A NEW BEGINNING: Last season the UConn Huskies tipped off the exhibition schedule knowing they had no chance to make the postseason. On Wednesday night when Kevin Ollie’s squad hosts Southern Connecticut State at Gampel Pavilion, they hope the Owls are the first obstacle to a long and productive season.
“It’s fun to start a new season and fun to be able to go back to the tournament,” senior Niels Giffey said before practice Tuesday. “New start, new season.”
And this time a winning season likely won’t leave the Huskies out in the cold come March Madness time with UConn eligible for postseason play after a one-year ban.
“It’s a little bit different because we can obviously play in the tournament, but as far as the work ethic and getting to where we want to be, it’s definitely the same,” junior guard Ryan Boatright said. “We’ve worked just as hard, even harder. A lot of guys have been in the gym at night working on their game individually.”
After last year’s 20-10 campaign ended with a victory over Providence, Boatright tried to avoid college basketball and March Madness for the most part.
“Watching them play in the tournament last year and we couldn’t – we’re just really excited to be able to play and we are looking forward to it,” he said. “Personally I didn’t watch (NCAA games) by myself, I only watched them when I was with some of my friends, and then I had to watch it.
“Other than that I wasn’t watching it by myself, I couldn’t take it.”
The postseason exclusion was so hard on Boatright, he even stopped watching ESPN, which frequently promoted March Madness.
“Definitely I can watch it now because I’m pretty sure we are going to be in it,” he said, with a smile.
Even though the Huskies want to play the NCAAs again, they are trying not to fast forward the season.
“A little bit I think because we certainly have the potential to go there, but tomorrow’s the first step,” Giffey said. “We have to focus on every game first.”
NERVOUS NELLIES: The Owls’ game has some added significance for three players, with freshmen Terrence Samuel, Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah all making their UConn debut.
“They will probably be sweating like crazy,” Boatright said. “They are going to be all right. We have a veteran team to let them do whatever they need to and keep them encouraged, they’ll be all right.”
Facey almost missed out on the chance to play, but the NCAA granted the 6-foot-9 freshman a waiver last Friday, allowing him four years of eligibility starting right away.
“I was excited, that’s the one word I can use to describe it,” Facey said. “I was real happy and that day I came out with a little bit of extra effort. We always go hard, but there was just something different playing. I was like ‘OK, finally this is over with and I can just focus on what we need to take care of for the season.”
Facey was so excited about being cleared he kicked a chair during practice.
“Yeah, he kicked a chair,” Ollie said. “He took it out on the chair. If you call that excited, I guess so. I told him that chair didn’t do anything to you, so take it out on an opponent.”
Facey laughed off the incident when asked about it.
“The chair was in the way,” Facey said. “(My teammates) didn’t even know what happened. They just kept going because they heard the chair slide across the floor and everyone just looked around like ‘what happened?’
“I was just happy.”
TRAVELING: Ollie said there are no restrictions on Omar Calhoun (hips) and Tyler Olander (foot) for the game against SCSU. Both are coming off off-season surgeries. ….As for a starting lineup, Ollie said the Huskies will likely go with the veterans. … UConn’s exhibition game will not be broadcast on WTIC-AM 1080 ON Wednesday night since the Boston Red Sox are playing Game 6 of the World Series. The Huskies can be found on WTIC 96.5-FM and WELI-AM 960.
QUOTABLE: Ollie on his first exhibition with the Huskies as a player.
“It’s exciting. I think my first time was Marathon Oil. And I had a terrific game that night. It’s exciting. You get an opportunity to play. You get a feeling for what it’s like to put that jersey on.”