Ollie sets a tough tone on opening day of UConn basketball practice
Storrs — The legend of the season's first UConn basketball practice seems to grow every season.
Scary stories are passed down from Husky to Husky. Newcomers have no idea what they're about to experience.
"We told them it was going to be crazy," junior Jalen Adams said. "They were definitely nervous, as they should be. I was a little nervous."
"Once you get in there, you know there's no easy way out. It's all mental. The coaches are mentally trying to break us and see what we're made of."
Apparently Saturday's first practice was in line with the hype. Not everyone survived until the end.
"It lived up to its name, times ten," freshman Tyler Polley said. "That was different. I've never experienced that before."
Polley lasted the entire workout while other players didn't. Freshman Isaiah Whaley left with shoulder spasms. Sophomore Christian Vital, who went to the sidelines after running into a screen, will be checked out for a possible concussion.
As is tradition, the first practice started off in Guyer Gymnasium with mostly conditioning work and then finished at the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center.
Overall, coach Kevin Ollie was pleased with the effort.
"We just competed and stayed together as a team, so I thought that was really good," Ollie said.
Ollie added a twist this year, bringing in ROTC members to run drills at the beginning of the roughly three hour, 45 minute practice. The Huskies did a training session with the ROTC earlier this fall.
"That was a surprise," Adams said. "When we saw a couple of random guys coming into the gym, they looked familiar. They were ready to work. They were pushing us. They had us doing push-ups on command, sit-ups, wall-to-wall sprints. A whole bunch of different workouts. Physically demanding."
Competition is expected to be fierce this season with seven new players battling for playing time. Freshman Sidney Wilson, an eighth newcomer, is waiting to find out if he'll be eligible to play this season.
Ollie put them through their first toughness test on Saturday. A physical rebounding drill that resulted in several wrestling matches for loose balls capped off practice.
"That's what first practice is all about, just seeing how mentally tough they are," Ollie said. "If they get to their limits and challenge themselves, and then they can recover. ... I thought a lot of guys got to that point and got their second wind and then they recovered through a lot of help with their teammates encouragement, so I very proud of that."
Preseason also is important for redshirt junior Terry Larrier and redshirt freshmen Mamadou Diarra and Alterique Gilbert. All three suffered season-ending injuries last year and need to get back into the groove.
Gilbert was held out of Saturday's workout, as he is waiting for a new brace to arrive. A shoulder injury limited the young guard to just three games last season.
A 6-foot-8 swingman, Larrier got off to a strong start last season after sitting out a year as a transfer, averaging 13.5 points and five rebounds, before a knee injury ended his season in the fourth game.
Larrier says he feels good.
"I don't really think about it at all too much," Larrier said of his injury. "I just go out there and just play."
Bad knees prevented Diarra, a 6-foot-8 forward, from playing at all last season. He says he has no limitations. Playing a few games in Spain this summer with a Global Sports Academy team helped Diarra shake off the rust from the long layoff.
"Right now, I'm feeling extremely good," Diarra.
More than anything, the Huskies are ready put last season behind them. They finished with a dismal 16-17 overall record. It was the first time the program posted a sub .500 record in 30 years.
The offseason was rough, too, as three players transferred. Also, three starters graduated. Adams and Vital are the only returning Huskies who played more than four games last season.
"It's a fresh start," Adams said. "Sometimes when you come off a losing season when you get a lot of guys back you can build bad habits. But I think with this group and the guys that did come back, the mixture works out because those guys are ready to work and the guys that are here have a chip on their shoulder."