UConn’s efforts to play faster will begin on the defensive glass

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Despite winning the national title last season, one issue for the UConn Huskies was their work on the boards. Kevin Ollie’s team finished the season ranked seventh in the American Athletic Conference in defensive rebounding percentage, grabbing just 67.2% of their opponents’ missed shots. Their leading rebounders were DeAndre Daniels and Shabazz Napier, who grabbed 6.0 and 5.8 caroms per contest respectively.

With those two, along with forward Niels Giffey, having moved on UConn’s leading returning rebounder is senior point guard Ryan Boatright. So it should come as no surprise that one of the areas the Huskies worked on during their first official day of practice Saturday was their rebounding. And they didn’t do it solely because of the players who left at the end of last season either.

In a story written by Dom Amore of the Hartford Courant, Ollie discussed his desire to play faster with multiple players capable of getting the ball and initiating a fast-break offense. In order to do that the Huskies have to complete stops, whether it’s by corralling a turnover or protecting the defensive glass.

“We want to be a better fast-breaking team than we were last year,” coach Kevin Ollie said. “We want to get more easy buckets. We don’t have a Shabazz [Napier] that’s going to bail us out with 35-footers at the end of the shot clock. … We want to run a little more, get our athletes out in space where they can create for themselves and others.”

Another takeaway from the story is Ollie’s desire to ultimately be able to put four players on the court capable of accomplishing the tasks of grabbing a rebound and leading a quick transition from defense to offense.

“I don’t want to draw up a lot of plays,” he said. “I can if I need to, but I want us to use our athleticism. That’s my dream — to have four guys who can get it off the rebound and ‘let’s go, let’s push it, let’s play fast break basketball.’ … That’s what I’m recruiting for, so hopefully I have the type of team that can possibly do that. We were close last year, when we had the three point guards and a couple of forwards that were able to push it.”

This year’s team, even with the loss of Napier, Daniels, Giffey and Lasan Kromah, has multiple players capable of fitting into that vision. Boatright will be joined by NC State transfer Rodney Purvis, junior college transfer Sam Cassell Jr., freshman Daniel Hamilton and returnees Omar Calhoun and Terrence Samuel in UConn’s perimeter rotation this season. Even with an improved Amida Brimah and junior Phil Nolan in the front court, joined by freshman Rakeem Lubin, those guards will need to chip in on the boards if UConn is to contend for a national title.

And if they can do that, not only would that occur but it could also set the stage for what Ollie’s UConn teams will look like in the future.