t, because I don’t think folks who do what I do should predict, we should analyze. I told one station today, I’d give UConn a better chance than most of the experts.

I mean, I’m impressed by what the Huskies have done. But did I see this coming? No.

But here they are. Fans at AT&T were warned to stay inside after the Huskies beat Florida because there was dangerous lightning in the area. Not to worry, UConn has caught it in a bottle.

What they are doing is remarkable, but,  then, they have looked like a remarkably prepared team throughout the tournament. Another perfect game plan by Kevin Ollie and his staff, perfectly executed by the players. “The biggest difference since we played them last time,” Billy Donovan said, “is that they’ve turned into a great defensive team.”

The Huskies (31-8) have turned into a great team, period. They shot 55.8 percent from the floor. And like most of their predessors, once in the Final Four, they are the toughest out. UConn teams are 7-1 on the biggest stage, a testament to the way Jim Calhoun and Kevin Ollie handle it.

Here’s the main game story in the Sunday Courant.

So it’s all good. The Huskies were savoring their victory Saturday night while Kentucky and Wisconsin were fighting tooth and nail to beat them.

Here’s some Kevin Ollie at the podium, with a shout-out to the remarkable folks at ASAPSports:

“It was a great victory. We were together, we stayed positive and productive, especially in that first five minutes when they got out to a lead.  I was very happy with my student?athletes how they recovered.
“We played great second?half defense and kind of took them out of their pick?and?roll motion offense.  We started making shots and great ball movement and great body movement.  They stayed together and they showed some true grit and toughness.  I’m very proud of their effort.

“We just wanted to be relentless, make them uncomfortable.  We wanted to challenge every dribble, every pass.  They really wanted to attack empty elbows, if you understand what I’m saying, where they’re coming off pick?and?rolls.  They want to dive the big guy, and then they want to get and take the basketball in the middle of the court.
So we wanted to kind of keep them on the baseline.  We wanted to show out and double, have them kick it to [Dorian] Finney?Smith or Yeguete and have them make a play, then Scottie Wilbekin can make the play or [Michael] Frazier can make the play, because they’re just terrific shooters, they’re also great facilitators and we wanted to kind of keep them out of the game.

 

“We have been playing great defense all year.  We have been holding our opponents under 39 percent, and you know that’s one of our goals.  So that’s been throughout the whole year we have been playing outstanding defense.
Of course we had some bumps in the road like any team has during the season, and I believe that Louisville game was a bump in the road.  But I think that really promoted us.  A lot of people are saying that was going to destroy us, but our team thought it promoted us to get better.  When you have a big problem like that, bigger the destiny.  And I know this team was destined for great, even in that downtime.  We came back and worked.  We made adjustments from that game and I thought we got better from it.
 “…I’m not in y’all heads and I don’t know if y’all keep thinking it’s a one?man team, but Continue reading