Much of the 2012-13 season is about overcoming the insurmountable. Usually, this is a cliche -- seldom in sports is something truly insurmountable -- but not in the case of the UConn basketball program. Last spring, the NCAA declared the Huskies ineligible for the 2013 NCAA Tournament because of substandard Academic Progress Rates.
The decision put UConn at a distinct disadvantage not only in terms of recruiting,but also when it comes to motivating the players currently on the roster. It's hard to give the "All your hard work now will pay off in March" speech when the Huskies will be watching the tournament from their respective couches like the rest of us.
But first-year head coach Kevin Ollie new the deal coming into the season; he was an assistant on Jim Calhoun's staff before being hand-picked to replace the Hall of Fame coach, and while their coaching styles couldn't be more different, at the end of the day it's about connecting to the kids, something that seems second nature to Ollie.
Before Monday's blowout loss to top-ranked Louisville, Ollie was asked how he keeps his team focused in light of NCAA sanctions.
"We're banned from the NCAA Tournament but we're never banned from heart," he told ESPN. "We're never banned from having determination. We're never banned for excelling. We got a lot of things to play for, and we got the pride of UC on our chest. UConn is a special place and we're never banned from that. We're never banned from going out here and showing our family and our friends what we're made out of."
Ollie delivered a similar "it's about more than one game" comments a day after the Louisville defeat, when his Huskies led by six at half but couldn't keep up with the Cardinals' break-neck pace over the final 20 minutes.
"You can't control events, but you can control the meaning of events," Ollie said Monday, according to the Hartford Courant. "This is a tough game, you take positives out of it and try to build on that. Focus on the good things we did in the first half, playing our type of basketball and try to duplicate that. And then look at the second half and see what went wrong, when we gave them a spurt."
Looking at the bigger picture -- which seems to always be an underlying Ollie talking point -- is critical when it's sometimes hard to identify the positives in a situation. But his players seem to not only grasp that reality, but embrace it.
"You can definitely learn a lot from a game like this," said freshman Omar Calhoun. "We haven't played a team like that, it was a test for us. We're probably not going to play another team that presses like they do."
Junior guard Shabazz Napier added: "I think we'll have hard practices," said Napier, who injured his left shoulder. "I'm going to go back and work harder. When something like this happens, I work harder until I'm satisfied, and I'm never satisfied."
The Huskies' schedule is all Big East the rest of the way. Next up: they travel to Pittsburgh this Saturday.