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Ollie challenges newcomers as UConn practices for real

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published September 29. 2013 4:00AM

Storrs An exhausted Terrence Samuel walked like an old man leaving the court on Saturday afternoon.

Participating in your first UConn basketball practice can age even the fittest newcomer.

"Definitely the worst practice I've had in my life, ever," said Samuel, a freshman guard. "I've never been so winded in my life. I didn't think it would be this bad. I thought we'd do a couple of drills and it would be tiring. But everything we did today was tiring and we went hard.

"You can't do anything lackadaisical. There was no rest."

As expected, second-year coach Kevin Ollie set a demanding tone in the opening practice of the 2013-14 season, pushing the Huskies through a grueling three hour, 30 minute workout that started in Guyer Gymnasium and ended in Gampel Pavilion.

Ollie was pleased with the overall effort and intensity.

"They fought through it and played hard," Ollie said. "We wanted to really concentrate on physicality and hitting first and rebounding but also pushing the pace. We have a deep team this year. I think we're going to be able to get out and run and play different styles."

"Today was just gut-check time."

Everyone but freshman center Amida Brimah survived.

Near the end of the practice, Brimah fell hard on his left shoulder while challenging Shabazz Napier for a loose ball along the baseline. Brimah stayed on the floor for a few minutes before moving to the sidelines where trainer James Doran checked him out.

Brimah should be okay, according to associate head coach Glen Miller.

All the younger Huskies likely spent the rest of the day nursing their bumps and bruises.

"I've had better days," freshman Kentan Facey said. "Challenging, that's the one word I'd use to describe it. One of the hardest (practices) I've ever endured since I started playing basketball.

UConn's newcomers also were introduced to the box-out drill, a 1-on-1 anything goes battle for rebounds. Shirt-pulling, arm-tugging and body-checking all are allowed.

Ollie occasionally stopped the drill to make a point. Rebounding, a major weakness last season, already is a point of emphasis.

"We're getting better," Ollie said. "We've got to get stronger. We've got to get in the weight room. We've got to hit first. Then we have some techniques that we put in today and we're going to keep working on them and sharpening up.

"Guys are not getting it yet. But this is a marathon, not a sprint. This is the first day."

The adjustment period will last into the regular season for the newcomers. Saturday's experience was just a taste of the intensity and effort that the coaching staff regularly expects from players.

Ollie is willing to be patient, to a point. An earlier than usual start to the college basketball season will allow for more practice days prior to the season opener on Nov. 8 against Maryland.

"They've got a long way to go and we'll push them," Ollie said. "It's a learning curve. The sooner they get it, the sooner and better they'll be able to play. If they don't, we have a deep team and they won't play."

In an encouraging sign, sophomore Omar Calhoun also practiced. He had off-season surgery on both hips and has returned sooner than expected.

"I'm definitely ahead of schedule," Calhoun said. "Eventually, I should be ready to go for the season."

News and notes

No update on Facey's NCAA eligibility status. "I'm still waiting on that," Facey said. "Hopefully, everything works out in my favor." Recruit Rakim Lubin, a 6-foot-7 forward from Gadsden, Ala., is on a visit and watched practice. ... Senior Tyler Olander remains suspended indefinitely and did not practice.

g.keefe@theday.com

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