Published September 21. 2012 4:00AM
Storrs — Leon Tolksdorf has had an interesting introduction to the UConn basketball program.
As a newcomer from Germany, Tolksdorf already has to make more than your typical freshmen adjustments to college life.
Then just last week legendary coach Jim Calhoun announced his retirement and assistant coach Kevin Ollie took over.
While disappointed about not getting a chance to play for Calhoun, Tolksdorf, a 6-foot-7 forward from Berlin, is comfortable with the change. He's happy that Calhoun is sticking around to play a behind-the-scenes role.
"Coach Calhoun is a great coach and that's one of the reasons why I decided to come here," Tolksdorf said. "It's a little sad that he isn't the coach right now but I trust in coach Ollie.
"I really like coach Ollie. He's a good coach and he will help the team in this situation that we're in right now."
The situation that UConn is in is this: The program is in transition, entering a season with a thin and relatively inexperienced roster and dealing with a postseason ban due to a sub-standard APR.
Tolksdorf's focus is on preparing for the many challenges ahead in his first season of major college basketball.
He's already discovered how demanding preseason workouts can be.
"I really enjoy the team practices, but it's really tough," Tolksdorf said. "We have a lot of individual practices and we play pick-up games. I like that, and that's what I want. That's one of the reasons why I decided to come to UConn is because they put in so much effort. They really want to work with you and improve your game."
He's up for anything that will help elevate his game, even running Cemetery Hill at 6:30 on Saturday mornings.
"They know that we don't like that, but that's how we get better," Tolksdorf said.
The presence of juniors Niels Giffey and Enosch Wolf, two fellow Germans, has made a bumpy path a bit smoother for Tolksdorf.
They serve as his compass, steering him in the right direction.
"They try to give me an easy start here because they know how hard it is to find out how this is a huge difference and change," Tolksdorf said. "They really helped me a lot. ... I feel comfortable with the team, that's the most important thing."
Giffey, who's also from Berlin, and Tolksdorf have been friends since being teammates in Germany three years ago. During the recruiting process, he gave Tolksdorf a scouting report on the UConn program and university.
Tolksdorf was impressed that UConn fans camp outside of Gampel the night before big games during frigid winter months.
A May recruiting trip to UConn sealed Tolksdorf's decision to become a Husky.
"I knew it was a great university academically and, of course, college basketball," Tolksdorf said. "I used to follow college basketball during my time that I played in Europe."
Tolksdorf spent the summer playing for the German U20 national team. Other previous experience includes a stint with ALBA Berlin, a club team.
He also averaged 16.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and converted 34.3 percent from 3-point land in the U19 league in Germany.
Most comfortable playing on the perimeter, he's looking to expand his skills. He knows he'll have to battle down low and play solid defense to earn playing time.
"What a good player looks like is not just doing one thing but several things to help the team," Tolksdorf said.
He's willing to put in extra time in the gym and weight room to speed up his developmental process.
The style of play will be completely different than he experienced playing in Europe, he said.
"I'll try my best every single day to improve myself… and to be more physical and compete on this level," Tolksdorf said.