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Durham shaking off rust, adversity in first season at UConn

Storrs — Freshman Juwan Durham is becoming an expert on dealing with adversity.

He's sure had his share of obstacles to overcome during his basketball career.

Still shaking off the rust from not playing competitively since February 2015 due to two knee injuries, Durham was recently sidelined due to a serious bout of the flu that forced him to miss UConn's game at Ohio State on Dec. 10. The short-handed Huskies, who played with only seven scholarship players, dropped a 64-60 decision.

It was another setback for the 6-foot-11 reserve forward.

"It was bad," said Durham, talking about the flu after Friday's practice at Gampel Pavilion. "My head was killing me. I was coughing up everything. I couldn't even move my eyes without my head feeling like a boxer just punched me in the head or something. I'm getting a little better now.

"Now I've just got to get my conditioning back. I know yesterday and the day before yesterday I was just dead in practice and it showed. Today was a lot better for me."

Durham is determined to increase his contribution when UConn (4-5) returns from the exam break to host North Florida (4-9) Sunday afternoon at Gampel Pavilion.

So far this season, he's seen limited action as a reserve, averaging just 1.3 points and 1.1 rebounds in 9.1 minutes per game in seven appearances.

Durham showed flashes of his potential in 52-50 win over Syracuse on Dec. 5 at Madison Square Garden. After playing poorly in his first trip off the bench, he was effective on the offensive end operating in the middle of the zone, finishing with a season-high four points, two rebounds and a block in 15 minutes.

While only a baby step forward it was significant nevertheless given what Durham's been through. He says he feels fine now except for experiencing some tendonitis in left knee, but he still has a few mental hurdles to clear.

"I've just got to go out there and play the game I know I can play and just be confident in myself," Durham said. "That's my big thing. ... It's more mental than anything. I feel like I'll be okay. But I'm still shaking off a little rust."

UConn really needs Durham to become a reliable contributor off the bench with such a limited roster. Durham plans to take advantage of the opportunity.

"It's just up to me to go out there and grab it," Durham said. "I have to go out there and do what things that I know I can do to help our team win and do the little things that I'll be able to do to shine the way I want to."

The faster Durham shakes off the rust, the better as far as the Huskies are concerned. Coach Kevin Ollie envisions Durham doing a little bit of everything — blocking shots, rebounding and using his length to help dissect a zone defense.

"He hasn't played in a while," Ollie said. "We had this (exam) break. He's a freshmen, this is the first time he went through exams. It's kind of tough for him now. Hopefully, he can get his lather going in practice and then when he gets into a game, hopefully he creates some good things that happen for him just as he did against Syracuse."

Gilbert undergoes surgery

• UConn freshman Alterique Gilbert had successful surgery on his left shoulder Friday morning at UConn Health in Farmington. Ollie visited Gilbert after the procedure.

"I didn't talk to him — he was knocked out — but I saw him," Ollie said. "He had some people around with him that he feels comfortable with. The surgeon said the surgery went very, very well. So that's a good sign."

The recovery period is expected to last five or six months for Gilbert, who's suffered the season-ending injury on Nov. 17 against Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.

News and notes

The Huskies are 3-2 in games decided by four points or less. Late turnovers killed them in the 4-point loss at Ohio State. "We know we've got to finish close games," sophomore Jalen Adams said. "We can't have turnovers. We had two at the end of the Ohio State game. That kind of cost us the game or put us in an iffy situation, so we've just got to take care of the ball a lot better." ... Ollie on the development of the freshmen: "They're getting better on the defensive end and that's what I'm very, very happy about." ... UConn plays its first game in eight days on Sunday while North Florida (4-9) was in action on Wednesday, beating Thomas University, 110-80. Leading scorer Dallas Moore reached the 30-point mark for the fourth time in the last five games, scoring 30.

g.keefe@theday.com

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