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Pitino thinks highly of Huskies

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published October 17. 2013 4:00AM
UConn ranked behind Louisville

Memphis, Tenn. - Louisville coach Rick Pitino had a tough choice to make.

Since he couldn't vote for his Cardinals in the inaugural American Athletic Conference preseason men's basketball coaches' poll, he needed to pick one of the other nine teams.

After much thought, he went with UConn, which received the only first-place vote that didn't go to Louisville, the defending national champion.

UConn (69 points) edged Memphis (68) for second place.

"I was trying to decide between Memphis and UConn," Pitino said during Wednesday's AAC media day at FedEx Forum. "To be quite honest, it was one and one-A. I had a tough time deciding between them.

"I wanted to vote it as a tie but they told me I couldn't do it. So I just picked UConn because of more familiarity."

Pitino went on to explain his choice. He pointed to coach Kevin Ollie as one reason.

"I think they have a great backcourt and a terrific frontcourt," Pitino said. "They have a coach that is not only a terrific young coach, they have a coach that there is not a living room in the country that he'll walk into when he leaves that that family won't want to put him in the top three choices to go to school.

"That's how impressed I've been with Kevin Ollie."

Of course, UConn took its position in stride. The Huskies, who return all five starters from last year's 20-10 team, will likely be ranked in the top 20. They look forward to competing in the conference.

"The conference is great, from top to bottom," Ollie said. "It's got great coaches and great players, and a lot of returning players coming back. Everybody is getting stronger in the conference and we're one of those teams.

"I think we're going to be a great team going forward. We just have to make sure we put that in action every single day with our attitude, our consistency and our commitment."

Overlooked Daniels

Two of the three Huskies who attended media day earned spots on the preseason teams. Senior Shabazz Napier joined Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick, Louisville's Russ Smith and Chase Behanan, and Joe Jackson of Memphis on the first team. Junior Ryan Boatright made the second team.

Napier thought that teammate DeAndre Daniels should have earned preseason all-conference honors.

"That's crazy," Napier said when informed that Daniels wasn't honored. "He should be on the first team. He should be the preseason player of the year. Guys have been overlooking DeAndre since he came here. He's going to surprise a lot of guys."

Daniels says he's used to being overlooked.

"I really don't care, to be honest," he said. "Basketball is a team sport. I'm focusing on what I can do to make my team better. I feel like that happens my whole life, everybody overlooks me. But that's what makes me want to be even better."

Coaching connection

Three different AAC head coaches once coached Ollie during his NBA playing career.

Ollie played for the Celtics' summer league team when Pitino was in charge there. He was on the New Jersey Nets when Eddie Jordan (Rutgers) was the top assistant on the Byron Scott's staff. SMU coach Larry Brown had Ollie on his Philadelphia 76ers roster from 1999-2001.

"I just saw his players and told them how lucky they are," Brown said. "I've been around great players but so many of the guys that I coached taught me how to coach, and he was of them. He always did it in respectful way. But I valued things he said.

"I always thought he was a great example for young kids. I always admired him."

Almost a Husky

Brown says he's been a UConn fan for a long time. He served on Dave Gavitt's 1980 Olympic basketball coaching staff with former UConn coach Dee Rowe and coached a few Huskies in the NBA, including Richard Hamilton. He also has a good relationship with Jim Calhoun.

He was almost hired as the UConn head coach when Fred Shabel left in 1967. At the time, he was an assistant on Dean Smith's staff at North Carolina. Burr Carlson wound up taking the job.

"My first head coaching offer was from Connecticut when I was 26," Brown said. "I was too afraid to accept the job when Jim Hickey was the AD."

g.keefe@theday.com

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