One of the biggest on-court concerns following Enosch Wolf's suspension from the team Monday was who would step up in his place. The Huskies were already thin in the paint and freshman Phil Nolan had seemed overmatched in limited Big East action.
While Nolan still remains scoreless in conference play, he showed up at the XL Center Wednesday night when UConn outlasted sixth-ranked Syracuse. And looking back, both coach and player seemed unsurprised by the result.
"Even before the thing happened," said coach Kevin Ollie via the Hartford Courant, "Phil was getting himself prepared. Be prepared for the opportunity when it comes. And when his opportunity came, he was ready. He's a great kid, and he's a fantastic teammate, and that's what I want to coach – fantastic teammates."
Nolan agreed:" In the beginning of (Tuesday's) practice," the freshman said, "Tyler banged me a lot to get me ready for the game. It was beneficial."
By the time it was over, Nolan played 14 minutes, pulled five rebounds and added a block.
"I believed my chance would come, if not this season, then next season. I was still working hard in practice and I was pretty sure it was going to come," Nolan said
The adjustment from high school to college can be a tough one, and no one knows that better than sophomore DeAndre Daniels. He's played well this season but admitted in November that his rookie campaign wasn't easy.
"Last year, when things would go bad, I wanted to go home," Daniels said at the time. "I understand my role better. I'm boxing out better, and I'm going to get the ball better. I have to do that because I'm not as big and strong as some of the [frontcourt] guys we're going to face."
It's a similar situation Nolan faces, although up till now he had the benefit of sitting and learning. Now, though, he's been forced into action and he passed his first test Wednesday.
"I'm proud of Phil," Shabazz Napier told the Courant. "I told him, 'I appreciate what you did. You gave us everything we asked for, plus a little more.'"
Now it's a matter of keeping it going.