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Huskies building unity through heart-to-heart discussions

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published October 17. 2012 4:00AM

Storrs — Sitting around talking about feelings usually holds about as much appeal to your average male college athlete as eating a bucket of nails.

They're too tough for heart-to-heart chats, right? And who needs an emotional puncture wound?

Well, the UConn basketball team is connecting in a whole new and deeper level after spending a weekend last month with sports psychologist, Dr. Joseph Carr, who's worked with NBA and college teams.

The idea was to help foster team chemistry in a team that has undergone a makeover since last season.

"It was all about us team building and knowing each other a little bit better," said coach Kevin Ollie, who, during his NBA playing days, saw first-hand Dr. Carr's work. "The exercises brought that out of us."

On the second day, the Huskies met for about 10 hours in the basketball office at Gampel Pavilion. They emerged from the marathon session with a new-found appreciation for one another.

"It was really intense," R.J. Evans said. "We talked about a lot of stuff that affects us on and off the court. It helped us a lot. I've never been a part of anything like that … It was definitely worth it."

The Huskies opened up with each other. They talked about everything from last year's issues to team goals to personal stories.

They benefitted from the group exercises, according to junior Tyler Olander.

"I learned a lot about all my teammates," Olander said. "We became a lot of closer, even the coaches. We talked about literally everything, things that you like and don't like. I shared some things that I've never told anybody.

"I think that tells you a lot about how this team is right now and how comfortable we are with each other and the trust that we have in each other and just our commitment and focus."

Communication and chemistry issues helped derail the Huskies in 2011-12. There were too many players focusing on individual goals, according to sophomore Ryan Boatright.

Now they're the Husketeers - all for one and one for all.

"It's unbelievable how much closer this team is than last year's team," Boatright said. "Everybody hangs out. One person goes somewhere, we all go somewhere."

On and off the court, they plan on sticking together throughout a season that will test their competitive spirit. A postseason ban will prevent them from playing beyond the regular season.

As part of an ongoing effort to promote team chemistry and communication, UConn has adopted a post-practice ritual. Players gather in a circle at center court and chat about anything that comes to mind.

There's only one rule - sugar before hot sauce, which means a player has to hand out a compliment before dishing out any criticism.

"It's for us to talk to each other and not allow anything to linger," junior Shabazz Napier said. "If I have something to say about what I saw on the court, I'll let the guys know. At the same time, you have to let the guys know what they did well. You can't just go out there and tell them all the negatives."

Overall, it has been a postiive experience for the Huskies, who are quickly learning that there's nothing wrong with expressing your feelings.

"We always say if you have something to say, just say it," Evans said. "Everybody has a voice on this team. Coach Ollie stresses everybody has a voice and we all have to get through this together."

g.keefe@theday.com

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