Ollie Ramps Up Intensity

NBC Connecticut

If the first practice is anything like the next five months, the Huskies should be fine. No, there still won't be a Big East or NCAA Tournament to celebrate the regular-season success, but UConn will be its usual scrappy, diving-for-lose-balls, playing tenacious defense selves. A lot can change between now and the start of the season, obviously, but through the prism of one Kevin Ollie practice -- his first as the Huskies coach in a post-Jim Calhoun world, anyway -- not much has changed.

At least in terms of expectations. The means of getting there, however, is different.

The Hartford Courant's Dom Amore explained it thusly: "Ollie's first practice was grueling, ending when the (defense made three consecutive stops without allowing a basket). The volume was high -- high enough for Ollie to begin losing his voice -- only the tone was a bit different from Jim Calhoun's.

The veteran players were aware of contrasts between the two coaches.

"Their personalities are different," center Tyler Olander said via Amore, "the demeanor is different, but the intensity is still there. The demand for perfection, to give 100 percent all the time, is still the same. It's still 'UConn basketball.'"

And that's the takeaway: the Huskies have always sold themselves as the overachieving underdogs even when the roster was stacked with future NBA lottery picks. It was that mentality that helped them keep their edge and in the quarter-century with Calhoun at the helm, it worked pretty well. Now this is Ollie's ship and while the message is unchanged the delivery has been tweaked.

As the defense struggled to get off the court at the end of practice, Ollie encouraged his players to support one another.

"First you want to give them the sugar," he said of being positive, "and then the hot sauce. (One of the players watching the defense) went right to the hot sauce -- we can't have that."

But this isn't all rainbows and unicorns. Ollie is demanding, just in a different way.

"There are types of people," he said, "guys who stand up that I can trust, who's going to be in the game, and the other type of person, I can't trust, I'm going to tolerate him for a little while until I can find someone to take his spot."

But by the time the first practice was in the books Ollie sounded a lot like the man he replaced.

"First day, you're never satisfied," Ollie said. "We did some good things, and we did some bad things."

One practice down, five months of basketball to go.

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