Coach Ollie hopes to get his first taste of NCAA tournament play in his second season in charge.
After enduring an offseason longer than any other in recent memory, the UConn basketball team will begin its 2013-14 campaign with Wednesday’s preseason matchup against Southern Connecticut State.
The Huskies enter their second year under coach Kevin Ollie, riding a season full of emotional highs and lows, as last year’s squad was able to put together a 20-win campaign despite having to endure a one-year postseason ban.
The Huskies return their proverbial big three, as Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels have all returned to Storrs for the postseason push.
Napier, who announced his return to the university in the spring, comes back for his senior campaign after leading the team in nearly every major statistical category last season.
“He can be as good as he wants to be,” said Ollie, a 13-year NBA veteran. “He was number one in every one of our categories pretty much. Rebounding, he was leading that until the end of the season. Steals, assists, points. I can’t ask for a guy to do much more. Hopefully, he can continue to have his winning ways.”
Napier, who was a major part of the 2011 National Championship squad, went on to discuss how his focus is on the team, not on whatever the future may bring.
“I don’t play tennis, so it’s not a game for myself,” said Napier. “I don’t play golf. Individual stats mean nothing to me.”
The Huskies boast one of the best back-courts in the nation, as Napier, Boatright and sophomore Omar Calhoun are expected to be able to go toe-to-toe with any trio of guards in the nation.
“I’m never going to doubt myself or my teammates, especially my man, Shabazz,” said Boatright. “I’ve seen him put in the work and I’ve seen what he can do. I know me and him together, we can compete with anybody in the country. But I’m going to let the analysts talk about all of that. We’re going to show up and perform when it’s time to perform.”
UConn also features quite a few new faces, as freshmen Terrence Samuel, Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey join graduate student transfer Lasan Kromah for their inaugural adventures in Storrs.
Facey’s acquisition was a particularly tricky one for the Huskies, as the Jamaican import was threatened with a potential NCAA ban due to eligibility issues.
However, the freshman forward was cleared early last week, much to the dismay of an innocent locker room chair.
“He kicked a chair,” said Coach Ollie with a chuckle. “He took it out on a chair. If you can call that excited, than I guess so. I just told him that chair didn’t do nothing to you, so take it out on your opponent on Wednesday night.”
“I was just so excited. I just bumped the chair a little bit,” said Facey. “I moved my foot and the chair was in the way and it happened to collide… Everybody looked around like ‘what happened’? I was just happy.”
With that being said, Wednesday’s matchup against SCSU is merely an exhibition, giving coach Kevin Ollie the opportunity to evaluate talent, while also giving the younger players a chance to play under the bright lights of Gampel Pavilion.
“Their hands will probably be sweating like crazy,” said a grinning Boatright. “They will be alright though. We have a veteran team to lead them through whatever they need to and to back them up and to keep them encouraged. They’re going to be alright.”
“What (the veterans) have been saying is that ‘probably during the first TV timeout, your lips are going to be all chapped and white. You’re going to be there exhausted’,” said Facey. “I’m definitely looking forward to it, and I’m looking forward to the fact that it is going to be a situation that I need to adjust to and that it’s not going to be all smooth sailing.”
With the postseason ban finally off of the Huskies’ shoulders, UConn will have a bigger spring in their step, as the privilege of tournament play is not lost on the team this season.
“Personally, I didn’t watch them by myself,” said Boatright to describe his tournament watching habits last March. “I only watched the games when I was with friends and I had to watch it. Other than that, I wasn’t watching it by myself. I couldn’t take it.”
“I could watch it now,” added the junior point guard, “because I’m pretty sure we’re going to be in it.”
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*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.*