STORRS, Conn. — Phillip Nolan was tired of getting knocked around and having his shots rejected, so he spent summer vacation doing something about it.
The UConn junior started eating — a lot.
When the 6-foot-10 junior came back to campus in August, he had packed on 25 pounds to push his weight up to 237. Nolan played last season at a generously listed 212 pounds.
“That was a goal that he had,” UConn coach Kevin Ollie said after Friday’s practice in the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center. “Everybody saw in the Kentucky game, the athletic guys and (Phil) was there, and getting his shot blocked. Phil has done a lot of great things for us before, but he knew as a man that he had to get stronger so he can absorb that contact and get those dunks and be ready to bang underneath with the big guys from Florida and Kentucky. He took it upon himself to add 20 (actually 25) pounds.”
Forget about the big boys the Huskies could face during the season, Nolan had to add some weight just to handle UConn freshman Rakim Lubin in the paint during practices along with 7-foot sophomore center Amida Brimah.
“Now I’m able to bang with the freshman and he’s 270 pounds,” Nolan said, with a smile, about Lubin. “I feel pretty good. Some of the days, I’m the one doing all the pushing (in practice).”
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After struggling to gain weight from his freshman to sophomore seasons, Nolan had no trouble this time around and had to actually put down the knife and fork at one point.
“I’m going to see how I play because I know I can gain a lot more weight if I want to,” Nolan said. “Over the summer time, I had to stop doing what I was doing and kind of lay off food because I was gaining so much weight. I’m going to see how I play at this weight. If I feel I need to gain more weight, then I’ll try to put on another 10 pounds or something like that.”
Last season, Nolan averaged 3.3 points and 2.4 rebounds in 40 games, including starting all six NCAA tournament games. He scored a career-high 11 points against Eastern Washington, but only scored in double figures three times.
With the added strength, Nolan, who’s been working at center and power forward in practices, should be in better position to make more of an impact in the paint on offense — an area the Huskies have lacked consistent scoring the past two years.
“He’s learned to use his body and his lower body in creating good post positions,” associate head coach Glen Miller said. “And now he’s got that extra strength which has helped him, too. But it’s a lot of footwork and angles and really becoming aware of positioning on the floor and how important that is.
“Now when you add his strength, it’s that much easier to get the position that you want.”
In addition to working on creating his space inside, Nolan is more comfortable with his all-around offensive game.
“We’ve been working on a lot of different moves and I feel if a player takes away one side, I can move to another side,” Nolan said. “I can do a lot more than I could last year.”
NOTES: Earlier in the day, UConn announced it would be starting a home-and-home series with former Big East rival Georgetown, beginning next season. UConn will host the Hoyas on Jan. 23, 2016, with the Huskies visiting the Verizon Center to play on Jan. 21, 2017. Ollie said the Huskies are also trying to work on a series with Syracuse, but no timetable for that has been set. … Sophomore guard Sam Cassell Jr. (lower left leg) was back practicing with the team this week after missing time with an injury. Cassell said after practice he felt fine.