(skip this header)

Fairfield Citizen

Monday, September 22, 2014

fairfieldcitizenonline.com Businesses

« Back to Article

Kevin Duffy: Calhoun loyal, talented, but still taking freshman lumps

Updated 12:44 am, Friday, December 21, 2012
Larger | Smaller
Email This
Font
Page 1 of 1

STORRS -- Omar Calhoun committed to UConn before any of the drama: the postseason ban, Jim Calhoun's retirement, Kevin Ollie's one-year contract, conference realignment, all of it. He picked the Huskies over North Carolina, Pitt, Villanova and, by all accounts, remained firm in his commitment as the Storrs turmoil piled up.

When Calhoun arrived to campus in late June, his physical ability -- he's an 18-year-old with a senior's body -- was abundantly clear. So, too, was his loyalty.

"When we get in a battle this upcoming season, he's going to be right there," Ollie said in July. "He's not going to be running away. When you look back, you're not going to say `Where's Omar at?'"

Ten games in, the Huskies have been in a few battles and a few blowouts. Calhoun hasn't backed down, but at times -- like many freshmen -- he's disappeared: Against low-majors Vermont, Stony Brook, New Hampshire and Maryland Eastern Shore, he's averaged 16 points on 44.4 percent shooting from long range. Against the high-majors -- Michigan State, N.C. State and Wake Forest -- Calhoun sports averages of 4.0 points and 2.6 rebounds while shooting 14.3 percent from the field.

So the loyalty is there. But consistency, at least to this point, is not.

"I've been doing all right so far, but I think I need to pick it up," Calhoun said. "I'm starting to get back on track here."

A snapshot of his freshman campaign: In his first exhibition, Calhoun -- and his 6-foot-5, 190-pound frame -- powered through an AIC guard for a 3-point play, flexing his biceps afterwards. Against Michigan State, he couldn't shake his defender. He barely saw the ball. This past Monday against Maryland Eastern Shore, he coolly buried a trio of 3-pointers, then hammered home a fast-break dunk -- the exclamation point on a predictable rout -- in the closing minutes. Against NC State, he grabbed a rebound and dribbled up the floor himself, only to lose his handle and have the ball stripped by a Wolfpack defender.

Indeed, Calhoun's highs have come against the cupcakes, the lows versus the big boys. After tonight's game versus Fordham (7 p.m., XL Center), 19 big boys remain.

"I know it's a different game for him; it's another level up," Ollie said. "There are guys that are just as strong as him. I know in high school, he was probably able to just push guys around because he doesn't have a freshman body."

He has, though, had a fairly normal freshman season, where ups and downs -- regardless of preseason hype -- are almost inevitable. Consider this: Kemba Walker hit double figures just nine times in the regular season as a freshman; Ben Gordon went 3-for-14 in his collegiate debut; Rudy Gay was 3-for-15 against Northeastern in his fourth game; A.J. Price suffered a 16-for-58 midseason slump in his first year; even Shabazz Napier began his freshman season shooting 26-for-75 in non-league competition.

With young players, it happens. The key is to maintain confidence, and Calhoun seems to be OK there.

"He has to understand that if he can't score, he has to do something else," said UConn junior Shabazz Napier. "It's kind of hard coming from New York. New York, as it is, everyone thinks they're better than everybody."

As for Napier's hometown?

"Boston," Napier said with a smirk, "We don't have that attitude. We just go out there and give it all we've got."

The lone freshman playing serious minutes (30.6, to be exact), Calhoun has learned from Napier and the upperclassmen.

"It's just more of different technical stuff," Calhoun said. "I have to make sure everything is technically right with me because you have guys who are strong and fast. You can't beat them with your speed all the time. You have to beat them upstairs, so I've been watching film, making sure I'm reading things on the court."

The film says this: Sometimes Calhoun looks like the next great UConn guard -- albeit against inferior competition. Other times he looks like, well, a freshman. As we've learned over the years -- just look at Walker, Gay, Price and Napier -- that's perfectly normal.

kduffy@newstimes.com; @KevinRDuffy