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.

Hasheem: I Started A Joke

Hasheem Thabeet said he was only joking when he made comments about Notre Dame's Luke Harangody and North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough that made the front cover of this week's ESPN The Magazine.

Here's what Hash told the mag: "I played Luke Harangody and he was not tough. Tyler Hansbrough? I don’t see nothing."

But after practice today, Thabeet indicated that he wasn't serious.

"When (the reporter) asked me that question, I thought she was joking around," he said. "I respect them, they're good players, they've got their game, I'm happy for them. It was a joke question, and I answered it the way I wanted to answer."

Thabeet added: "She asked me, 'Who is the toughest player you played this year.' I thought she was joking, so I said I played against Luke Harangody and I wouldn't say he was the toughest player, but he was making shots, he's a good player and a good person. Then she asked me what about Tyler Hansbrough, and I said I didn't play him so I don't know anything about him, but he's a good player, he was the national player of the year last year, so I think he plays pretty well."

Thabeet also said in the magazine interview that there wasn't anyone in the country who was a better center than him, only more experienced. But he wouldn't proclaim himself the nation's best center today.

"I'm getting better every day. I work hard every time. I don't rate myself where I am right now. I want one day to be thought of as the best center in the country, so I'll just keep working hard."

(P.S. -- Can anyone name the band that recorded the song "I Started A Joke"?)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Denham Brown, Rob McKiver Selected in 'D' League Draft

Ex-UConn swingman Denham Brown was selected by the Utah Flash with the 9th overall pick in the NBA Developmental League's draft this evening. The Flash are the 'D' League's affiliate of the Utah Jazz (not surprisingly) and the Celtics (surprisingly).

Also, New Haven native Rob McKiver was selected with the 16th overall pick by the Austin Toros.

McKiver, a former Hillhouse High star, began his collegiate career at Providence but transferred after one season due to lack of playing time. After a year at San Jacinto Junior College, McKiver emerged at the University of Houston, where he averaged 19.2 ppg as a junior and 23.6 as a senior this past season.

The Toros are the 'D' League's affiliate of the San Antonio Spurs.

Players in the ‘D’ League sign contracts with the league itself, not with the individual teams. NBA teams can call up players from the league as often as they choose, but a player can only be assigned to the ‘D’ League three times in a season.

The league begins play on Friday, Nov. 28.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Huskies Will Lock Horns with Texas

UConn and Texas have signed a four-game contract over six seasons which will begin next season.

The series will run as follows:

2009-10 at UConn

2010-11 at Texas

2011-12 and 2012-13 no game

2013-14 at UConn

2014-15 at Texas

Sites for the games at Connecticut to be determined (Storrs or Hartford)

Road games will be at the Erwin Center in Austin.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


One blogger's player-by-player breakdown of UConn's non-televised, 83-58 exhibition-game win over AIC on Wednesday night:

KEMBA WALKER: Popped off the bench 92 seconds into the game after A.J. Price missed a jumper and showed just how well he can push the ball up the floor and find open teammates for easy hoops. Hit Hasheem Thabeet for a couple of alley-oop dunks, one of them on a nifty no-look pass. Had Jim Calhoun gushing about his energy and enthusiasm afterwards, and even hit both his 3-pointers. When asked if he's a better shooter than people give him credit for, Walker said: "I think so." Added Calhoun: "He'll make more shots in a game than in drills, because he's a gamer. He knows how to win."

HASHEEM THABEET: Dominated by going 9-for-9 from the floor for a game-high 21 points -- mostly against players nearly a foot shorter than him. That's OK, according to Calhoun. "Maybe he wouldn't have gone 9-for-9 last year. He's a better offensive player ... he's going to be a mismatch for 6-8 guys, too." And, as Thabeet pointed out: "The guys now realize I can actually catch the ball that high and finish it up."

JEFF ADRIEN: Nothing special, even benched for a good stretch in the second half before returning and scoring six straight points and eight of his 13 over the final 9 1/2 minutes. Calhoun would have liked to have seen better energy from both Adrien and ...

A.J. PRICE: ... who hit a 3-pointer to kick off the game ("it was like the final statement that 'he's back, he's here, and the season's underway'") but didn't do a whole lot else in his return to play for the first time since tearing his ACL last March. "I don't think he played well," said Calhoun. "He didn't get the ball upcourt like he's supposed to."

CRAIG AUSTRIE: Steady, as usual. Shot 6-for-6 from the foul line and finished with 11 points, six assists and praise from Calhoun for his ability to take the ball to the hole.

JEROME DYSON: No field goals, one point, though he did dole out five assists. Clearly not what Calhoun was looking for as he returned to the starting lineup for the first time since last year's suspension.

GAVIN EDWARDS: Showed skills and a deft inside touch, shooting 6-for-7 from the floor for 15 points off the bench.

SCOTTIE HARALSON: Missed badly on his first-ever 3-pointer and hit just 1 of 5 from beyond the arc. "He doesn't know what a good shot is yet," said Calhoun.

JONATHAN MANDELDOVE: The crowd cheered his one free throw as if he was a walk-on. But he's not. At this moment, he's the Huskies' backup center.

DONNELL BEVERLY: One shot, one rebound, one assist, one turnover in 10 minutes of play.

Okwandu's Issue May Stem From Southern Idaho

It doesn't appear that the issue keeping 7-1 JUCO transfer Charles Okwandu out of tonight's exhibition game is a big deal. Last spring, while Okwandu was attending Harcum Junior College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., NCAA officials asked Marcum coach/athletic director Drew Kelly some questions regarding Okwandu's amateurism.

