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Napier’s leadership, frontcourt play vital to UConn

Staff Writer

Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 00:10

After going 20-10 in a season that prohibited the Huskies from participating in the NCAA tournament, the UConn men’s basketball – eligible this time around – will tip off its 2013-14 season in an exhibition game against Division II-opponent Southern Connecticut State University Wednesday night at Gampel Pavilion.

Napier’s return key to Huskies’ success
After contemplating entering the NBA Draft earlier this year, UConn senior guard Shabazz Napier announced in April that he would return for his final year with the Huskies instead. Napier, one of the three captains on this year’s team, provides experience and veteran leadership to a UConn team that has been searching for someone to fill the role since the departure of Kemba Walker.

Senior guard/forward Niels Giffey, one of the other two captains on the team, talked about what Napier’s return meant to him and the team.

“It means a lot,” Giffey said. “It means a lot as a teammate as well as a player. It’s just good to see that you got one of the guys who have been here all my four years – who is a close friend of mine – just coming back and share the senior experience too.

“I think it’s big time for us just to have him back as a leader on the court and off the court. And I think it’s good for him too. He’s got one more year to show what he’s got, develop him game a little more and show that he’s just that type of leader all of us know he is.”

Game plans for exhibitions
The games won’t count until the Huskies head to Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Nov. 8 to take on the Maryland Terrapins at the official start of the regular season. That does not mean there’s nothing to work on during the two exhibitions, though.

Ollie said that he wanted the team to develop a tempo during tonight’s game and to “dominate the backcourts.” With two of the premier guards in the country in Napier and Ryan Boatright, that should present no problems for Ollie and the Huskies.

The frontcourt, however, remains an issue for team. Crashing the boards was one of UConn’s biggest weaknesses last season as the team ranked at 243rd with an average of 33.1 rebounds per game, not to mention that the 6-foot-1 Napier was the team leader last with 4.4 rebounds per game.

“We want our big men to step up,” Ollie said. “Just to separate themselves (from the rest). I like to have two, three, four of them to separate themselves. I need one, if not, we’ll do it by committee. … I made it real plain and simple for them that, how to get minutes is rebounding. And if I get one of those big guys to stand down and be the rebounder that we know they can be, they’ll get the majority of the time.”

Ollie has not determined the lineup rotation yet.

“Whoever plays with a passion and ability for us to go out there and win is going to play,” he said. “I’ll probably start all veterans for the first game just because of tradition and we’ll go from there.”

Kentan Facey ruled eligible by the NCAA
Upon learning the news last weekend that the NCAA has granted him a waiver that will allow him to have a full four years of eligibility effective immediately, UConn’s 6-foot-9 freshman forward Kentan Facey was excited, to say the least.

“He kicked a chair,” Ollie said with a chuckle. “He took it out on a chair. So if you call that excitement, I guess so.”

Facey, on the other hand, recalled the incident differently.

“I didn’t really kick the chair,” Facey said. “I swung my foot and the chair was in the way. But it’s definitely good to be back and to know that I‘m able to participate and help my team in this championship run that we’re trying to put together for this season.”

Facey, a Trelawny, Jamaica native, was under NCAA investigation over a standardized test that he took and passed in Jamaica prior to enrolling at Long Island Lutheran Middle and High School in Brookville, N.Y. for the past two years. The NCAA believed the test could have been considered the equivalent of graduating high school.

If the NCAA had determined that Facey violated “delayed enrollment” rule because of this, he would have lost two years of eligibility and be forced to redshirt this season.

The support from his teammates, especially that of Ryan Boatright – who went through a similar situation in his first year at UConn – helped Facey get through the investigation process.

“Everyone was like really supportive,” Facey said. “They were always there telling me keep my head up, keep working hard because you never know what the outcome would be. If I get to play, I need to be in the best shape that I could be in and if I don’t, then I have an extra year to prepare myself for next year.”

The 2012-13 Gatorade Player of the Year in New York averaged 14.8 points, 13 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game last year and could help UConn’s frontcourt woes tremendously with his presence.


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