The Huskies are fired up. Don’t tell the UConn basketball players they don’t have anything to play for this season. Don’t tell them it’s all going downhill after the APR hit and the loss of coach Jim Calhoun.
Kevin Ollie’s bunch is talking tough. And they look fairly tough, too.
Thursday was the annual Husky Run, a tradition began under Calhoun but one that Ollie has decided to keep. The 3.4-mile run was completed without incident (maybe even without cheating!) but it was the comments by the players and coaches that was perhaps more interesting.
Point guard Ryan Boatright says the Huskies are out to “prove the world wrong” and is confident his team can win games.
“Everybody expects us to have a terrible year. Nobody thinks we’re good enough,” Boatright said. “But we feel like we have enough here to have a successful season and open a lot of peoples’ eyes.”
Said Ollie: “You’re going to be surprised. A lot of people are going to be surprised with this team.”
Freshman guard Omar Calhoun seems to be embracing the role of spoiler.
“We want to upset teams,” freshman guard Omar Calhoun said. “We want to be the bad boys of the Big East.”
Ollie wants UConn’s opponents to walk away impressed.
“I really want our opponent to leave the court saying ‘Damn! Why they playing so damn hard? Why are they playing so hard? They’re not playing for the NCAA Tournament, they’re not going to the Big East (tournament). Why are they playing so hard?’ ” Ollie said. “If they do that, we’ve succeeded.”
— Along those lines, the players and coaches insist there’s a lot of chemistry on this team already.
“This team is way closer than it was last year,” Boatright said. “We definitely care for one another.”
UConn’s first goal is to beat ‘team attitude.’
“We’re ready. I’m enjoying the team attitude. We want to be the best attitude team in America,” Ollie said. “That’s our goal. Not the best shooting team, not the best this or that. We want to have the best attitude, because we can control that. And then everything else is going to fall into place.”
— Friday is First Night (No, not like Braveheart’s First Night), the former Midnight Madness. Saturday is the first ‘real’ practice of the season.
What should the Huskies’ expect from their new coach?
“They’re going to see all my passion,” Ollie said. “Because they have showed me so much passion through this tough time that they’ve stuck with us.”
— DeAndre Daniels was the first UConn player to finish the 3.4-mile jaunt, doing so in a time of 18:47. He was nearly the first person to finish, period, but was just behind UConn senior Tim Isselee at the finish.
“I was telling him I couldn’t let him beat me but obviously he got me at the end,” Daniels said. “I almost passed out so I had to lay on the ground. I was dizzy and my head is still spinning right now.”
Isselee was credited by UConn with a time of 18:37, though that’s a bit off because Daniels was only a step or two behind him (I’d say 1.5 seconds between them at best).
“He was ahead for a while,” said Isselee, an exercise science major from Bethel. “I was impressed.”
About 100 students, faculty and fans ran the course with the Huskies.
The complete list of Husky finishers:
DeAndre Daniels _ 18:47
Ryan Boatright _ 19:37
Niels Giffey _ 20:18
Leon Tolksdorf _ 20:20
Brendan Allen _ 20:48
Omar Calhoun _ 22:27
Tyler Olander _ 22:28
Phil Nolan _ 23:35
Enosch Wolf _ 23:47
R.J. Evans _ 25:02
Shabazz Napier _ DNP (foot)
— The players aren’t in the dark about too many issues. They know Ollie was given a one-year (seven months essentially) contract.
They know he’ll have to show some things to get a new deal.
Never one to hold back an opinion, Napier admitted the Huskies are motivated by those facts.
“There’s a lot of motivation for us,” Napier said. “We want the coach to stay in the family. We all love coach Ollie, and we all were a little upset that he was given only seven months.”
Boatright echoed those comments, sort of.
“We’re playing for everybody. K.O.’s been a part of this family, now he’s got a bigger role in this family. We know what he has at stake.”
— Daniels had a few of the funnier (and maybe honest) answers of the day.
On the change between Jim Calhoun’s style and Kevin Ollie’s:
“Coach Ollie isn’t as demanding as Calhoun and not as mean,” Daniels said.
He probably didn’t mean that exactly as it sounds, but still….pretty good.
For his part, Ollie is preaching discipline right now.
“If you miss a class, it’s like you’re missing practice. That’s the standard that’s going to be here,” Ollie said. “That discipline is going to be here. They know that.
“If it’s going to be seven months or seven years or 27 years, it’s going to be that way,” Ollie said. “I’m not wavering on that.”
— Daniels also scoffed at the notion that the Huskies have nothing to play for this year.
“We’re preparing like everybody else, like we’re playing for a national championship,” Daniels said.