Specifically, there seemed to be some questions about who facilitated Okwandu's trip from his native Nigeria to the College of Southern Idaho, where Okwandu spent a semester in the spring of 2007. (He never played for Southern Idaho. If that school sounds familiar, it's because it's the school where Nate Miles is currently enrolled).

Anyway, apparently the NCAA got the answers it was looking for because Okwandu played all of last season at Harcum before transferring to UConn over the summer.

"I definitely don't think there was anything super-big," said Kelly. "When I talked to the NCAA last spring, the lawyer told me everything was extremely minor. I think there wers some people in Nigeria that help facilitate travel, and the NCAA wanted to make sure they weren't acting like middle men."

Of course, it's not known whether these are the same issues keeping Okwandu out of tonight's game. UConn coach Jim Calhoun didn't elaborate much yesterday, only saying that it wasn't a big deal and that holding Okwandu out of tonight's game is more precautionary than anything.

Kelly said he spoke with Okwandu about a month ago and maintains fairly regular contact with the UConn coaching staff, and nobody has brought anything up to him.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

AIC ... See You Real Soon

Some news and notes from UConn's pre-practice availability today, in advance of tomorrow's exhibition opener vs. American International College:

***Charles Okwandu, the 7-foot-1 JUCO transfer, will have to wait at least another few days to make his UConn debut. The Huskies will hold Okwandu out of tomorrow night's game as a precautionary measure as they still need to get some final clarification on his eligibility. Okwandu attended Harcum College last year.

"We want to put the pieces together, just to be on the safe side, until the final stamp is done," said Jim Calhoun. "We fully expect him to be playing very shortly."

***Senior guard Craig Austrie, a frequent target of Calhoun's early on this season for lackluster play in practice, has turned it up a notch lately.

"Sunday he was sensational and yesterday he was awfully good," Calhoun said. "Maybe he was playing a trick on us all this time, like Manny being Manny or something … he just needed to feel comfortable and he's been really good the last couple of days. I'm not going to make up something superficial about the kid. Craig knows he wasn't playing well."

Well ... not exactly.

"If coach says I got off to a slow start, I did," Austrie said. "I feel in the last week or so, I've picked it up. I just know I had to change what I was doing. He's like that with everyone, it's not just me. It's something I have to live with."

***Last year at this time, during practice, UConn was hitting 32 percent of its 3-pointers. This year, according to Calhoun, it's nearly 44 percent. Freshman Scottie Haralson has been knocking down about 45 percent of his treys, while A.J. Price is hitting them at a 50-percent clip.

Calhoun also noted that the Huskies have traditionally been a bit sluggish in their first games of the season. Lest we forget the 2006 exhibition opener against AIC, in which the Huskies actually trailed at halftime (36-35) before pulling out a 75-59 win.

It's a product, Calhoun believes, of not playing enough 5-on-5 in practice. UConn has been playing a little more 5-on-5 in practice this fall.

***Calhoun said he doesn't know who will start tomorrow night. Prediction: Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, Jerome Dyson, A.J. Price and ... we'll go with Austrie, for now.

***The entire UConn team (except Okwandu and Hasheem Thabeet, who aren't U.S. citizens) went to the Rec Center on campus today and voted. Calhoun, who has long been involved in politics, promised he didn't tell the players who to vote for.

"If I did a poll," he joked, "I bet you I could guess."

***The Huskies are ready to play against someone -- anyone -- other than themselves.

"Getting the same elbow from the same guy int he same place is just not that much fun," Calhoun said.

Calhoun Scores 27 in AIC Loss

On Dec. 4, 1963 – just a couple of weeks after John F. Kennedy was assassinated and a couple of months before Beatlemania would grip America, Jim Calhoun played against the team he would eventually lead to a pair of national championships.

Calhoun, a forward for American International College, scored nine points against the Huskies that day in a 95-49 UConn victory. It wasn't a very good day for Calhoun, who shot just 4-for-18 from the floor. Tony Kimball led a well-balanced UConn attack with 19 points, while another familiar name – future UConn head coach Dom Perno – added 14.

Calhoun rebounded a year later, however. On Dec. 1, 1964, Calhoun poured in 27 points on 10-for-19 shooting from the floor, and also pulled down six rebounds. The results weren't much better for AIC, however – a 98-67 loss.

Kimball again led UConn with 30 points, followed by 20 from Wes Bialosuknia. Future URI and Texas coach Tom Penders netted two.

Calhoun wound up graduating from AIC in 1968. He also began his coaching career there as an assistant from 1966-68. As a head coach, he has compiled a 6-2 regular-season record against his alma mater, all of them coming while he was at Northeastern.

The only time Calhoun has faced AIC while at UConn was in an exhibition game on Nov. 1, 2006 at Gampel. UConn won the game, 75-59.

Tomorrow night will be the second time, when the Huskies host the Yellow Jackets at Gampel in their 2008-09 exhibition opener.

The teams have met 20 times in regular-season play and UConn has won all 20.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Price, Thabeet Garner Votes

The AP preseason All-America team is as follows: Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina), Derren Collison (UCLA), Stephen Curry (Davidson), Luke Harangody (Notre Dame), Blake Griffin (Oklahoma).

UConn's A.J. Price and Hasheem Thabeet each received votes.

It's the third straight year that Hansbrough was the leading vote-getter, a record. He was a unanimous selection.

Also ... Ater Majok was slated to arrive on campus today and should be at Wednesday night's exhibition game against AIC (as a fan, of course). He's still awaiting word from the NCAA clearinghouse as to whether he'll be able to enroll at UConn for the second semester.