NCAA: UConn Alumni Endorsing Kevin Ollie
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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The UConn Huskies men’s basketball program was built into an absolute powerhouse by Hall of Fame head coach Jim Calhoun. Calhoun, who took over in 1986, decided to retire before the start of this season. He left with 877 career wins, 629 of which came with Connecticut, and three national championships.
Although Calhoun is gone, the expectations are the same for the Huskies. Their fan base is accustomed to competing at the highest level. The institution had the resources to go out and hire basically whoever wanted outside of the other living legends like Syracuse’s Jim Boehim, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and UNC’s Roy Williams who will retire where they’re at.
However, the timing of Calhoun’s retirement led to his assistant Kevin Ollie getting promoted. Mid-September isn’t exactly the ideal time to conduct a coaching search, so the Huskies committed to Ollie, but only through the season.
Ollie, an alumni of UConn and a NBA veteran with 13 years of experience, basically has a one-year tryout to prove he’s the right guy to replace one of the greatest coaches ever. To make his job even tougher, as if that’s necessary, the Huskies are also ineligible for postseason play of any kind due to inadequate Academic Progress Rate scores.
Ollie wasn’t looking to become a head coach. He was content learning from Calhoun and working his way up the ranks until he felt he was ready. But, despite the poor timing and situation, the opportunity was too good for him to pass on.
Through six games Ollie has already impressed, leading the Huskies to a 5-1 record that is highlighted by an opening-season victory against Michigan State, who was ranked 14th at the time. This is with a thin roster that saw Alex Oriakhi, their top post player, transfer to Missouri and underclassmen Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond leave early for the NBA Draft. They are being carried by their guard play of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, who have both really thrived under Ollie.
“He’s been doing great,” Chicago Bulls guard and former Huskie Rip Hamilton said to HOOPSWORLD. “I thought we had a tough schedule so far going to Germany, coming back and things like that but I think he’s been doing awesome.
“It’s tough, hard. Oh my goodness it’s tough. Especially, you know, with not being able to play in the tournament, things like that and replacing probably the greatest coach ever in the last 20-30 years. It’s tough, but I think that coach has trained him well. He knows the program, system, he knows the kids. Kevin’s done a great job.”
Support of the alumni is critical for Ollie’s hopes of keeping the job long term. The Huskies program is very family-like. You’re not just a Huskie for four years, you’re one for life. Even as players like Hamilton have moved on to have successful professional careers, they still have serious interest in how their alma mater is doing and want to see them remain amongst the elite.
It may just be six games into a season that has no chance for postseason play, but Ollie has already won over many, including Hamilton.
“He should [get an extension],” Hamilton said. “I’m vouching for him. I think a lot of the alumni guys are vouching for him. I think you have to keep it in house like all the other great programs, North Carolina and things like that. We feel we’re just as good as them. It’s great just to keep it in house.”
The sooner the Huskies commit long-term to Ollie the better position he’ll be in to fill the gigantic shoes of Calhoun. Recruiting is as key as anything in college basketball and the high-profile recruits UConn needs to contend are going to want to know that Ollie is definitely going to be their coach while they’re there before they sign.
Indiana Makes A Statement: The Indiana Hoosiers are widely regarded as the favorites to win a national championship, but they looked vulnerable last week in narrow overtime victory over the Georgetown Hoyas. As a result, some questioned their status as the top team in the nation, but those doubts were silenced in a major way on Tuesday night after the Hoosiers throttled the North Carolina Tar Heels 83-59.
Cody Zeller was dominant with 20 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey were right behind him with 19 points apiece. Christian Watford, the second best NBA prospect on Indiana, had just two points that came well after the game was already decided.
The Tar Heels were shorthanded without P.J. Hairston, but the Hoosiers aren’t at full strength yet either. They’re without two freshmen, Peter Jurkin and Hanner Perea, from their heralded recruiting class. They’re currently suspended for receiving impermissible benefits. They will join the team on Dec. 15 against Butler, nearly a month before the start of conference play in the Big Ten.
It’s still very early, but the Hoosiers clearly are the best team in the nation right now and they have room to get even better.
Louisville Headed To ACC: According to reports Louisville is heading to the ACC. It’s set to become official in a Wednesday morning teleconference according to ACCSports.com. If true, Louisville would be the seventh program to leave the Big East in the past year. The ACC recently lost Maryland to the Big Ten. UConn and Cincinnati have hopes of following them, but that does not appear to be in the cards for them just yet.