STORRS – As the players crossed the finish line and recovered from their 3.4-mile run on Thursday, togetherness was the talk of the Huskies.
“It’s amazing how much closer this team is than last year,” Ryan Boatright was saying. “Guys are hanging out together.”
The Huskies, ineligible for the NCAA Tournament and, unless something changes, the Big East Tournament, are building an “us-against-the-world” mentality, a “all-in-this-together” mindset.
“Our motto is, 10 toes in,” coach Kevin Ollie said. “If you just have five toes in, that’s not good enough. I’ll find someone to replace you.”
Among Ollie’s goals: “Love your teammates.”
The difficulties of last year still hang over UConn. Coming off a national championship, with high hopes going into the season, the Huskies were 12-1, then spiraled downward to finish 20-14.
“I think we all learned a lot last year,” said DeAndre Daniels, who won the race, as he did last year. “Going through what we went through, losing games. We all learned a lot about ourselves.”
Shabazz Napier talks about all he learned last year, when he called out teammates after difficult losses, including the one to Marquette in February. “I tried to be a leader, but I did it the wrong way,” he said.
Now, teammates like Boatright say, “Shabazz is like a whole [different] person, I don’t know what he did over the summer, but I’m glad he did it.”
A few other tidbits:
Boatright will defend his title in the slam-dunk contest at First Night. Phil Nolan, Omar Calhoun and Brianna Stewart of the women’s team will participate.
Ollie says the Huskies will play “a West Coast style with an East Coast mentality. We’re going to run, but get defensive stops when we need to.” It’s the style, he said, of Huskies teams of the mid-90s for which he played.
“We’re really going to work on rebounding,” Ollie said. “You can say that every year, but we’re really going to work on it because we’ve got to do it.”
That means a lot of boxing out drills. This was not a strength last season.
Omar Calhoun’s sister, Sierra, who is also a star player at Christ The King in Brooklyn, will be at First Night with the family, but she is not considered a UConn recruit.
Daniels was asked if he ever considered transferring after last season. “No, I never considered it. I’m a loyal dude. I’m always going to be loyal to this program. Why transfer and then have to sit out a year? You just waste a year.”
Napier: “We’re going to be a lot better than people think.”
Favorite quote of the day from Kevin Ollie: “I want people to leave the court [after playing UConn] saying, ‘man, why are they playing so hard? They can’t go to the NCAA Tournament or the Big East Tournament. Why are they playing so hard?’ … If that happens, we’ve succeeded.”