Kevin Ollie's detractors like to point out that if Amida Brimah didn't grab an offensive rebound and complete that three-point play against St. Joseph's in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Ollie wouldn't be as untouchable as most UConn fans (rightfully) believe he is.
Sure, winning a championship buys goodwill from the fanbase. But when it comes to Kevin Ollie and his tenure as head coach of the UConn Huskies, there is much more to the story.
Ollie's accomplishments go beyond overseeing a six-game winning streak to end the 2014 season. He pulled the program up when it appeared to be on the precipice of a rapid slide.
There's an old saying in college basketball: It's really important to have good players. But some unfortunate circumstances across the past few years really hindered UConn's ability to bring in the best possible talent: concerns surrounding Jim Calhoun's stability at head coach, moving to the American Athletic Conference, and the NCAA investigation which led to the 2013 postseason ban and subsequent departure of players.
This is the situation Kevin Ollie inherited when he took over as head coach in 2012. To pile it on just a little higher, he was doing this with a nine-month contract.
So before you gripe about how what happened next occurred with Calhoun's players, remember that it was under those conditions. Also, remember that some of those players—really good ones like Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith (and Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond, of which maybe one would have stayed if not for the ban)—had left. Lastly, Ollie undoubtedly played a role in recruiting both Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels as an assistant coach.
Moreover, Ollie didn't inherit 2014 Shabazz. He inherited the oft-maligned 2012 Shabazz, who forced fans to pull out their hair with his erratic play, and publicly voiced frustrations with his teammates- causing observers to question his ability to lead the team. Daniels wasn't exactly tearing it up as a freshman, averaging 3.0 ppg. Niels Giffey was not always the deadly deep threat and defensive/rebounding presence he had become by his senior year.
Ollie and his staff coached those guys up, won 20 games in a season where they had nothing to play for, then came back and won the whole damn thing the next year. If we want to take a hard look at the assistants that's fine, but do they not deserve some credit for the development of those players?
Napier, Daniels, Giffey, Lasan Kromah, and Tyler Olander moved on after that season, taking a lot of production with them. How well do teams usually do after losing four of their top five scorers and rebounders?
Ideally, there would have been better dudes waiting in the wings to fill the void but UConn's recruiting had taken a hit, as we discussed earlier. Here is the full list of incoming freshmen from 2012 to 2014: Phil Nolan, Omar Calhoun, Amida Brimah, Kentan Facey, Terrance Samuel, Rakim Lubin and Daniel Hamilton. Sam Cassell Jr. joined the team as a sophomore out of junior college in 2014.
So it should be easy to understand why getting the team back to championship-caliber might take some time, yet many fans seem to be losing patience. Expectations are high as ever now that the program is in the same conversation as Duke (5), UNC (5), and ahead of Kansas (3) when it comes to titles.
We are UConn, 4-time national champions. This is not what we do! The program has sunk to unprecedented lows!
Having four titles does not make UConn an automatic Final Four contender for every season going forward. That fourth banner wasn't going to lace 'em up and body Shaq Goodwin in the post. It couldn't play point guard for the 2015 team which desperately needed a capable ballhandler.
UConn was never the kind of team to reload every year with a cadre of shiny blue-chippers, it would have been very unlikely to do so in the first couple of years in the American.
Jim Calhoun built teams, and that process involves growing pains. Remember 2012, 2010 or 2007? Those were tough seasons but they ultimately created winners. Calhoun missed the NCAA Tournament in two out of his final six seasons. Two other teams in that span ended their seasons in the first weekend of the tournament despite having a lot of talent.
He's still considered a pretty good coach, I think.
In reality, UConn should have been much worse across these past four years under Ollie when you factor in degree of difficulty. The results should have been closer to the doomsday prophecies rival fans were happily posting on their message boards.
What business did UConn have being competitive after going from the best basketball conference in the country to the AAC, watching the legendary coach who built its program up from nothing retire, and dealing with the mass exodus of talent in 2012?
None, if not for Kevin mother freaking Ollie.
Rodney Purvis was recruited as a transfer out of N.C. State. Daniel Hamilton, a top-20 recruit, chose to play for KO. The Huskies became aggressive players in the graduate transfer market, adding Sterling Gibbs and Shonn Miller, allowing this year's team to have a shot at greatness even though the program had dealt with some real shit while recruiting the upperclassmen who should be leading the team right now.
Purvis may not be a megastar, but he's definitely one of the best we've got. Hamilton might be, but wasn't able to grab the reins this season. Both have eligibility remaining...
Rodney Purvis indicated last night that he's on pace to graduate this spring but intends to return to #UConn for final season.— David Borges (@DaveBorges) March 4, 2016
So UConn has lost more games this season than most people, myself included, expected. Part of that is due to poor execution, which I do not want to excuse, but another part is bad luck in close games. Before losing by 26 last night, the total margin of defeat across the nine previous losses was just 45 points. KenPom has UConn as the 305th luckiest, or 46th-most unlucky, team in the country this season. Three losses occurred with Amida Brimah out of the lineup. The Huskies are better than their 20-10 record.
I don't think coaching is the problem, nor is it effort, desire or leadership - not that I know how to measure those things while watching games on TV. I think a team that lost its leading scorer coming off of an NIT appearance couldn't catch fire while integrating three new starters into the rotation. Still, by any measure, it is a vast improvement from last year.
The losses piling up, especially in league play, is disappointing for sure, but there's still time to right the ship, and it definitely doesn't mean Kevin Ollie is doing a poor job. We should be thankful these past four seasons have not been a complete tire fire. Because there's a totally feasible alternate timeline where that is what happens.
The 2012-2016 span has gone way, way, way better for UConn Men's Basketball than it should have, and Kevin Ollie is the reason why. If you don't think this team will continue to improve next year and the year after that, especially given how well 2016 recruiting went, I'd love to hear why.