Friday, January 23, 2009

Re-Hashing Thabeet ... and Other UConn Stuff

Greetings from South Bend, home of … well, Notre Dame. And the College Football Hall of Fame. That's about it, as far as I can tell, though I'm told there are some good restaurants and bars in the area. Might have to check that out a little later.

As for tomorrow's much-anticipated UConn-Notre Dame battle:

Jim Calhoun is eagerly anticipating how Hasheem Thabeet handles what promises to be a very unfriendly Joyce Center crowd (you all know why, not going to "re-Hash" the Harangody story, as it were).

"Every day, he's been given a little bit of license – by all of us, for all the right reasons ... he's making strides. Now, he's kind of been called up, for something that he foolishly said or he misspoke – the significance of it isn’t anything … I had called him up before (a game last week), and he did a good job. Myself, (ESPN's) Gameday and the crowd are going to call him up, too. This will be a big test for his maturation. I don't know if he's ever, truly, in three years been called up. You don't have to have 24 points, but you've got to be good. You've got to be able to handle Harangody, get some points for us, control the middle. If you can do that, you'll be in pretty good shape."

(We're assuming Jim meant "called out" rather than "called up," but you get the point.)

Thabeet seems to be handling the whole situation well. When we jokingly promised him we wouldn't ask any questions about Harangody, he smiled and said, "Then you're not doing your jobs."

"Luke is a great player, and they've also got (Kyle) McAlarney," Thabeet said. "I'm pretty sure Luke won't be taking all the shots, so … we're looking for a great matchup tomorrow."

***Calhoun acknowledged that Thabeet "may be treated a tad differently," but also pointed out that the Joyce Center is always a raucous place. He compared it to The RAC, home court of Rutgers.

"You're a little more used to the RAC, in some ways, because you've heard those words before," Calhoun quipped. "It's truly Eastern (as in East Coast, we presume). This is a little different. It's national-type attacks. But it makes for quite an atmosphere."

***As for the Huskies' need to keep some composure, Calhoun has been dropping a quote from Paul Brown on them: "The worst thing you can do to your enemy is beat them."

*** http://www.tesh.com/, Mike Anthony? Really?

*** Ater Majok was late for his first practice on Thursday, since he had to finish up some paperwork. He got to Gampel and teamed with Charles Okwandu (more on him later), walk-on Jim Veronick, Donnell Beverly and Scottie Haralson against the Huskies' starting five and, according to Calhoun, had 12 rebounds and six blocked shots.

Today, he was playing the role of Harangody in practice and hitting fallaway jumpers and making nice spin moves.

"It helped Hasheem, because he said he was going to be the best African on the court," Calhoun noted. "And we had plenty of Africans on the court."

While Calhoun is simply happy to get Majok cleared by the NCAA, even though he can't play until next December, the coach knows that Majok could be a difference-maker. Right now.

"He's terrific. I'm not gonna tell you he's great yet, but he's got some things … he gets off his feet like Stanley (Robinson) does, to some degree – not as high, but his quickness."

After only about 1 ½ days of practice, Majok would make the Huskies "a different team, even tomorrow night after two practices, because he does things instinctively, and he's very, very talented."

Calhoun said at one point, the NCAA offered to award Majok just a scholarship, with no association with the team. It was flatly rejected by the coach.

"I said, 'this kid hasn't had a home since he was 6. It can't work that way. You've got to believe in our support system.' The compromise was a hard one to get, but we got it, and I'm very happy."

Between now and the end of the first semester next December, Majok must attain 18 hours of credits within the academic year and 24 overall (he'll take summer courses) in order to be eligible.

***The news on Okwandu isn't as good. The 7-foot sophomore center, isn't with the team on this trip due to an academic issue. He also wasn't at Wednesday's Villanova game, though he has practiced with the team the past two days. Calhoun said there will be an announcement on Okwandu next week, as to whether or not he'll have to sit out the rest of this semester.

"If he doesn't show us, and a professor, something next week, he'll sit out," Calhoun said, adding that Okwandu's grade in an intersession course "hasn’t been turned in yet."

***Flew into Chicago's Midway Airport, which is in the Central time zone, this afternoon and drove to South Bend, which is on Eastern Standard Time. Not a bad drive at all, but it's a little odd that you fly into Chicago at 9:15 a.m., make a 90-minute drive to South Bend, get there and it's almost noon.

Kinda reminds me of the classic Marvin Barnes story that goes something like this: When he was in the NBA with the St. Louis Spirit, Barnes apparently still hadn't grasped the concept of time zones. The team had a flight scheduled to leave Louisville at 8 am and arrive in St Louis at 7:59 am. This totally freaked Marvin out, and he said that he did not want to board the flight because "I ain't goin' on no time machine."

Must admit, however, my Honda Civic rental car didn't feel like a time machine.

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