First, the numbers.  21 wins.  I think that already puts UCONN in the NCAA Tournament.  Five.  UCONN’s position in the American Athletic Conference.  That may be problematic.

Unlike the old Big East, the AAC is clearly a two tier league, five good teams, five bad teams, bad enough to drag down the power rankings for the top five.  If the NCAA selection committee selects the top five teams in the AAC they may feel compelled to insure that leagues with more power, top to bottom, the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, get at least a half dozen bids, a corner the committee may not want to be backed into.  Considering that in the later years of the Big East there 21 win teams from a league that powerful that failed to get NCAA bids, with four games to play it’s important for the Huskies to continue piling on the wins.  Still, I do think they’re already good for a bid.  And I do know a thing or two about college basketball.

When Kevin Ollie gave up his NBA career to join the coaching staff at UCONN I was among the first to announce that the heir apparent to Jim Calhoun was in place, to loud disagreement from a number of corners, where it was believed he didn’t have any coaching experience.  It depended on the definition of “coaching experience”.

Yesterday Kevin’s Huskies fell to SMU, coached by Larry Brown, who had the pleasure of coaching Ollie with the Philadelphia 76ers.  “I’ve been fortunate to coach for a long time, especially on the NBA level, and (Kevin’s) the best teammate I’ve been around”, said Brown, after the game at Gampel Pavilion, before altering the statement a bit, “Maybe that’s not fair to say, but he’s as good as anybody that ever put on a uniform.  The respect he has from his teammates and the coaches, everybody recognizes that.”

It was Brown who first recognized Ollie’s coaching ability when he saw the way Kevin personally tutored Sixers young star Allen Iverson on how to play the game and live the life at the NBA level.  When the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted a local high school kid named LeBron James, Brown informed them their next move should be to sign Kevin Ollie.  Ollie worked the same coaching magic Brown had seen in Philly in Cleveland, fine tuning James into an NBA player and, when the Oklahoma City Thunder drafted Kevin Durant they didn’t have to be told who to claim next.

After coaching Durant up to the NBA level Ollie made the decision to return to his alma mater.  LeBron was asked how serious a contender the Thunder became now that Durant had a season under his belt.   James’ quick response was, “The Thunder are going to miss Kevin Ollie.”

“I marvelled at the job he did last year”, Brown said of UCONN’s 20 win season with no post season to play for, “I don’t think he got any credit for what he did.  They can’t go anywhere, he takes over for a (legend) and he kept that group together, playing at a high level.  I just think he’s here for the right reasons.  A lot of guys that are coaching now aren’t here for the right reasons.”

Larry Brown knows a thing or two about coaching and four years later, with his validation, I get to say four of the sweetest words in the English language, “I told you so.”

Keep that in mind when I say I think UCONN already has a lock on the NCAA Tournament, and I have a pretty good feeling about the Sweet Sixteen.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.


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