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Kromah provides a spark

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published February 12. 2014 4:00AM

When coach Kevin Ollie recruited Lasan Kromah, he didn't offer the veteran a starting job.

Ollie offered opportunity.

Kromah, who played three years at George Washington before graduating and coming to UConn, has seized that opportunity.

After starting the season in a key reserve role, Kromah eventually fought his way through a crowded perimeter rotation to secure a starting job. He's been one of the team's most reliable players.

Kromah will be in the starting five for the 10th straight game tonight when No. 24 UConn (18-5, 6-4) hosts South Florida (12-12, 3-8) in American Athletic Conference action at 7 (ESPN2) at the XL Center in Hartford.

"I just came here and I didn't know if I was going to get one minute or 40 minutes," said Kromah, who is averaging 7.7 points and 2.9 rebounds. "I was going to work hard and see where it got me.

"I just keep working hard and getting better."

A combination of injuries and inexperience has helped thin the rotation. And Kromah, a versatile 6-foot-6 swingman, has earned his extended time.

He's UConn's best perimeter defender and a productive source of offense. He also provides valuable leadership.

Ollie loves Kromah's competitive spirit.

"When you come here and want a job, you compete each and every day, and that's what he did," Ollie said. "Your talent will always make room for you.

"... I'm glad he came here. I'm glad he saw an opportunity here and that's what I told him when I recruited him."

Now a graduate student, Kromah's adjustment period was a short one. He already knew assistant coach Karl Hobbs, whom he played for at George Washington. Kromah started to settle into a comfort zone after participating in First Night festivities back in October.

"I really felt the community and the UConn pride and I really felt like part of the team," he said.

Kromah is coming off his UConn career best scoring game in Sunday's 75-55 win over Central Florida, finishing with 17 points. He's averaging 15 points, five rebounds and 36 minutes in the last two games.

"The more time I get, the more I need to produce for my team," Kromah said.

It's a good thing Kromah has been as reliable as the sunrise. The Huskies are battling injuries. Junior Ryan Boatright is dealing with a sore left shoulder while junior DeAndre Daniels returned to action against Central Florida after sitting out two games - one due to a high right ankle sprain and the other to back spasms. They are both expected to play tonight, but reserve Omar Calhoun (concussion) is doubtful.

With eight regular-season games remaining, the Huskies are looking to build some momentum for the postseason. They've won seven of their last nine games.

"If you're going to hit a stride, you want to hit it right now," Boatright said.

UConn can't afford to take South Florida lightly. The Bulls own a winning road record (5-3) and also beat SMU this season.

"We're just trying to prepare ourselves for a battle," Ollie said. "They've been playing very well on the road. They've got a lot of confidence. I know they lost their last game to Rutgers.

"But we've got a desperate team coming in here and we've got to be ready to perform."

g.keefe@theday.com

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