"Get on the line" was the phrase reverberated inside the confines of UConn’s practice center in Storrs, CT. It was the very first day of practice for Head Coach Kevin Ollie to open up the upcoming 2013-2014 season. And already Kevin Ollie was destined to make a mental breakdown into a teaching moment for the future.
"Move your feet" was the words expelled from Ollie’s prime basketball mind. Expressing his displeasure of interior defense made by Senior Center Niles Gieffey. "You have to slide over and help the weak side." These harsh spoken words implemented to make a statement to his players were only the beginning of Ollie’s "18 month goal". Kevin Jermaine Ollie going by his full name grew up in the heart of Dallas, Texas. Before later being transferred over to a brand new life style, with his recently divorced mother Dorothy Ollie, revolving around Jesus Christ and the worship of God in Los Angeles. The adolescent 8 year old Kevin Ollie developed himself as a bright follower of Christ, becoming a proud speaker and vocalist with his mother growing up. As Ollie dazzled the hearts of many church folk through his thoughtful and resounding "Gospel Church singing". He started to develop a love of another hobby. This hobby was basketball. Ollie was accustomed to the game by watching many role models he looked up to star in the sport at both the high school and collegiate level.
Once, the wide spread talented Ollie found himself as a decent player. He went out for the varsity high school basketball team in Los Angeles. Where he started all 4 seasons at Crenshaw from 1987 through 1990. At point guard he developed as a 6 foot 2 guard who could manage the game fundamentally, thus taking over ballgames late. That same tough demeanor and bulldog approach he took was the same way he carried himself into college ball. Being recruited by then Head Coach and the man behind the greatest turn-around story in College Basketball Jim Calhoun at UConn. Early on, Ollie was able to pick up details in Calhoun’s coaching style that propelled Ollie as a player to recognize different tactics to defend and score.
Making Ollie a tenacious defender and a relentless worker on offensive spacing into the next level. After his college career was over. Ollie went undrafted, unnoticed by the watchful eye of every NBA franchise executive. Except for the Connecticut Pride. A then CBA franchise who was looking for players to develop into strong, heralded NBA prospects. Looked to be the perfect fit for the rookie Ollie. Who at the time was looking for any sort of motivation to help groom him into a NBA star. The fit evidently turned out as a launching path for Kevin Ollie. As he later was brought up as a bench reserve for the Dallas Mavericks in 1997. This time the fit wasn’t right for Ollie, resulting him to be traded to 10 different franchises within 8 years. The repetitive bad marriages with the NBA slowly dissipated. In 2004, the Philadelphia 76ers with head coach Maurice Cheeks sought benefit in the veteran point guard to be placed as a starter briefly from 2005-06. It wasn’t until in 2009, Ollie’s 12th organization at this point where Ollie benefited himself more as a teacher than as a player. Oklahoma City started their first season as an expansion team, from Seattle. The young talented roster game planned on youth movement talent. By the likes of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were found with no team leader, no veteran player who could carry the torch for them. Until they both met the veteran, the battle fought, point guard who had experienced same amount of teams and coaches than any other player could have experienced throughout a lifetime. Was here, to become a fathering mentor to a clash of young rising stars, seeking to become a legend. "I taught him the ropes." Kevin Ollie said. When reliving the experiences he helped lecture towards Kevin Durant. This 2 year developing period was the last stint of Ollie’s NBA career. Then at 37, he was currently cut from 9 NBA rosters. When evidently he got a phone call from a fellow colleague.
Ollie looking for any type of basketball related job to attain his full-fillment. Answered without any form of hesitation. Once he picked up the line, a familiar voice engaged Ollie’s attention right away. The battle tested Ollie was met with a deep spoken "hard East Coast accent" that only Ollie could reminisce to. It was his old head coach Jim Calhoun, where he played for 4 seasons under. The then 3 time National Champion coach himself was just finishing up his recruiting from his 2009 Final Four run in Detroit and asked if Ollie could assist him for next season in Storrs. Without any fluctuation, Ollie accepted the offer immediately. It wasn’t long before Assistant Coach Ollie picked up the same old techniques he soaked in during his time as a player for Calhoun. In following suite, he gained the knowledge to not only become a coach to the kids, but become a 2nd father in their lives.
Amongst the 2011 drama, UConn who as a team was experiencing the valleys of their rocky season. Was picked to finish 10th in the Big East, hit a wall during Big East conference play finishing 9-9 in league, having no leader on the youth led roster to turn to. As well as finishing the regular season un-ranked. Kevin Ollie pursued the confidence in his players to finish the season out strong, as champions. The 3# seed UConn Huskies, who ran through the 5 wins in 5 days of the Big East Tournament propelled themselves to Houston at Reliant Stadium where Kemba Walker, UConn’s lone game changer carried his Huskies team on his back to the title. After Ollie helped Calhoun win his 3rd and final National Title as head coach.
The Braintree, Massachusetts native decided to call it a done deal. Much commotion was surrounded by Calhoun’s departure. Of him knowing that potential penalties were looming around the corner, headed directly towards the UConn program. After Calhoun fled from the program. Ollie was left with heavy allegations weighted by 1 year probation from the NCAA Tournament. This barred UConn to not participate in 2013 Big East Tournament nor the 2013 NCAA Tournament. This left Ollie in his 1st season as Head Coach with a talented roster, only plaguing them not to have any form of post season play. With already losing their star Center Alex Oriaki, deciding to transfer to Mizzou. So he could avoid enduring his final season without any post season resentment. Already Ollie’s rookie season as head coach took a major tail spin. 2013 season went followed by guiding UConn to a 20-10 overall record and an 8th place finish in Big East.
Following the 2013 campaign, Ollie was left with a very talented roster full with experience. Both Niels Giffey and Shabazz Napier were pieces of UConn’s 2011 National Title team. Likewise, what we had witnessed 1 season prior with Oriaki departing by the knowledge of the allegations. Was Ollie’s biggest fear at the time. Still amidst Ollie’s then "18 month process" was continuously getting disturbed with the players. In November , Senior Point Guard Shabazz Napier, the Huskies rock. Began to feel agitated by playing under Ollie. Both him and fellow guard Ryan Boatright felt un-certain where there season would lead to. This resulted in Kevin Ollie molding himself into a coaching mentor. Who pled to Napier and Boatright to stick with the process he had installed for the team. That gentle encouragement led Napier taking it upon himself to guide UConn in victories over Florida in mid-December and at Memphis in early January. Few weeks later, UConn’s grip on the conference race loosened, forcing the Huskies to slip up in early March. One of those slip ups was to the hands of Louisville on the road to end the regular season. An 81-48 thrashing left Ollie and his players finding answers, not knowing where to turn to. It was right after that where the spotlight started to shine on the Huskies. Where Ollie through his rising character and courage told his players one last time. To make this season special. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright fought their way through an Overtime thriller in Buffalo, NY. Then willing Ollie past #2 seed Villanova, then obliviating Iowa State in Sweet 16, all culminated by knocking off East Region favorite Michigan State inside the old Madison Square Garden, punching their tickets to North Texas.
It was only fitting, through hard work, sacrifices made as a team. That no one was stopping Ollie to finish the season on College Basketball’s biggest stage. The confetti rained down inside AT&T Stadium, Shabazz Napier; Kevin Ollie’s bonded partner was embraced by his mother. The Connecticut Huskies won the championship…by the only way. Kevin Ollie’s way.