— Two hours after Gampel Pavilion emptied last Wednesday, Omar Calhoun was still around. Still shooting. Still trying to figure things out.
"I wasn't happy with how I looked on the court," said Calhoun, who is coming back from offseason surgery on both hips. "I stayed afterward and got more work in. Just put myself back in the game."
Calhoun, a sophomore guard, looked more like himself in UConn's second and final exhibition game, getting 16 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes as the Huskies beat Concordia of Chicago 98-38 on Monday night before 5,504 at the XL Center.
Division III Concordia, which won only four games last season, provided no real competition for the Huskies, who open the season against Maryland on Friday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It was merely a chance for UConn to work on things.
"We didn't look at our opponent — we looked at ourselves," coach Kevin Ollie said. "This was an 'us' game, and I was proud of the execution."
Calhoun was 3-for-7, including 0-for-2 on three-point attempts with one rebound in 18 minutes against Southern Connecticut in the first exhibition game. He had surgery to relieve impingements in both hips in the spring and spent the summer on crutches and then rehabbing. This week, a visit from his father, Omar Calhoun Sr., helped him turn a corner.
"He saw what I was going through," Calhoun said, "and he knows me more than anything. He told me, 'you're no longer rehabbing, you're taking steps forward, it's time to show what you can do.'"
In this game, Calhoun played 24 minutes and went 6-for-10 from the floor, 4-for-7 on threes, and had seven rebounds.
"Some of it was mental, too," Ollie said. "Coming back from an injury like that, you're cautious. You're saying, 'Should I play off that leg … what's going to happen with my hip?' Now he's letting the game come to him. We call it, 'not looking out the window, but looking in the mirror.' We had practice at 9:30 on Saturday and he was in the gym at 7:30. Coach [Glen] Miller and I got there an hour early and he was already there. That tells me Omar was not pointing fingers but getting back into the lab and working on his craft. And I like it when he's sticking his nose in there and being aggressive offensively and defensively."
UConn jumped out to a 10-0 lead and made it 42-18 at the half. They were outrebounded by Southern, but this time built a 49-26 edge on the boards. The Huskies looked for the open three all night and hit 14 of 28, with six different players making three-pointers.
Freshman Terrence Samuel had 10 points and 12 assists in his 28 minutes, and UConn got 24 assists on its 37 field goals. "I like it when we share the basketball," Ollie said.
DeAndre Daniels had 11 points and five rebounds in 11 minutes; Niels Giffey had 12 points in 17 minutes. Phil Nolan, who started, had eight points and six rebounds in 18 minutes and seems to have nudged ahead in the competition for playing time at center, though Ollie said he's "going to do it by committee for now."
Lasan Kromah and Leon Tolksdorf each hit three three-pointers and scored nine points as UConn again stretched the defense.
"You've got Lasan, you can go big, or you can stay small with Shabazz [Napier] and Ryan [Boatright]," Ollie said. "There's a lot of versatility in that back court and that's something we wanted to have."
UConn put its walk-ons in with more than five minutes left, and Pat Lenehan from Xavier scored seven points.
"I'm excited with this team," Ollie said. "I'm itchin' [to play Friday]. I think we're ready to go."
Jones, Ollie renew friendship
Concordia coach Tyler Jones, who coached Ollie with the Connecticut Pride of the old CBA, thanked Ollie and UConn for the opportunity to play in his home state.
"We were looking for little pockets of success," he said, "a few minutes here, there, without a turnover, that kind of thing. I told the guys before the game, You're going to see why those Division [I] letters never came."
Jones was coach and GM when the Pride drafted Ollie out of UConn, and though they had many other options, they stuck with him.
"Tyler always had my back," Ollie said. "There was talk about me being cut, but he stick with me and I wouldn't be standing here today if it weren't for him. If I'd gotten cut it would have been very hard for me to make it to the NBA. He's just a great man."
… After looking at film of the Southern game, Ollie said he apologized to his big men, who played better than he thought. He stressed his guards play their roles better in the rebounding scheme. … UConn started Napier, Boatright, Calhoun, Nolan and Daniels in the second half; that could've been a preview of the starting lineup vs. Maryland. … Corny Thompson, one of the great players in UConn history, attended the game.Copyright © 2015, CT Now