By JIM O’CONNELL, AP Basketball Writer
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ Kevin Ollie can win as many games, even as
many national championships, as his predecessor and former coach
did at Connecticut. But he can’t transform the program. Jim Calhoun
did that already.
During his 26 seasons in Storrs, Calhoun turned a regional New
England program into a powerhouse, becoming one of just five
coaches to win three national titles or more. Add to that seven Big
East tournament crowns and 10 regular-season championships. No
wonder the 10,000 seats were usually filled at Gampel Pavilion, the
arena Calhoun gets credit for building.
All those accomplishments are history now. What’s left are high
expectations for a rookie coach.
Ollie, who played for Calhoun from 1991-95, went on to a long
NBA career and returned two years ago as an assistant, took over
Thursday– a choice Calhoun fully supported.
“Simply put, he epitomizes what we want our students to be
about,” Calhoun said. “When I started here we felt we could do
anything and I feel that way now, everything’s in place. This is an
exciting time as we go forward.”
And a difficult one. He takes over a team that is banned from
the Big East and NCAA tournaments because of poor academic
With a one-year contract, Ollie won’t have much time to show
what he can do on the bench and on the recruiting trail. And his
depleted roster isn’t likely to add to Calhoun’s stellar numbers _
27 players selected in the NBA draft, including 13 lottery picks.
“We’re going to attack this thing head on,” Ollie said at a
news conference at Gampel, where he once thrilled UConn crowds with
his hustle and defense. “We have enough to do it. Coach will be
there right beside me as he has always been. He’s been a second
father to me from the day I arrived here as a recruit and believe
me, that won’t change.”
Ollie’s contract will pay him a prorated $384,615 and ends on
April 4, the last day of the 2012-13 basketball season.
Athletic director Warde Manuel said there’s a reason it’s a
“I like to win and Kevin does, too. We’re not here just to
participate in games,” Manuel said. “I’m looking to see how he is
on the sideline. How he handles decision-making, substitutions,
things that are normal in a game. How does he handle losses with
the team and motivate them the next day to come back and play?
“It truly is a long-term plan, but I want to see where Kevin is
before we extend that contract. The commitment is there. He knows
Ollie refused to get caught up in the discussion.
“Everything I’ve done has prepared me for sliding over into
that chair,” he said. “I’m going to coach this team like I’ve got
a 10-, 15-year contract. I hope it’s for a lifetime. I want to
retire one day from the University of Connecticut like Jim Calhoun
Ollie will have some familiar faces on the bench since all four
assistants are staying.
“Kevin has always been a great listener,” associate head coach
George Blaney said. “He’s a potential superstar as a coach, no
doubt about that. Sure he’ll be different than Jim, but there was
only one Jim Calhoun.”
Several former UConn players were there to see one of their own
Kemba Walker, who led UConn to the national championship with an
incredible 11-game run in 2010-11, isn’t worried in the least.
“He’s one of the toughest guys I know,” said Walker, who plays
for the Charlotte Bobcats. “Kevin’s UConn just like Coach is
UConn. It’s not one person here. It’s everybody who played here. We
are a family and it will stay that way.”
Connecticut has never faced a season like this one.
It will have its first new head coach in 26 years and he is only
guaranteed seven months on the job. There are only five players
returning who saw significant playing time last season. There will
be no postseason play at all. Those factors should make the job as
tough as any faced by a coach in Division I.
Don’t tell that to Ollie.
“I told my players this morning, `It’s all stairs now. No
escalators,’ `’ he said. “Escalators are for cowards. Every day
now will be one step at a time.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)