Ollie voices his concerns

Storrs - Near the end of a long, demanding practice on Saturday, coach Kevin Ollie's voice was fading but his enthusiasm and energy level remained high.

An active and animated Ollie kept teaching and preaching fundamentals.

In the last drill, Ollie challenged the Huskies to get three straight defensive stops to force "a kill" before ending practice.

It took awhile.

“Even if you got a stop, if it wasn't the way he liked it, you had to do it again," freshman Omar Calhoun said. "It didn't count."

Ollie set a hard-working tone in his first official practice as UConn head coach. The Huskies left the court physically and mentally drained.

"It was really, really tough," junior Shabazz Napier said. "It's got to be up there with coach (Jim) Calhoun's first practices. ... He wants us to be the hardest working team and the best conditioned team and today was a great example of it.

"He didn't let anyone give up. He pushed everybody and he was enthusiastic throughout the whole practice."

Ollie started out in traditional UConn fashion, beginning practice in Guyer Gymnasium. The nearly four-hour marathon workout ended in Gampel Pavilion.

When asked if Ollie was pleased with the effort, the hard-to-please first-year coach responded:

"No," Ollie said. "We're never satisfied. ... We want to push them and make them challenge each other. But they did come in here and play for awhile.

"We did some good things and we did some bad things. ... But they were competitive. It was the one thing that I wanted. In this last drill, we were just letting them know that there is no compromising. No comprising on effort."

Ollie was a vocal presence throughout the workout. He stopped a drill to stress proper defensive positioning and also emphasized rebounding, an area of concern.

When a player made a critical comment, Ollie stepped in and reminded him to stay positive.

"My philosophy is you give them the sugar first and then you give them the hot sauce," Ollie said. "So you give them a compliment. ... He just went straight to the hot sauce. We can't have that."

It shouldn't take long for the Huskies to adapt to Ollie's coaching style. Ollie spent the last two years as an assistant.

The Huskies already are learning the more noise, the better.

"He demands a lot of enthusiasm throughout the drills," sophomore Ryan Boatright said. "If you're not talking, he's going to make you run. If you're not clapping, he's going to make you run. With that being added to the team this year, we did a lot of running."

Ollie developed his coaching philosophy while playing for some coaching legends, from Willie West at Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, to Calhoun, to Larry Brown and Chuck Daly in the NBA.

There's one thing that he's still trying to figure out.

"I've got to ask them how to keep your voice, that's the only thing I don't know how to do yet," Ollie said.

The Huskies are back in practice at 8 a.m. today.

R.J. Evans of Salem looked forward to a good night's rest.

"We're all tired and definitely ready to go in the ice bath right now," Evans said. "But we've got to come back tomorrow morning and go at it again."

News and notes

Napier took part in shooting drills but did little else. His right foot continues to improve. "He just couldn't laterally move as quickly as we wanted to," Ollie said. "We didn't want him to put any more extra stress on it. ... I was encouraged by what he did." ... Newly hired assistant director of basketball administration Ricky Moore watched practice. ... Freshman forward Leon Tolksdorf displayed a nice shooting touch. "I call him Pistol Pete," Boatright said. "If he's got his feet set, it's more than likely the shot is going in."

g.keefe@theday.com

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