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Dickenman's Central Connecticut faces a daunting challenge

Howie Dickenman never backs down from a challenge.

During his UConn days, Dickenman helped elevate the basketball program to elite status as a member of coach Jim Calhoun's staff. He spent a total of 14 years in Storrs as an assistant.

Among his many recruiting victories, Dickenman convinced a tough point guard out of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles to make the cross-country journey to Storrs. He was pivotal in Kevin Ollie's development as a player and person.

Now Dickenman is trying to bring the best out of a young Central Connecticut State University team. The Blue Devils are enormous underdogs today when they face Ollie's Huskies (7-3) at 12:30 p.m. (ESPNU) at the XL Center in Hartford.

Through all his team's adversity, Dickenman, a Norwich native in his 20th season as head coach at CCSU, has remained upbeat. He's also had some health issues, dealing with a case of vertigo that put him in the hospital for three days this fall and also recovering from a hip replacement.

"I'm feeling great," Dickenman said Tuesday. "I went to physical therapy yesterday for my hip. ... I'm making progress. I'm day to day, just like my basketball team."

There are signs of progress for his team, too.

Central Connecticut (1-8) scored its first victory on Friday, beating UMass Lowell, 83-79, Friday. Two days later, UMass Lowell lost at UConn, 88-79.

"We're on a winning streak," Dickenman said. "Not sure how long we'll be able to maintain it. We'll do our best to compete. I'm seeing some better results as we've played better together. We have seven new players. We're learning about each other."

Today's game is part of a challenging schedule for the Blue Devils, who've suffered road losses to Penn, Boston College, Brown, Fordham and Rutgers.

Central Connecticut catches a little bit of a break today with the absence of UConn starting center Amida Brimah, who'll likely miss six to eight weeks with a broken finger on his right hand. Brimah, the American Athletic Conference defensive player of the year last season, suffered the injury in practice on Monday. He's scheduled to have surgery Wednesday at the UConn Health Center in Farmington.

The Huskies struggled defensively on Sunday without Brimah, who sat out with a groin injury. Brimah was replaced in the starting lineup by freshman guard Jalen Adams who had more turnovers (three) than points (two).

"They're a little different without Brimah," Dickenman said. "Teams have a lot more offensive ability to score in the paint area. When he is there, he just swats them away."

Dickenman will be happy to see Ollie.

They're very close. He always calls Ollie on his former player's birthday, which is Sunday.

"I love Howie...," Ollie said. "Without Howie, I wouldn't be here. I appreciate Howie for all the things he's done. He really gave me the strength when I was down my freshman year and sophomore year, and he always was there to pick me up and say I was going to be all right.

"He believed in me when a lot of people didn't believe in me."

This will be the second time that they've faced each other as coaches. Ollie's Huskies won last year's meeting, 81-48.

"It's always great to play him," Ollie said. "But I don't like playing a dear friend of mine. Once we cross the line, that friendship goes out the door. We're competitors."

The Huskies also have never lost a game against a former Calhoun assistant, going 19-0 including 3-0 versus Dickenman.

Despite his team's lack of success, Dickenman is in favor of extending the series.

"Yeah, sure," Dickenman said. "It's right down the street. (Former Big East commissioner) Dave Gavitt  always used to say when there's a televised game, that's good because you get exposure, or you will get exposed. We're trying to avoid getting exposed."

g.keefe@theday.com

Twitter: @GavinKeefe

UConn vs. Central Connecticut

UCONN vs. CENTRAL CONNECTICUT STATE UNIVERSITY

Location: XL Center, Hartford

Tip-off: 12:30 p.m. (ESPNU)

Records: UConn 7-3, CCSU 1-8

Last game: UConn beat UMass Lowell, 88-79, Sunday; CCSU beat UMass Lowell, 83-79, Friday

Probable starters: UConn, 6-3 fr. guard Jalen Adams (6 pts), 6-2 grad. guard Sterling Gibbs (11.4 pts), 6-4 r-jr. guard Rodney Purvis (15.1 pts), 6-7 so. forward Daniel Hamilton (13.2 pts, 8.5 rebs, 5.4 assists), 6-7 grad. forward Shonn Miller (11.8 pts, 5.4 rebs)

CCSU, 6-0 so. guard Kevin Seymour (2.9 pts), 6-3 fr. guard Austin Nehls (12.1 pts, 4.1 rebs), 6-3 jr. guard Khalen Cumberlander (13.4 pts, 4.3 rebs), 6-7 sr. forward Brandon Peel (10.6 pts, 7.9 rebs), 6-9 fr. forward Evan Phoenix (5.4 pts, 3.4 rebs)

Noteworthy: UConn leads series 13-0, taking last meeting 81-48 last December. Won last seven games by an average of 47.8 points. ... Owns 72-3 record vs. in-state teams since 1986-87 season. ... Former UConn assistant Howie Dickenman,  a Norwich native, in his 20th season on Blue Devils bench. ... Ollie 4-0 vs. former Jim Calhoun asst. coaches. ... Phoenix named Northeast Conference rookie of the week after career-high 28 pts vs. UMass Lowell. ... Top reserve: jr. guard J.J. Cratit (7.4 pts). ... CCSU allowing 81.7 pts per game, shooting 39.2 percent. ... Hot: UConn converted 60 percent from field in consecutive games for first time in 13 years. Reserve Omar Calhoun 8-for-8 last two games. Cold: Huskies with 32 turnovers in last two games. ... Injury report: starting center Amida Brimah (broken finger) out 6-to-8 weeks. ... Up next: UConn visits Texas Dec. 29 in first true road game this season.

— Gavin Keefe

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