Saturday, November 08, 2008

Okwandu Gets the O.K.

Charles Okwandu, the 7-foot-1 sophomore JUCO transfer, will play in tomorrow's exhibition game vs. UMass-Lowell after getting the green light from the NCAA. Jim Calhoun had sat Okwandu out of the Huskies' exhibition opener Wednesday night as a precautionary measure, since there was a minor question about Okwandu's eligibility. But that's been resolved.

"It'll be an opportunity to get Charles some work," Calhoun said. "He is a big body, he seems to have a pretty good feel about the game ... I think the advantage he has at this moment is that we don't really have to have him in the lineup. Against a team with two big guys, he can play with Hasheem, which is good. It gives us another quality big guy. He can score around the basket."

Okwandu, who recently turned 22, is an interesting guy. He's only been playing basketball for a couple of years, and last year at Harcum Junior College was the first time he's really played organized ball. He grew up in Lagos, Nigeria playing soccer – and Ping Pong!

"Ping Pong is creative. It's a real fun sport. I want to play somebody on the team, but no one would like to compete with me."

Okwandu is learning a lot from Thabeet, a fellow African native, both on the basketball court and off. Things like how to converse with people, even showing up to practice early.

He said he recently blocked a Thabeet shot in practice.

"We are from Africa. One thing about Africans, you don't let somebody from Africa to disrespect you. You want to fight back. Hasheem is an aggressive person. When I blocked his shot, he never wants me to do that again."

Here's the Okwandu quote Calhoun will likely most enjoy reading: "I love playing defense. Defense is what I want to do. I want to rebound and score some points, but most of all, I want to play defense."

Some other notes & quotes from today's practice:

***Calhoun said he may switch up the starting lineup this afternoon, "just to change the lineup. We'll be doing that all along anyways." He hinted that Gavin Edwards could get a start, but didn't indicate whose spot he'd take.

***One player who might not see any action today: junior walk-on Alex Hornat. In his minute of scrub time Wednesday night, Hornat attempted a crossover dribble and fell down on the floor. "I’m not going to play Alex if he falls down again," Calhoun joked. "I said, 'Who put him in?' He's one of my favorite kids, but he fell down."

***7-foot junior center Jonathan Mandeldove may still be able to red-shirt this season, despite playing against AIC. Mandeldove has missed about a half-dozen practices with a bad back already, so a medical red-shirt is still a possibility.

***Ater Majok may be at tomorrow's game. Then again, he may not. This situation is getting a bit confusing.

***First-year UMass-Lowell head coach Greg Herenda spent eight years as an assistant to current UConn associate head coach George Blaney when Blaney was the head man at Holy Cross (1989-94) and Seton Hall (1994-97)

***For whatever reason, the River Hawks have three Canadian natives on their roster.

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