UConn eager to compete behind Ollie’s charge
by Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY Sports
STORRS, Conn. — This time a year ago, the outlook for the Connecticut men’s basketball team appeared bleak.
The Huskies were about to enter a season ineligible for the Big East and NCAA tournaments because of poor academic standing, an announcement that prompted two key players to transfer out and two to declare for the NBA draft. Their longtime coach, Jim Calhoun, had just retired after three national championships and 26 seasons. His successor, assistant coach Kevin Ollie, was given the job on an interim basis.
On the surface, the Huskies — the ones who remained — had nothing to play for. But they did have some motivation.
“Pride,” junior guard Ryan Boatright says. “Pride and proving the world wrong. Nobody expected us to win any games last year. They didn’t expect us to be good. They thought we’d have a losing season … just because everybody left. We still had to go out there and compete.
“We had to uphold our pride and our school’s pride and go out there and compete anyway, no matter who was on the floor — if it was bench players, if it was walk-ons, if it was starters.”
UConn did more than that. The Huskies won 20 games, including three against ranked opponents. Their 9-2 start and first-semester grades in the classroom were good enough to get Ollie the permanent gig. In December, he signed a five-year deal. Meanwhile, after years of conference realignment and instability, the Big East splintered, the seven Catholic schools creating their own conference and leaving UConn and others to land in what is now the American Athletic Conference.
Slowly but surely, things in Storrs have stabilized. Calhoun settled into his new office in Gampel Pavilion and his new job as a special assistant to the athletics director. Ollie’s contract gave him more leverage on the recruiting trail. Connecticut secured its place among the best teams in its new league. In June, UConn got the good news: It would be eligible for the 2014 postseason.
With that light at the end of the tunnel, summer workouts felt a little … [For more on Motivated UConn eager to compete behind Ollie's charge, click here.]