STORRS – This season presents a rare opportunity for Kevin Ollie and his staff, a chance experiment, to take things up a level.
“When we install our offense, the veteran guys know the offense, so we’re going to add some layers to it,” Ollie said, “some layers to practice I couldn’t add last year. Our veterans are going to know the foundation, and we’ll build on that. I don’t have to break down everything.”
In this one-and-done, two-and-done day and age, coaches at a high-major program, like UConn rarely have such an experienced team. But nearly all of UConn’s 20-10 team from last year is back – seniors Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey, juniors Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels, sophomores Phil Nolan, Omar Calhoun, Leon Tolksdorf. If Tyler Olander returns, that’s another senior, and another veteran of the Huskies’ last national championship team. Newcomer Lasan Kromah, transfer from George Washington, is a post-grad.
“There’s less teaching,” Ollie said. “We do a certain pattern every day, our veteran guys know that. I don’t have t break everything down, I can be more efficient with my time, which I can’t get back. That’s precious to me. If I have to keep going over things, that takes time away.”
The freshmen, Terrence Samuel, Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey also have a rare chance to be helped along by so many veteran players.
Last season, the Huskies were limited by NCAA sanctions to five practices per week. This year, they’re back to six per week. But Ollie may not always go the full allotment because the new conference, the AAC, will require a lot more travel. “It’s uncharted territory,” Ollie said. “We’ll be ready for whatever the conference throws at us.”
With such an experienced team, Ollie can install more plays, expand on his philosophies, create more versatility in less time. That’s an advantage added on to just the fact that players have been through so many difficult situations together.
“Coach Ollie, he’s a mastermind,” Shabazz Napier said. “He’s got great coaches on the side, those guys have a lot of intel. Experience wins you games, sometimes. They understand how much talent we’ve got and they’re going to work with it.”
We have lots more from the first practice on our main website and in the Sunday Courant. A few notes: Omar Calhoun, who had surgery on both hips last spring, was able to get through the grueling first day with no issues. Ollie was extremely pleased with that. … Nothing new on Facey’s eligibility issues with the NCAA. He can still practice; even in the worst-case scenario he’d be a red shirt and able to practice. But things are moving, as always, at the NCAA’s pace. … Lot of emphasis, no surprise, on rebounding. Ollie has no goals in mind, he just wants to see improvement. “I’m not going to put a number on it, I just want us to make it happen,” he said. “I want us to put up a number that allows us to win.” … Ollie is going to be speaking at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce month breakfast on Oct. 8., 7 a.m at the Crowne Plaza in Cromwell. Here is more info.