November 13, 2014

STORRS, Conn. (AP) - Defending national champion UConn goes from playing with a chip on its shoulder to a target on its back.

The Huskies came into last season determined to come back strong after an academic ban from the 2013 NCAA tournament. They went on to win the program's fourth national title, its second in four years.

This year, the 17th-ranked Huskies go from hunters to the hunted.

''We know we've got people coming for us, but we're not just sitting back and relaxing,'' said guard Rodney Purvis. ''We're coming at guys too.''

UConn coach Kevin Ollie is hoping the 6-foot-4 Purvis will help provide part of the answer to the biggest question his team has going into the 2014-15 season - how to replace guard Shabazz Napier, who led UConn in scoring, rebounding and assists.

That won't happen in Friday's opener against Bryant, however. Purvis was suspended for the game against the Bulldogs because of a violation of an NCAA rule governing participation in summer leagues.

The sophomore, who sat out last season after transferring from North Carolina State, will be available when the Huskies travel next week to participate in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament.

While Purvis' absence is only temporary, Napier isn't the only permanent loss UConn needs to overcome. DeAndre Daniels, last year's top frontcourt player and Niels Giffey, the team's top 3-point threat, also are gone.

''We lost a lot,'' said Ollie. ''But it's also a lot of great opportunities for other guys to step up and show how they've been waiting but working at the same time for a more prevalent role.''

Purvis, whom Ollie refers to as the ''Ferrari in the garage," will eventually join a highly touted incoming class that includes 6-7 swingman Daniel Hamilton, 6-8 power forward Rakim Lubin and guard Sam Cassell Jr., a junior college transfer.

The Huskies are led by senior Ryan Boatright, who is being asked to fill Napier's leadership role. Ollie said he he's putting a lot on Boatright's plate, which is one of the reasons his captain spent most of the summer in Storrs.

''We were up here bonding,'' Boatright said. ''I watched a lot of film with coach, seeing where guys like the ball.''

Sophomore center Amida Brimah has been named the team's co-captain. Already one the nation's top shot blockers, Boatright says the center has improved his scoring touch and should be a big weapon offensively this season.

''He's got a consistent knock-down 15 footer,'' Boatright said. ''He catches almost every ball. We would pass a lot to him last year and he would fumble it. His hands have got a lot better.''

Ollie says he expects to play a more up-tempo game this year, in part because of the Huskies' depth in the backcourt. In addition to Boatright, Purvis and Cassell, UConn also returns sharpshooting junior Omar Calhoun and sophomore Terrance Samuel.

''You want to have options,'' Ollie said. ''I've got a lot of scoring options in that gym.''

Ollie had far fewer options on the boards last season, and wasn't happy that Napier wound up collecting more rebounds than anyone. The Huskies are looking for more this year from Brimah and 6-10 junior Phil Nolan, who put on more than 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason.

''Phil was doing a lot of great things for us,'' Ollie said. ''But he knew, as a man, he had to get stronger so he could absorb that contact and get those dunks and be ready to bang underneath with the big guys from Florida and Kentucky.''

The Huskies also recruited Lubin, who weighs 270 pounds and has the body of a football lineman. Ollie says Lubin loves physical contact, but is also a solid passer.

Bryant was picked to finish sixth in the Northeast Conference after going 18-14 and winding up in third place in the NEC a season ago. Gone is Alex Francis, who averaged 18.6 points, but guard Dyami Starks - the Bulldogs' leading scorer in 2013-14 at 18.9 per game - returns.

Joe O'Shea figures to be the No. 2 option behind Starks after averaging 9.0 points and 4.3 rebounds while starting all 32 games last season.

UConn last faced Bryant in November 2008, winning 88-58. The Bulldogs faced two ranked opponents last season, losing by a combined 62 points to Gonzaga and Ohio State.

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