EXCLUSIVE: Kemba Walker, Current Players, Sound Off On Calhoun, Future Of UConn Basketball
Following Thursday’s press conference at Gampel Pavilion, members of the UConn basketball team, past and present, talked about their feelings for now-retired coach Jim Calhoun and new head coach Kevin Ollie, as well as the future of the program.
UConn legend and current Charlotte Bobcats guard Kemba Walker was one of several former players in attendance on Thursday. The point guard from the Bronx, who became a legend with his performance in 2011, was surprised by the news.
“I was up here yesterday and he told me before anybody else. I was kind of shocked,” Walker said. ”Me personally, I’ve always loved Coach. He was always so good to me.”
He’s happy that Ollie is the man replacing Calhoun, saying that he is very excited for him and that even though it’ll be tough, he can handle it.
“KO’s been through it all,” he said. He’s one of the people that you would love to get advice from. Whatever KO told me, I made sure I was a sponge and I soaked it all in.”
Walker called junior guard Shabazz Napier and sophomore guard Ryan Boatright the leaders of the team and says that both players will be great.
Junior forward Niels Giffey came all the way from Berlin, Germany to play for Calhoun, who early on in Giffey’s freshman year compared him to Boston Celtics legend John Havlicek.
“It’s an honor, but you’ve got to live up to that,” Giffey said. “It’s crazy that I played for a Hall of Famer like that. It’s an honor.”
Giffey said he was ready for Calhoun’s retirement. He talked to Calhoun previously and said that the 70-year-old coach was thinking about this for a long time. Giffey did say that Wednesday night was weird following the news on Twitter and ESPN.
“I’m looking at it in a very positive way,” Giffey said. “He’s going to help us as much as he did already. That’s the positive part is that he’s still gonna be here.”
Giffey is excited to play for Ollie, who he says has the most energy of anyone on the team.
“He’s so positive about everything. He’s the loudest guy on the court and he’s always so positive.”
UConn is banned from postseason play during this coming season due to a low Academic Performance Rating, but Giffey said he is stil very focused on the short-term, rather than looking ahead to 2013-14.
“I feel like they took the chance [to play in the postseason] from us,” he said. “I wasn’t involved in anything in missing this tournament so I feel like they took it away from me as a person. The only thing I can do in this situation right now is show them wrong.”
Giffey thinks that this current team has the chance to be great and thinks that the bond between the players is what makes this team different than last year.
“[The chemistry] is real,” he said. “It’s like a big family now. It’s going to be a different team than last year because we bond really well. It’s just a different feeling inside the team right now.”
Sophomore forward DeAndre Daniels wishes he had more time to play for Calhoun, but is happy with the direction the program is going.
“I wanted to play for Coach Calhoun all my years I was here,” Daniels said. “But he had to do what’s best for him and his family. [Kevin Ollie] is from LA too so we have a real good bond and that’s one of the other reasons I came here.”
“I’m honored just to say I played for Coach Calhoun. It’s an honor. I wanted to cry a little bit.”
Daniels said that he’s glad Ollie was named the head coach. He worried that under an outside coach there would be a difficulty adjusting to a new way of doing things, but with Ollie, they know the expectations. He has full confidence in Ollie.
“We can do really something special,” he said. “Just having Coach Ollie as a coach. He’s hard. He’s gonna push us. It’s gonna be fun.”
Karl Hobbs, a UConn basketball player from 1981 to 1984, was an assistant coach for Calhoun from 1993-2001, helping the Huskies win a national championship in that time. He left UConn in 2001 to be the new head coach at George Washington. He says that Calhoun taught him many things that stuck with him as a head coach, but consistency was one of the most important.
“I think that success is measured on being able to be consistent,” Hobbs said. “When you look at 26 years and going to postseason tournaments and three national championships, it doesn’t get more consistent than that.”
Hobbs is one of the many people who showed confidence in Ollie and is excited to be here at such an important time in UConn history.
“I’m very fortunate to come back and be part of the foundation and the legacy that Kevin will carry on. This is an exciting time and an exciting transition going forward. It’s great.”
“I think the program is [heading in the right direction]. It’s going to be a little bit of a process. We’re going through a transtition and sort of a rebuilding. We’re going to have to develop the guys that we have. The best part is that the foundation has been laid and we just have to build upon that and it’s a very strong foundation.”
[Photo by Matt Britt via Flickr]