As Sandy departs, Ollie steps into the spotlight

Winslow Townson

Some thoughts on the start of UConn's season.

So, before I get to some warm and fuzzy stuff about UConn basketball, give me a moment to rant a bit about Sandy.
Remember when living in the Northeast was awesome? Yeah, it was cold and kinda snowy in the winter and wayyyy too humid in the summer, but for the most part the weather was pretty amazing. You got to experience all four seasons, had a nice spring, nice fall, and Connecticut seemed like something that would have made Bing Crosby swoon every Christmas. Guess that's a thing of the past.

The last two years have sucked, especially if you live on the Connecticut shoreline, which happens to be where I call home. The winter of 2011 was brutal. I distinctly remember having to drive into work on three separate occasions in the middle of a blizzard, and then carving out little walkways around my place in about three feet of snow. Then in September Tropical Storm Irene hit and, in my town at least, it looked like a bomb went off. Days without power: six. October rolled around and we had a freak snowstorm. Somehow the shoreline was barely touched but the rest of the state got blasted. A few friends of mine spent 12 days in the dark.

Now, we have Sandy and, of course, the lights and heat have gone out again. I remember watching the pictures of places like California, when the wild fires would take out half the state, or the central part of the country, when tornadoes would pick whole towns up and just crap them out about 100 miles away, and I would always think to myself, "Thank God I don't live there." Now, suddenly, I live THERE. Maybe the housing market in Nova Scotia is pretty good.

Anyway, enough of that. Hopefully, by the time anyone is reading this I'll be happily sitting in a lighted apartment watching grainy footage of UConn's first exhibition game of the season. And that's what I really want to talk about.

I don't know about you but I'm legitimately excited about this UConn basketball season. I find that odd only because, as UConn fans, excitement has usually sprung from a very different place. When Husky Nation has gotten excited in the past it's usually been because a few championships were potentially on the horizon, and we know that's not the case this year.

Instead, I'm excited for....basketball. That's it. I just want to watch basketball. Maybe it's because this football season has been so atrocious anything other than that will be a welcome relief. I can't even think about Paul Pasqualoni right now, and I barely have the energy to hope he and George DeLeone take an extended holiday together at the end of the year.
Or maybe my excitement is a product of everything happening at the program right now.

I'm excited at the prospect of Kevin Ollie. I really, desperately want him to do well. I know that, as fans, we always want the coach and the players to do well, even when we go into it thinking that's highly unlikely. With Ollie, though, it's different. He's a Husky. He played for Jim Calhoun. He wore the uniform. He has ties to everyone from Ray Allen to Kemba Walker. He wants to be the head coach of the UConn Huskies. You get the sense this is, to him, what UNC is to Dean Smith disciples or what Duke will be to whatever Coach K acolyte takes over for him when he finally steps aside. This is his dream job, and I would love for it to stay a dream and not ever turn into a nightmare.

I also want to root for these players. They stayed. They chose to continue playing for the Huskies. Granted, I'm sure for some of them it wasn't just about loyalty. It's possible some didn't have a lot of options or things didn't line up for them to make a move. But let's be honest, the majority of them certainly could have picked up and followed the cavalcade out. Maybe they would have been forced to sit for a year, but they didn't have to stick it out.

They did. I like that.

Then there is the program. I'm not going into all the nonsense with the NCAA. I don't think I'm alone in thinking that the APR is a joke and that graduation rates aren't exactly the best indicator of how well student athletes are performing in the classroom. I also find the continued idea of "amateurism" to be laughable and firmly believe the world of college athletics would be much better served if everyone just admitted what this whole thing is and stopped pretending it's about some kid's Stats 101 grade. But whatever your feelings on what UConn did in the past, or it's current punishment, the program as it stands right now is doing things the way the NCAA has insisted they be done. Their APR scores are fine. Their attention to detail when it comes to academics has increased exponentially. There is a new regime in place that has nothing to do with the "problems" of the past. This is not some rogue program thumbing its nose at sporting morality. Honestly, it never has been.

As a UConn fan, I don't feel like there is anything for which I or the program should be ashamed, and I'm excited to show up at games to express that point to the NCAA. I know that, by itself, it won't make a difference, but I think it's important none the less.

UConn basketball is one of the great success stories in college athletics history. If the only stain on its reputation is the botched recruitment of Nate Miles and a few kids who didn't keep their grades up before heading off to pursue a lucrative professional career, then I don't feel the need to hang my head. Rather, I feel more energized than ever to stand behind my alma mater and the students who take the court to represent that school.

Whatever the reasons, I'm glad basketball is back. I'm glad there is something positive to talk about at UConn. I'm glad Shabazz Napier is back to give me a migraine, and Ryan Boatright is there to blow my mind.

Tip it up, baby. I'm ready to start cheering for the Huskies again. Hopefully, my lights come on in time to do so

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