Kevin Ollie has played with more NBA players than I care to count (although someday soon I will count, because now I’m suddenly curious).
Anyway, after Wednesday’s practice, Ollie heaped praise on Shabazz Napier when he said, “I’ve been around probably one guard that’s had better basketball IQ than him, and that’s Andre Miller when I was in Philadelphia.”
That’s probably the highest praise Ollie has given since he took over as head coach. He doesn’t normally celebrate his players. He doesn’t really criticize them, either (publicly, at least). That’s why I found the above statement interesting.
Napier was caught off-guard, too.
“Andre Miller has a great IQ,” Napier said. “He’s still in the league because he’s a smart point guard, so that’s a great compliment.”
In two exhibition games, Napier, the team’s leading scorer, only attempted six shots. He was notorious last season for taking just a few shots in the first half and then turning it on in the second. He’d often go on late-game scoring binges (see his overtime stats), but also impacted several games without even hitting double-figures. Against Harvard, for example, Napier posted six points, nine assists, seven rebounds and six steals, arguably his best all-around performance.
“The game is going to dictate (whether Napier scores),” Ollie said. “If you come out and say ‘I’m going to shoot 25 shots, that’s when you don’t have a good game. Some games dictate him taking 20 shots. If the game dictates him passing the ball and getting 10 assists, then he’ll let the game dictate it.”
“I want him to be aggressive, so that doesn’t mean shooting,” Ollie continued. “Sometimes I get on him about not being aggressive. And that’s not about shooting, it’s about probing the defense, getting into the thick of the defense.”
Some other tidbits from Wednesday’s practice:
*Ollie hasn’t yet decided on his starting center for Friday. Sophomore Phil Nolan got the nod in Monday’s exhibition win ahead of incumbent Tyler Olander and freshmen Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey. That doesn’t necessarily mean Nolan will be in the starting lineup versus Maryland, though.
“We have one more practice to go (Thursday),” Ollie said. “We’ll figure that out after practice and on our trip down to Brooklyn. We’ll figure that out.”
“I tell them, the starters are the guys who I like,” Ollie continued. “Who I trust are the guys at the end of the game. When I was a player, I wanted to finish the game. I wanted to be on the court with five minutes to go when we needed a stop and we needed to execute. That’s when I wanted to play.”
* The biggest surprise for Ollie in the preseason?
The play of the three freshmen — Terrence Samuel, Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey.
“I like our freshmen,” Ollie said. “I didn’t get a chance to see Terrence over the summer because he was still dealing with the eligibility. He’s a pleasure to coach. Amida (Brimah) and Kentan (Facey) are performing very well. Amida is taking his game to another level.”
*Jim Calhoun joins WTIC’s Joe D’Amobrosio on the broadcast Friday. It’s Calhoun’s first gameday appearance since last year’s opener, the 66-62 upset over Michigan State.
“Coach Calhoun is on the broadcast, so that’s a guaranteed win right there,” Ollie said, laughing. “We’re 1-0 with coach on the broadcast with Joe D, so we’re going to keep going at it. Hopefully we’ll be 2-0.”