You know it's a weird year when the football team's game against Temple somehow causes First Night to get lost in the mix. But the basketball season is officially underway (and the football team continues its search for consistency) and Kevin Ollie is at the helm. The former Huskies star served on Jim Calhoun's staff in recent years and took over for the Hall of Fame coach last month. He spoke with ESPN's Andy Katz prior to Friday's First Night festivities to preview the season for a UConn team that could easily be described as in rebuilding mode.
On the health of junior big man Tyler Olander and point guard and team leader Shabazz Napier:
"Tyler is 100 percent," Ollie told Katz. "He's been working very, very hard and he's a tremendous player that we're going to need to give us that stability down low. …
"Shabazz is a guy that's coming off a stress fracture, it's been about 30 days since he's been out. We miss him a lot but I know he's going to be back and healthy for that first day of practice, which is something that we're very encouraged by. You know, he probably won't be able to go 100 percent but 85 percent of Shabazz is all we need."
As we mentioned last Thursday, Calhoun is very much involved with the program, even if he's no longer the head coach. "Oh, coach has been there," Ollie said when asked how much contact he's had with the man responsible for bringing three national titles to Storrs. "He's finally getting out of his office -- actually, my office now, I should say -- but he's been around, he's been a tremendous help, a tremendous asset. He's been right there at practices … so he's been right there giving me some pointers for different things we need to look for," Ollie continued. "He's just been a great person and he's always been a father-figure in my life. The more times he's around the more times I can lean on him for advice."
UConn's season opener is against Michigan State on Nov. 9 in Germany at Ramstein Air Base. Katz asked Ollie how he's preparing the team for what looks to be a tough schedule.
"Just continue what we've been doing," Ollie said. "Establishing an attitude on the way we want to play. Imposing our will, preparing for the opportunities that are going to arise because there are going to be some great opportunities. We're playing a difficult schedule and everybody has told us that. But I look at it and see opportunities, too, and we're going to go out and show America what this team is really about.
"We have a motto at the University of Connecticut and throughout our basketball program: 'You have 10 toes and and not five.' And I think all of our guys got 10 toes in and we're ready for the fight."