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UConn men's notebook: Evans close to return

Published 6:59 pm, Sunday, December 2, 2012
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R.J. CLOSE TO RETURN: Ten days ago, R.J. Evans couldn't lift his right arm above his shoulder.

On Sunday, during a lay-up drill that required each player to absorb contact from a student-manager holding two blocking pads, Evans rose to the rim and dropped the ball in the basket.

He now has full range of motion and, in turn, a legitimate chance at suiting up for Tuesday's showdown with No. 18 North Carolina State.

"I've been in the training room twice a day," Evans said. "I felt like I had a lot of progress on it. I felt pretty good today."

Often called "the rock" of the team by coach Kevin Ollie, Evans' presence has been sorely missed, particularly in Thursday's ugly 61-53 victory over New Hampshire.

"Againt UNH, we played kind of selfish," said guard Shabazz Napier.

"We missed having RJ. RJ would have kept us in our plays; he would have kept us going. He's a key guy. A lot of people see him on the court and they're like `why is he on the court?' but he does all the things and intangibles that you need to win games."

Ever since he transferred from Holy Cross, Evans, a redshirt senior, has provided invaluable leadership for a relatively young UConn squad.

"It doesn't revolve around him and that's what makes him such a great person," Ollie said. "He just wants to give to others, and that's what I'm trying to teach my team."

After sitting out the past two games with a sternalclavicular sprain, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound guard said he'll likely be a game-time decision Tuesday.

"I want to (play Tuesday), but if I don't feel right, I probably won't get out there," Evans said.

OLANDER'S STRUGGLES: During a drill Sunday, junior center Tyler Olander used his elbows to create space against reserve big man Phil Nolan. If there were referees present, Olander probably would have been whistled for an offensive foul.

"I just don't want you sitting on the bench with me," Ollie told Olander. "But I want you to be aggressive."

There's a fine line between aggressiveness and foolishness, and so far Olander has struggled with "ticky-tack fouls."

In the past five games, he's committed more fouls (20) than he's grabbed rebounds (18). The 6-foot-9 junior hasn't recorded double-digit points or rebounds in a single game this season.

"It's a little harder, just to stay in the flow of the game when I'm coming in and coming right back out," Olander said.

Although Olander's minutes have been limited, Ollie insists that his big man hasn't lost confidence.

"He might be discouraged after the game a little bit -- we're all human -- but you get yourself right back up and that's what he did," Ollie said. "First thing, I believe in him. I believe in him and he's going to go out there and play hard. I see his energy, you see his energy, and he doesn't look discouraged."

IN THE GARDEN: Freshman guard Omar Calhoun, a Brooklyn native, will make his Madison Square Garden debut Tuesday night.

"It's the Mecca of basketball --playing in New York, the Big Apple, at MSG," Calhoun said. "It's definitely something that a New York kid always dreams of playing in, so I'm excited for it."

Unlike other New York High school starts (Kemba Walker included), Calhoun never played in the world's most famous arena because he attended Christ the King, a Catholic high school. Calhoun said the Catholic schools play their tournament games at Fordham University; Madison Square Garden is reserved for the public schools.

Most of Calhoun's teammates -- save for Evans, Phil Nolan and Leon Tolksdorf -- have plenty of experience in MSG: UConn won five games in five days there during the 2011 Big East tournament and also played three games in the 2012 league playoffs.

"It's like the Apollo. The lights are on you, you can't see the crowd, but you can hear it," Napier said. "¦You never know who you're going to see there. My freshman year, Bill Clinton and Carmelo Anthony were there."

-- KEVIN DUFFY