A New York state of mind


UConn coach Jim Calhoun gets his players ready for the start of practice Monday in Gampel Pavilion (Neill Ostrout photo)

Jim Calhoun was back in charge of the UConn basketball team in practice Monday afternoon (he missed Sunday’s workout) and it seems like he’ll be here for the duration of the season now.

How long that season lasts is now the question. The Huskies headed to New York Monday afternoon on a bus, getting ready for Tuesday’s opener against DePaul (noon, ESPN2).

So is the coach fatigued having had surgery only one week ago and still trying to recover?

“Me personally? It’s not important…It’s more important if Jeremy (Lamb) is fatigued,” Calhoun said. “Once we get around game time, I’ll be fine.”

He was also asked if it would be tough to coach three or four days in a row if UConn were to string together a few wins.

“I’d love it,” Calhoun said. “Give me a chance.”

— Calhoun also had a little fun downplaying his own importance to UConn’s chances in New York.

“Someone said ‘It’ll be great to have you there.’ I said you’re better off having Kemba (Walker) here,” Calhoun said.

— The coach was pretty blunt (and relatively accurate) about his team’s fortunes this season.

He also seemed to be trying to convince himself that the Huskies are securely in the NCAA Tournament.

“When you play the No. 2 schedule in the country…give us the No. 20 schedule,” Calhoun said. “Now we’d have 23 wins? I don’t know what the number would be. But we also have nine wins in the top 100, so we’ve played some very good people. We paid a price for that.”

Calhoun admitted the Huskies have underachieved.

“I think we’re probably, looking back on it, we’re probably four games to the bad, three games to the bad,” Calhoun said. “Games I think we still could have won.”

— Calhoun doesn’t want too many comparisons to last year’s magical run in New York.

“This is, what, my 26th Big East tournament? I don’t think any comparisons between last year, this year, seven years ago, three months ago…,” Calhoun said. “You just take it as it is.”

— UConn probably doesn’t need a win in New York to secure a spot in the field of 68. It sure as heck doesn’t want to lose early, however.

“I would be really, really disappointed if we’re not in the NCAA’s already,” associated head coach George Blaney said. “I don’t see how we’re not.

— As he often does, PG Shabazz Napier had some interesting comments Monday.

First, Napier was asked if he thinks people still view the Huskies as the national champs.

“I’m not sure. We had a hard season so far,” Napier said. “A lot of teams beat us.”

Napier said he’s more concerned with what they think of themselves.

“The past three or four games we’ve been looking at ourselves in the mirror and seeing how good we are as a team,” Napier said. “Hopefully we play like we did in the second half of the Syracuse game, how we did against Pittsburgh.”

So does Napier see the defending champs when he “looks in the mirror”?

“I see a lot of greatness. I see a lot of players destined for a lot of extraordinary things,” Napier said. “One thing I don’t see is leadership and 100 percent chemistry.

“But in the Pittsburgh game, that’s what it was. Leadership from the coach and 100 percent chemistry from everybody. That’s what I wanted to see and that’s what I saw in that game.”

— There was plenty of talk about how similar the Huskies’ position is this year as opposed to last year:

“For the most part, we know anything can happen,” Alex Oriakhi said. “It’s possible we could win the thing. But you can’t really rely on that. You can’t go in there thinking we’re going to win the whole thing or do what we did last year. Last year we just played.”

Said Jeremy Lamb: “We’re not saying we’re going to make a run. We’re not saying we’re not going to. We’re just going to play hard and try to win some games.”

— Blaney offered a quick scouting report on Tuesday’s opponent, DePaul.

“They’ve played pretty good the last number of games, especially against Seton Hall. They had them by 30 at one point,” Blaney said. “They’re running, they’re scoring at a high rate.”

UConn beat DePaul 80-54 in their only meeting during the regular season.

“What we did here is we really rebounded. We had 20 offensive rebounds and 50 rebounds in the game,” Blaney said. “Then we probably had nine or 10 dunks.”

And this time?

“We want to get the ball inside, we want to run,” Blaney said. “But we also don’t want to get into a rat game. That’s what they did with Seton Hall the other day.”



About Neill

Neill Ostrout covers the UConn men's basketball team for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester. He has been a member of the "Horde" for more than 16 years.
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