NBA AM: Ollie Ready To Take Over At UConn?
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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Late Wednesday word started to circulate that college basketball was losing a great head coach as Jim Calhoun, who has battled a series of health issues over the last few years, decided to retire before his 41st season as head coach of the Connecticut Huskies.
Calhoun walks away with 873 wins and three national championships, the most recent coming in 2011. The reports were followed by a long string of his former players, like Rudy Gay of the Memphis Grizzlies and Charlie Villanueva of the Detroit Pistons, praising him and voicing their shock over this mildly-surprising announcement.
Due to the timing of Calhoun’s retirement, the focus quickly shifted to who would replace him. While Calhoun, a 2005 inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and his career accomplishments deserve to be looked back on, there will be plenty of time for that in the future. In the meantime, the Huskies men’s basketball program needs a new head coach.
Former NBA veteran and third-year assistant coach at UConn Kevin Ollie has widely been reported as Calhoun’s successor. However, Ollie’s agent, Bill Neff, cautioned HOOPSWORLD late Wednesday night that nothing was agreed to or in writing and that the way things were being written by other outlets were not how they were actually occurring.
Since then, UConn has confirmed that Calhoun will be retiring and that there will be a press conference Thursday afternoon making it official. By then, Ollie may have an agreement in place with Huskies athletic director Warde Mauel, but no such agreement had been made as of Wednesday despite reports of the contrary.
If Ollie does indeed get tabbed as the man to replace an all-time great in Calhoun, he has a difficult task on his hands. Calhoun has been campaigning for Ollie to be his replacement when the day came, but Ollie was not in a rush to take over. He was the first to admit that he had a lot to learn, but now it looks like he’ll be forced to learn under the fire.
Ollie may not have any head coaching experience, but he’s far from inexperienced in the game of basketball or with Huskies hoops for that matter. Ollie, along with serving as his assistant for the past two years, played for Coach Calhoun from 1992-1995. The Huskies went 92-33 and won two Big East championships with him at the point.
He went on to play 13 years in the NBA, earning every day he spent in the league after going undrafted and playing in the CBA. Ollie played for 11 different teams, but impressed up until the very end of his career in 2010 with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“If he’s true to what he’s been as a player, that means he’s going to be a vocal leader,” Neff said to HOOPSWORLD regarding Ollie’s coaching style. “He was an overachieving guy, never averaged over 10 points, wasn’t drafted, went through the CBA and got called up. He stuck in the league for 13 years. I remember his second to last team I sent him to, Minnesota, they said, ‘Come tryout. I don’t know if you’ll make it.’ By the second day, he knew the whole offense and was running it. They were like, ‘Oh my God, who is this guy?’
“He made the team, ended up starting some games. The following year, Sam Presti made one free agent signing. It was Kevin Ollie to help Russell Westbrook grow. To this day Kevin remains friends with the organization.”
The organization wanted more than just a friendship with Ollie. They tried to get him to come on in a coaching or front office role, but Ollie ended up at UConn instead, where the head coaching job appears to be his if he wants it.
The 2012-13 season is set to be a tough year for the Huskies regardless due to their postseason ban brought on by poor APR scores. There isn’t a head coaching job at any level that doesn’t come with challenges, though, so it may be somewhat of a blessing in disguise that Ollie potentially deals with these kind of circumstances in his first year. It would certainly serve him well down the line.
Even with Calhoun gone, the expectations are not going to change with the Huskies’ fan base and athletic department. They are accustomed to competing at a championship level and consistently being one of the best teams in the nation.
Ollie is more than deserving of the opportunity to take over for Calhoun. What he lacks in coaching experience, he more than makes up for in playing experience and understanding of the game. As a man of integrity who exemplifies the great things that can come as a result of working hard, he possesses qualities that would serve the Huskies program well as they look to replace a legend.
Update: Ollie’s agent Bill Neff confirmed to HOOPSWORLD Thursday afternoon that an agreement has been made between Ollie and UConn for him to be their next head coach. Neff said the conditions were not ideal but he knows what he’s getting himself into.
Perkins Says Harden Deal Close: Kendrick Perkins’ official title with the Oklahoma City Thunder is starting center and his job description is primarily doing the dirty work inside the paint while single covering the best big men in the game. In a recent interview with Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, though, Perkins dropped some details on a potential extension for James Harden, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, that made it seem like he’s also been assisting the Thunder’s front office.
“We’re doing good,” Perkins said. “We’re making positive steps going forward. We got Coach (Scott) Brooks locked in. We got Serge (Ibaka) locked in. And, we’re getting close with James, and we’re getting close to keeping our unit together. And we’re still hungry.
“Once James gets here it’s nothing to be said. He’ll see his family and that’s all he needs. So once he sees everybody’s faces, that’s enough.”
While Perkins is not involved in the negotiations, he’s definitely close enough to the situation to have a good idea of what’s going on. So, this should not be taken lightly.
The rest of the Western Conference and teams with cap space next summer will be discouraged to hear this news. Previously it was believed that Harden could end up being the odd man out with Ibaka, Perkins, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook already having sizable deals that take up a large portion of the salary cap. If what Perkins says is true and they are on the verge of a deal, the Thunder are set to contend for several years to come and that’s one more big name off the free agent market this summer.
Harden is eligible to receive a four-year, $58 million extension.
LeBron Leaves CAA: The Creative Artists Agency took a big hit on Wednesday as their premier client, Miami HEAT forward LeBron James, officially notified the National Basketball Player’s Association that Rich Paul of the newly-formed Klutch Sports Group has replaced CAA’s Leon Rose as his agent.
Paul is a longtime friend of James who worked under Rose at CAA. His other clients at CAA include Charlotte Bobcats forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson and Los Angeles Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe.
At one time, it looked like CAA was going to have a stranglehold on the NBA and possess more control than any agency ever has. With James leaving and other clients sure to follow, their power definitely looks to be weakening.
All eyes are now on Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, who will be a free agent in 2013. He followed LeBron to CAA, creating the belief that he could also follow LeBron on his way out.