The UConn men’s basketball team is set to begin its season Wednesday, at least unofficially.
Division II Southern Connecticut State University is headed to Gampel Pavilion for an exhibition here tomorrow.
We spent a little time with UConn coach Kevin Ollie and a few of the Huskies before practice Tuesday.
— FEW PLAYERS ARE as excited to see the season begin as freshman Kentan Facey.
Facey was cleared by the NCAA for immediate eligibility on Friday and told he’d have four years to play.
He was obviously happy.
“Yeah, he kicked a chair,” Ollie said. “He took it out on the chair. If you call that excited, I guess so. I told him that chair didn’t do anything to you so take it out on an opponent.”
Well, that’s not exactly how Facey remembers getting the news.
“I didn’t really kick the chair. I swung my foot and the chair was in the way,” Facey said.
Either way, he’s amped (as the kids say).
“It’s really good to be back and know that I’m able to participate and help my team in this championship run we’re trying to put together this season,” Facey said.
— OLLIE WAS CLEAR and concise about what he wants to see accomplished in the exhibitions
“Tempo. We want to have a tempo. We want to dominate the backboards,” Ollie said.
— OLLIE SAID HE would start the “veterans” which means it’s probably Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Omar Calhoun, DeAndre Daniels and Tyler Olander at the jump, though that last one is perhaps iffy.
— ON THAT REBOUNDING front, he’d also like a starting center to emerge.
“I need one big man to step up and just separate themselves,” Ollie said. “I’d like to have two, three or four of them separate themselves. If not, we’ll do it by committee.”
“I made it real plain. I simplified it a lot. How to get minutes is to rebound,” Ollie said. “If I get one of those big guys to stand out and be the rebounder we know they can be, they’ll get the majority of the time.”
— IT WILL BE the first game “under the lights” for freshmen Facey, Amida Brimah and Terrence Samuel.
“Their hands will probably be sweating like crazy,” Boatright said. “They’re going to be all right, though. We’ve got a veteran team to lead them through whatever they need and to back them up and keep them encouraged. They’re going to be all right.”
— IT WASN’T SO long ago (or was it?) that a young guard named Kevin Ollie was making his exhibition debut. The coach certainly remembers it.
“It’s exciting. I think my first time was Marathon Oil. And I had a terrific game that night,” Ollie said with a smile. “It’s exciting. You get an opportunity to play. You get a feeling for what it’s like to put that jersey on.”
— UCONN AND SOUTHERN have actually met once before. The Huskies beat the Owls 100-37 in the 1989-90 (Dream) season.
Chris Smith had 20 points in the Huskies’ win. John Gwynn added 16 points in just 17 minutes of play.
Interesting (or not) tidbit? That game was the second-to-last ever men’s hoop game played at the Field House.
— THE GAME WON’T be seen on TV. The radio coverage from the duo of Joe D’Ambrosio and Wayne Norman will be heard on 96.5 WTIC-FM. The 1080 WTIC-AM air will be filled by the Boston Red Sox.
— UCONN IS 45-6 in exhibition games and has won 38 in a row. The last loss came to Marathon Oil on Nov. 21, 1993.
— I HAD A chance to speak with a few of the visitors in Wednesday’s game, including Tylon Smith late Monday. He’s the SCSU point guard and a native of Manchester. He’s also (for those of you know how Connecticut HS hoops) the grandson of longtime Windsor High coach Ken Smith.
Smith was SCSU’s third-leading scorer last year (10.2 ppg) but also led the team in assists (4.0 apg) and rebounding (6.8 rpg). He’s obviously important to the Owls’ success, as coach Mike Donnelly notes.
“As Tylon goes, pretty much we go,” Donnelly said. “It’s been like that since he stepped on the court for us as a freshman.”
Smith says his mother got together some 75-80 tickets for family and friends. That doesn’t count the student bus Southern has arranged for the game or the alumni bus that is also headed to Storrs. There should be a good crowd of supporters for the Owls.
“A lot of people are excited for this,” Smith said. “For the last few weeks people around campus have been asking us (players) ‘Are you ready?’ ”
Smith admits he’s looking forward to the challenge, and doesn’t think his team will lie down or treat it as anything other than a big game.
“We don’t want it to be a charity event,” Smith said.
“As a team we’re playing to win the game,” he added.
— SOUTHERN WENT 17-10 last season and just missed out on the DII NCAA Tournament.
In addition to tonight’s game, the Owls are also playing Rhode Island in an exhibition Friday night.