TAMPA, Fla. — It has been a long, difficult season for UConn's Omar Calhoun, the longest and most difficult of his basketball life.
"I've never played basketball like this," he said as he arrived in Tampa with his teammates for a game Wednesday against South Florida at the Sun Dome. "I'm definitely upset. I'm trying to get through it."
Calhoun, a sophomore who lost his starting job in late December and has since missed one game with a sprained ankle and two recovering from a concussion, is getting through it the way he knows how — shooting, shooting and studying shooting.
"I have a lot of pride," he said. "And I'm still the kind of player I've always been. There's no adversity I can't get through."
Shabazz Napier said that Calhoun looked especially good in practice Tuesday morning. "It was enlightening to see," Napier said. "He looked like the old Omar."
Calhoun's perimeter shot, with his unorthodox release, has been off, and he has not been able to handle the ball effectively. He had both assets as a high school standout in New York, where he was Gatorade player of the year as a senior.
Last season he started 29 of 30 games and averaged 11.1 points, shooting 40.2 percent from the floor. But he injured his wrist late in the season. Then he had offseason surgeries to relieve an impingement in both hips. Although he recovered by the start of the season, the lack of spring and summer court time apparently set him back.
"My hips aren't bothering me," he said, "but not being able to work on your game in the offseason makes it tough to do the things you need to do."
Calhoun's last effective game as a starter was Dec. 6 against Maine, when he went 4-for-9 on three-point attempts and scored 16 points. After a series of ugly games, he was replaced in the lineup against Eastern Washington on Dec. 28, but came off the bench to score 12. In American Athletic Conference games, which began Dec. 31, he has yet to play more than 18 minutes or score in double figures. He is 7-for-30, 2-for-15 on three-pointers in 11 conference games.
"Just watching him as a coach, and having been in his situation before, being hurt, not playing well, not playing at all in some cases, I know it wears down on a person mentally," Kevin Ollie said. "But he's showing up every day in practice, he hasn't given me any problems. He shows up and he goes hard and gives me full effort."
The unranked Huskies (21-6, 9-5 in the AAC) have been in a teamwide shooting slump. They shot 29 percent in the loss to Southern Methodist on Sunday, and have shot only 37.8 percent in the past three games. Lasan Kromah, who replaced Calhoun at the small forward/wing position, has been an effective defensive presence, but since scoring 17 at Central Florida on Feb. 9, he is 6-for-24 in the past four games.
If Calhoun rediscovers his swagger and re-emerges, he'd likely get his playing time back.
"It would be a big boost for us because he doesn't fall short on confidence," Napier said. "Any shot he takes, he thinks he's going to make. Any shot he thinks he has, he's going to shoot it. We need that. A lot of teams are going to be pinpointing on me, on Ryan [Boatright] and DeAndre [Daniels]. I tell him, sometimes you have to assert yourself on the defensive end to get yourself going on the offensive end — I had to do that as a freshman."
Said Calhoun: "I'm trying to stay positive. Coach is always talking to me, sticking with me, but at the end of the day I've got to step up. I'm trying to get all the positive energy I can and get out of this slump I'm in."
The Huskies beat South Florida 83-40 at the XL Center on Feb. 12, but expect the Bulls (12-15, 3-11) to play better on the home court. The Bulls' frontcourt, with Victor Rudd, John Egbunu and Chris Perry, can be a tough matchup in a halfcourt game; UConn overwhelmed them with speed in Hartford.
Ollie wants his team to shake off Sunday's loss to SMU by moving the ball in signature fashion.
"We need to take UConn shots, not our own shots," he said. "Hopefully, this game will be a stepping stone for us."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun