Optimistic Huskies ready to play for something nowBy PAT EATON-ROBB , Associated Press
Oct. 29, 2013 3:56 PM ET
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut once again has something to play for.
UConn went 20-10 last season, but failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament because of poor academic progress rates that predated anyone on the current roster.
The Huskies are once again eligible for postseason play, and junior guard Ryan Boatright says they also are very hungry.
"We know how it felt last year to put everything on the line every game and not get a chance to play for a ring like a lot of teams, we watched in the tournament that we beat," he said. "It hurt watching the tournament. But, to have that pain stuck inside of us and to know that we've got a chance to win this year, it just motivates us."
Boatright and backcourt running mate Shabazz Napier both passed up a chance at the NBA draft to return this season. They will be joined by the rest of the 2012-13 starters — Omar Calhoun, DeAndre Daniels and Tyler Olander.
"We're going to be really great," said Daniels, who averaged more than 22 points over his last four games last season. "I feel like guys on this team are working even harder to try and win every game."
UConn also has experience off the bench, with German swingman Niels Giffey and countryman Leon Tolksdorf, who also saw some time a year ago. Coach Kevin Ollie has said the 6-7 Giffey may see time at both the small forward and power forward this season.
George Washington transfer Lasan Kromah and freshman Terrence Samuel will add some depth at guard.
The frontcourt will again be the biggest question mark. Ollie likes to remind the team that they ranked 290th last season in rebounding, giving up almost 37 rebounds a game, while pulling down just 33.
Olander returns from a preseason suspension for driving without a license. The team's other big men are sophomore Phil Nolan and a pair of freshmen, 7-footer Amida Brimah out of Ghana and highly touted freshman Kentan Facey, a 6-9 forward who was recently cleared to play by the NCAA, which was looking into eligibility issued stemming from his education in Jamaica.
"Everyone says we're a good team on paper," Ollie said. "But, we've got to go and prove it, and that's each and every day.
"I think they've got that mindset."
Here are five things to know about Connecticut:
APR: The program says the latest academic progress rate score should be a perfect 1,000. The score, which covers the 2012-13 school year, won't be official until the NCAA comes out with its annual academic progress report in May. But Ollie said it won't change. The score would guarantee the Huskies qualify academically for next season's NCAA tournament. The Huskies were barred from both the Big East tournament and the NCAA tournament based on the APR scores from the 2007-08 through 2010-11 academic years.
MISSING THE TOURNEY: Connecticut has not missed the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons since 1988 and 1989, two years in which they appeared in the NIT. The last time the school failed to appear in either the NCAA or NIT in consecutive seasons was back in 1986 and 1987, which was Jim Calhoun's first season as head coach.
SUMMER STOCK: Giffey's stock rose over the summer with his play for the German national team at EuroBasket 2013 in Slovenia. After averaging 4.9 points last season at UConn, Giffey averaged more than 9 points for the German team playing against mostly professional competition.
"I was using my versatility to post smaller guys up," he said. "I hope I can do those things over here, too, and take advantage of the experience."
QUALITY SCHEDULE: Connecticut not only faces defending national-champion Louisville twice this season, but has an out-of-conference schedule that features six games against teams from the ACC, SEC, Pac-12 and Big 10.
The Huskies open Nov. 8, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., against Maryland. They also play in the 2K Sports Classic, which has them facing Indiana or Washington in the final round, depending on how they do against Boston College in the semifinals. They also travel to Washington and will play Florida and Stanford.
BENCH WARMER: One of the top guards at Connecticut won't be playing at all this year. North Carolina State transfer Rodney Purvis must sit out this season under NCAA transfer rules. But Ollie said he still expects Purvis to be in top form at practice, helping get his teammates ready to face guards such as Louisville's Chris Jones and Russ Smith, and Memphis' Joe Jackson.
"I'm telling him: 'Rodney, you're not playing this year, but you've got to make sure you think you're playing this year, so when 2014 comes on and those curtains open, people are like, 'Man, this is a whole different guy,'" Ollie said. "That's what I want them to see. But if you wait until 2014, you'll never be that guy. That's an important message I'm giving him: You've got to play like you're starting every game. That's how you've got to prepare."