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R.J. Evans, a guard from Salem, is a first day of college basketball practice veteran.
For the fifth time in his playing career, Evans survived a grueling opening practice. His first one at UConn on Saturday was tougher than the previous four during his Holy Cross days.
“It went well, “Evans said after a nearly four hour workout. “This is my fifth first practice, so I’m kind of used to it. This is definitely one of the toughest if not the toughest that I’ve been through. Coach (Kevin) Ollie really pushed us today.”
Ollie definitely set the tone in his first practice as UConn head coach. He took command and demanded perfection.
He expects 100 percent effort at all times.
“If you want to quit, walk on out the door,” Ollie barked at one time.
Ollie also encouraged the Huskies and remained upbeat throughout practice.
Evans, a graduate student with one year of eligibility, already is warming up to Ollie’s coaching style.
“The thing I like about Coach Ollie is he’s demanding but he’s encouraging,” Evans said. “That’s one thing that I’ll preach to any recruit who is thinking about coming here. He’ll never get down on you. No matter how bad you’re playing, he’s always going to find a way to encourage you.
“I appreciate that about Coach Ollie.”
It’s hard to tell where Evans fits into a crowded backcourt. He brings much-needed experience, leadership and toughness.
Evans and his fellow Huskies are certainly in for an interesting ride this season with Ollie at the helm.
Some other notes and quotes from Saturday’s first practice:
-- At the end of practice, Ollie had a brief conversation with guard Ryan Boatright.
“He was just saying continue to be a leader,” Boatright said. “Even if things aren’t going your way, continue to be a leader because this team is going to feed off me.”
-- The Huskies are trying something new this year. They’re gathering in a circle around center court for a post-practice chat.
A sports psychologist met with the Huskies last month and recommended the team bonding ritual.
“It’s for us to talk to each other and not allow anything to linger,” junior Shabazz Napier said.
-- Freshman Omar Calhoun on his introduction to UConn basketball: “The first practice was intense. It was hard, long and strenuous. We just had to keep pushing ourselves. … It took a lot of focus to get through it, but we were able to fight and we stuck together.”
-- Junior Tyler Olander on Ollie: “He’s tough. He expects everything to be perfect, kind of like coach Calhoun. He just expects you to give 110 percent every play, every possession, no matter what we’re doing, because he believes that’s the only way you can get better is by out-working everybody else and doing more than you think you can.”
-- Ollie places players in two categories.
“There’s one that’s going to be a stand up guy that I’m going to trust and is going to be in the game. The other person I can’t trust and I’ll tolerate him for a little while until I get somebody in there to take his spot.”
-- Rebounding will be a major point of emphasis this season. Ollie wants everyone to hit the boards, from the point guard to the center.
The Huskies had a failing grade when it came to boxing out last season. They held a slim 37.5 to 34.9 rebounding edge.
“We didn’t do it fundamentally,” Ollie said about boxing out. “Anybody can look at the stats. I don’t have to talk to you… … Whatever you want to call it, (either) we didn’t have enough heart to go get the ball, or we didn’t box out.
-- Check out the video of Ollie addressing the media after practice.
Today’s American Athletic Conference Championship semifinal doubleheader is underway here at the XL Center in Hartford. A crowd in the 12,000-13,000 range is expected for the UConn-Tulsa game. Tip-off time is 5 p.m.