Oriakhi taking charge of boards

UConn's Alex Oriakhi, left, grabs one his 18 rebounds during Friday night's 79-52 win over Stony Brook as teammate Roscoe Smith looks on.
UConn's Alex Oriakhi, left, grabs one his 18 rebounds during Friday night's 79-52 win over Stony Brook as teammate Roscoe Smith looks on. Fred Beckham/Associated Press

Storrs - Forgive Alex Oriakhi for acting selfishly when it comes to rebounding.

He's just following orders and trying to fit the mold of former UConn rebounding beast Jeff Adrien.

"Coach (Andre) LaFleur told me to get every rebound," Oriakhi said. "He said Jeff was the most selfish rebounder. I'm just trying to listen and learn.

"Every rebound that goes up, I want it. I don't care if my teammates are in the way. I'm going to take it."

Using his size and strength advantage against a smaller opponent, Oriakhi grabbed 18 rebounds, four more than his previous career high, in Friday's season-opening 79-52 win over Stony Brook. He also had 11 points.

Oriakhi, a 6-foot-9, 240-pound sophomore, helped spark UConn's pivotal 21-4 run early in the second half. He had four rebounds, blocked two shots and scored off a dunk in a four and a half minute span.

"Alex kind of put the game away with his rebounding," coach Jim Calhoun said.

Calhoun has high expectations for Oriakhi, an All-Big East rookie team member last season. Oriakhi showed flashes of his enormous potential as a freshman hitting double-figure rebounds six times.

Calhoun believes with a little change in Oriakhi's demeanor, the sophomore could be even better.

"Unlike his coach, he's a terrific person to be around," Calhoun said. "He's jovial. … He's terrific in the locker room and great on the bus trips. But that's not necessarily good when you're going after a rebound.

"(I told him) there's nothing wrong with using that great body of yours to knock someone out of the way, and he did."

For Oriakhi, trying to play with more of an edge doesn't come naturally. He often watches video of Adrien, an undersized power forward who wore a scowl and played with a fierce attitude. Adrien is now a member of the Golden State Warriors.

"You can't be a nice guy in this game," Oriakhi said. "I'm just trying to listen to what (coach) says and follow guys like Jeff Adrien. He was real mean on the court. I'm just trying to change my whole demeanor on the court because it's only going to help me."

Oriakhi has adopted Adrien's work ethic. He stayed on campus over the summer, attending two sessions of summer school and basically living in Gampel Pavilion. He's become a workout nut, doubling his days in the weight room, and spending extra hours in the gym (he has added 12 pounds).

"I've been preparing for this season since we lost to Virginia Tech (in the NIT)," Oriakhi said. "I just made up my mind and changed my work ethic. … I've seen a lot of changes in my body and my strength. That's definitely helped."

Oriakhi, the most experienced player in a thin frontcourt, is vital to UConn's success. He has the potential to average in double figures in scoring and rebounding this season, according to Calhoun. That's something even Adrien fell short of accomplishing, averaging 13.6 points and 9.9 rebounds as a senior in 2008-09.

"He always has teased me because I know what's there," Calhoun said. "If he can continue to have these kinds of nights, not necessarily 18 rebounds. … then we become a different team. It makes our job a lot easier."

g.keefe@theday.com

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