STORRS – The Huskies practiced Sunday morning, with a large group of fans watching, participants in Jim Calhoun’s bike race. Afterward, players greeted fans, posed for pics, signed autographs.
The task ahead is a tough one – the toughest since Michigan State. The Huskies have another chance to earn national ranking and relevance against NC State at The Garden on Tuesday night. They may have R.J. Evans back- he practiced a little Sunday.
“He’s getting back,” coach Kevin Ollie said. “He wasn’t full contact today. We hope he will be full contact Monday – that will depend on how he comes back from the contact he had today.”
Evans injured the sternum-clavicular joint near his left collarbone on Thanksgiving Day. He was boxing out Tyler Olander, fell awkwardly and landed on the shoulder. The joint popped out, and back in. Since then, he has been doing two rehab sessions a day. He know has full range of motion, whereas he could barely lift his left arm at the time.
“It’s progressing,” Evans said. “[Trainer James Doran] says it’s going to be a game-time decision.”
Evans has never played at Madison Square Garden, and of course, would like to, but he said, “if it’s not right, I won’t go out there.” The Huskies play St. John’s there on Feb. 6.
We’ll have more on Evans in on the main website later on.
Ollie and the coaches are trying to get Tyler Olander, who has spent a lot of time in foul trouble the last few games, back in the flow of things. .
“I’ve been a step slow,” Olander said, “and reaching in a lot. Not squared up with guys.”
Those “ticky-tack” fouls, often resulting from being out of position, are what Ollie wants to eliminate.
“I believe in Tyler,” Ollie said. “That’s the main thing I want you to write. I believe in him.”
Olander was “a little down on himself” after the New Hampshire game, when he played only 16 minutes, but Ollie felt like he has bounced back now
Ollie likes the way UConn has limited turnovers and shot free throws, though they had rough nights in both areas against New Hampshire last Thursday. “We’re going to have to limit our mistakes against NC State,” Ollie said, “because they have great athletes, All-Americans all around.”
Ollie, Shabazz Napier, Olander, Evans, Omar Calhoun, all refer to the Garden as “the Mecca of basketball,” and talked about great players who have played there.
“You can feel the atmosphere,” Napier said. “It’s like the Apollo [theater]. The lights are on you, you can’t see the crowd, but you can hear it. … You never know who you’re going to see there. First time I played there, Bill Clinton and Carmelo Anthony were there. … If they boo you off the stage there, you get in the ‘hall of shame.’”
Calhoun, the freshman from Brooklyn, never got to play at The Garden in high school, having gone to Christ The King. The catholic schools play their tournaments elsewhere in the city, he explained. He did go to some Knicks games there and loves Carmelo Anthony. “Every New York kid’s dream is to play there,” he said.
Olander said the thing for young players to do when they walk in is, “take it all in quickly” then focus on the game.
Ollie on NC State: “C.J. Leslie is tough, T.J. Warren is tough, they have a 6-5 point guard [Lorenzo Brown] who is going to be a mismatch problem. They have All-Americans coming off the bench, a nice luxury to have. We’re going to have problems, but if we play our basketball, they will, too. I’ve told our guys, ‘be connected out there.’
“This is an ESPN game, a chance for us to show to display what we’ve been doing as a group, as a basketball team, as a family, show what we’re made of. … I’m looking forward to it.”
The Huskies will practice at Gampel Monday then bus it to The City on Monday night. Jim Calhoun, though, will be in the city for a taping of Center Stage with Yes Network’s Michael Kay for a future telecast.
Jim Valvano, in whose honor these games are played, was an assistant at UConn in 1970-71 under Dee Rowe.
“I only know him through coach Rowe,” Ollie said, “what a great man he is, to have left a legacy that has lived on so long after he died … a legacy of helping people.”
Valvano left UConn to become head coach at Bucknell. He died in 1993. His two seasons in Storrs were the only two losing seasons Rowe had. “He was great at keeping me from jumping in the Connecticut River,” Rowe says.