Cobb warming up to his role on UConn basketball team

Storrs — When his post-practice interview session ended Sunday afternoon, Eric Cobb approached every reporter and gave each a handshake.

Cobb, a junior college transfer from Jacksonville, Fla., is dishing out his brand of southern hospitality, and also warming up to playing for the UConn men's basketball team.

At 6-foot-9, 280 pounds, Cobb has potential to provide a much-needed physical presence in the low post, and his teammates enjoy having the humble and engaging Cobb around.

"A big guy from Jacksonville, Florida," sophomore Christian Vital said. "I appreciate him and his effort. He's a great teammate to have and I'm really excited that he joined this program because he's going to help us a lot this year."

Expect Cobb to be in the starting lineup for Monday's exhibition game (7 p.m., XL Center) against Merrimack, a Division II program with nine NCAA tournament appearances.

Coach Kevin Ollie believes Cobb can be a valuable asset in a rebuilt frontcourt.

"We want him to help us on the backboards," Ollie said. "He's a great passer. So on the offensive end it allows the four man or five man to step out and we can run some stuff with him. ... He's going to be a reliable guy we can throw it in the post to. He made one good move (against Providence), a nice little jump hook move."

Cobb hopes to stay on the court longer Monday than he did against Providence, which ended UConn's streak of 46 straight exhibition wins covering 24 years. Foul trouble limited him to just 12 minutes, as he finished with four fouls, four points, three rebounds and a steal.

Active from the opening tip, Cobb grabbed three rebounds in the first 2:18. But then fouls started to pile up, curtailing his contribution for the remainder of the game.

"I feel like they're calling a lot of weak fouls," Cobb said of the PC game. "Like, I'm strong. What are we in the weight room lifting for? So I've to adjust to the system and get better."

The challenge for Cobb and his fellow frontcourt newcomers is learning how to stay aggressive without drawing the attention of the officials. Freshmen Tyler Polley and Josh Carlton, as well as redshirt freshman Mamadou Diarra, who fouled out in just six minutes, also spent too many minutes watching from the bench against Providence.

Of the frontcourt newcomers, only freshman Isaiah Whaley avoided foul trouble in his 15 minutes. Sophomore forward Kwintin Williams had just two minutes of action but Ollie expects to play him more against Merrimack.

To help limit fouls, the UConn coaching staff is preaching to the players to move their feet, communicate on defense and stay away from playing with their hands. Also, it's up to them to understand the way officials are calling the game and adjust to that.

"You've to understand that the ref is not going to change," Ollie said. "They're going to pretty much tell you in the first five or 10 minutes of the game how they're going to play. As a smart player, if you've got one foul, I'm not saying you're going to be less aggressive, you must be a smarter defender where you don't get your hands caught in the cookie jar.

"These are all new guys. (Wednesday) was their first exhibition game, so you're going to see that. If these guys had played two seasons so far, then I'd be more disappointed. But it is a learning experience for these guys."

For the second straight exhibition game, UConn will likely be without graduate transfer David Onuorah, a 6-9 forward. He's still recovering from a hip injury and been limited in practice. UConn is taking a cautious approach with Onuorah so the injury won't prevent him from playing in the season opener against Colgate on Nov. 10.

"We'll just get him warmed up and get him some treatment again and see if he progresses," Ollie  said. "He was limited in practice today. I pretty much don't see him going."

In Monday's exhibition, the Huskies will be targeting improvements on both ends of the court after shooting just 37.1 percent from the field against Providence. Ollie also counted only three passes into the post, so that number needs to rise.

"Hopefully, we'll make some more shots, that's the first and foremost thing," Ollie said. "And then you can't allow teams to shoot 66 percent. I know I had some funky lineups out there because of the foul trouble. And then also it's an exhibition game, I want to play everybody, get them out there so they can get familiarized with the pace of the game."

g.keefe@theday.com

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