There have been a lot of words written about Jim Calhoun over the past 24 hours and we will have worlds more to say about him in the coming days, but right now I have a hard time thinking about anything besides Kevin Ollie, his former player and successor, who blew me away and stole the show at UConn's press conference today.
I had never heard Ollie speak before today. Yes, I had head him answer the occasional interview question and I actually bumped into him in Houston at the 2011 Final Four, but I had never heard him speak. And man can he speak. Ollie blew me away and if the reaction in our OpenThread and on Twitter is any indication, I'm not the only one. He gave a wide-ranging speech that showed that in a matter of minutes convinced me that no matter how Ollie does as coach, he's going to approach the job with passion, dedication and above all a deep love and appreciation for the University of Connecticut.
If you didn't see it live, you really owe it to yourself to watch it (skip to the 42-minute mark). Ollie is a man who clearly loves his alma mater, loves his family, loves the teammates he played with and loves the players that he will now coach. I'd try to sum up what he said, but I think it's better to use his own words:
It's about UConn basketball and how we go forward. And we're going to go forward. And we have enough, right here in this room, we have enough. I want to thank my players for being here. Ya'll are the most loyal guys I know. Ya'll are the most loyal guys I know. And you know, it's a situation where I gotta stand up and be loyal. I gotta be here for ya'll. I gotta bere here for ya'll. I love ya'll, we're going to work hard, I'm going to push ya'll, ya'll going to say I'm crazy sometimes, but it's going to be a good crazy because ya'll are going to know everytime I believe in ya'll. I believe in ya'll and I want ya'll to be better, not only basketball players, but I want ya'll to be better men. Better men, that you all come back, and the only thing I ask from ya'll is that ya'll come back and help the other guys that we're trying to coach, that we're trying to get to that next point. I want you to always come back and do that for me. I want you to believe in me as we go through this journey and know for a fact that I believe in ya'll.
Ollie is clearly a man who was thankful for his time at UConn and someone who wants to carry on the tradition and excellence of Calhoun's program. He cares about this school and you could tell. He followed that up by sharing some moving words about his family, then thanking the fans, and then finally turning to the challenges ahead, about which he said this:
As I embark on this journey I want to just say we gonna take the stairs, and not the escalator, because escalators are for cowards. We gonna take the stairs, and we gonna get there one step at a time.
By that point I was ready to run through a brick wall for him.
Until today I wasn't quite sure where I stood on Ollie. I knew I wanted him to get a shot at the head coaching job, if only because I trust Calhoun's instincts and if he wanted Ollie I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Now, I'm still not sure -- like Warde Manuel said, Ollie's never been a coach and it makes sense to see how he does this year. But I can tell you this: I feel worlds more confident about the future of UConn basketball now than I did before Ollie spoke. This is a man who loves this school, loves this program and loves this team, and I'm more than wiling to give him a chance to prove he can coach it.
And as for that one year contract? While Manuel seemed to stumble answering questions about it, Ollie gave the perfect response when he was asked why he accepted a seven-month contract:
Because this place is special, that's simply put, it's special. And I'm used to it, my first six years in the NBA I didn't have no guaranteed contract, so this is easy, this is easy, this is exactly where I want to be at.
So yeah, I'm sold. The Kevin Ollie era has begun and I'm excited to see where it takes UConn. Go Huskies.