It's here. For the first time in two years, the Huskies will compete in the NCAA Tournament. Unlike their previous appearance in 2011-12, one year removed from that improbable national championship run and Jim Calhoun's final season at the helm, the expectation is that UConn can compete -- and win -- against anyone.
A big part of that, as far as coach Kevin Ollie is concerned, is because of senior point guard Shabazz Napier, who has won just about every award a college player can: first team All-ACC, first team All-American, AAC Player of the Year, and the finalist for a handful of other national honors.
“I haven’t seen it before in my college career (or) my NBA career,” Ollie said earlier this week during a radio appearance on the John Feinstein Show, “but you can’t measure his heart. You know how rebounders are. They go get the ball. They don’t wait for the basketball. He does everything (we need) in order to win. That’s scoring, that’s being a facilitator, that’s getting rebounds – he’s just a winner. That’s what I appreciate about him so much.”
Napier is an old hand when it comes to postseason basketball. He was a member of the 2010-11 national championship team as a freshman, and now he returns as one of the nation's best players. For Ollie, however, it's his first NCAA appearance as the Huskies' coach. Luckily, Calhoun remains a visible presence around the program and, by the way, there's also Geno Auriemma, who has eight national titles of his own.
“They know when to chime in and give me a gold nugget or just when to stay away (and let me) learn my own way,” Ollie said of seeking -- or receiving -- input from the two Hall of Fame coaches. “It’s a great dynamic. Having Coach Calhoun right there by my side (to) answer the questions that need to be answered is a great (luxury) that I have.”
But Ollie's also one of the most upbeat people you'll ever meet and he doesn't expect to feel any nerves before the Huskies face off with St. Joseph's Thursday at 6:55 p.m. ET in Buffalo because he has faith in his players.
“We’re believers,” he said. “We’re not doubters around here. We’re believers. ... I’m going to go in and prepare the same way. I got Coach Calhoun right there always by my side. I love him to death.”