By PAT EATON-ROBB Associated Press
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ The Connecticut men’s basketball team can’t
play for a national title this season. The Huskies still want to
put on a show.
They got their first chance Friday night in the program’s annual
First Night, the unofficial kickoff to the practice season, which
featured the traditional slam dunk contest, a 3-point shooting
competition, music, dancing and pyrotechnics.
It also gave former coach Jim Calhoun one final chance to
address the Husky fans. He was in the building briefly, but did not
make an appearance on the court. Instead, he addressed the crowd in
a taped message shown on the scoreboards, in which he passed the
baton to new coach Kevin Ollie.
“I’ll always be a part of UConn basketball, I’ll always be
rooting for UConn basketball,” he said. “But this is your night.
It’s your First Night. Have a great journey the entire winter. Go
get `em Huskies.”
The crowd of about 7,000 towel-waving fans gave Ollie the
night’s loudest ovation as he was introduced, and interrupted his
speech to the crowd by rhythmically clapping and chanting his name.
“He’s passing the baton to me, but I don’t feel like he’s
behind me,” Ollie said of Calhoun. “He’s beside me and we’re
running together in this race.”
Paul Jankco, 42, of New Hartford brought his 8-year-old son
Jacob. He said he’s anxious to see if the hard-nose style Ollie
played with at UConn will translate to the team.
“It’s hard to follow a legend, but I think he is going to be
really good,” he said. “He’ll be able to relate to the players a
little bit more, and he’s really got nothing to lose.”
Women’s coach Geno Auriemma, who had a notoriously icy
relationship with Calhoun, said he’s been a big Ollie supporter
since he was the team’s point guard in the early 1990s.
“I remember how hard he worked and how low maintenance he
was,” he said. “Watching Kevin work and watching him work the
players out last year, and watching his career in the NBA and how
it evolved. I just think those are the kind of people you need to
Auriemma women’s team is expected to compete for an eighth
national championship this season. First Night was the fans’ first
chance to see Auriemma’s highly touted recruiting class, which
includes former national high school player of the year Breanna
Stewart, who competed in the dunk contest.
“This year, from Day 1, we had a great preseason,” Auriemma
said. “That’s made all the coaches and the players feel really,
really anxious to get started.”
Women’s sophomore star Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis won the 3-point
competition and men’s freshman Omar Calhoun had the night’s best
dunk, going between his legs with the ball on the way up.
Ollie also made some news off the court, when he added another
former UConn player to his staff. Ricky Moore, the co-captain of
the 1999 championship team as the program’s assistant director of
Moore joins Ollie, Kevin Freeman, Glenn Miller, and Karl Hobbs
as former Husky players on the staff.
“The kids should be able to go to a coach and know that he’s
had this experience,” Moore said. “The kids shouldn’t feel this
is impossible to do, going to class, whatever. We’ve been through
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)