Monday, May 20, 2013

The Incredible Mr. Ollie

There was no owners manual for Kevin Ollie to fall back on.  Sure he had the shoulder of Jim Calhoun who was there during practices and on the sidelines at games, but Kevin Ollie, who had no previous coaching experience, had the reins of a major college program that had just won a championship a few years ago.  He had to show not only an athletic director that he could do the job, but the rest of the state that had grown up with the security blanket of Jim Calhoun.  To top it all off, he had to do it with a team with an unproven star point guard, a scoring guard that had signs of ability but had never put it all together, a wing player that was a total mystery, and a makeshift front court of second stringers and underachievers.  What he did with this team was nothing short of miraculous.

Kevin Ollie has all the tools to make a good coach.  He’s gotten plenty of knowledge from the various coaches he played for in the NBA which gives him credibility when dealing with players in practice.  He’s only a few years removed from his professional career and can lace up the sneakers and demonstrate plays hands on.  One of the big questions leading into his first year was how would he be able to handle the day in and day out execution of the program and he has so far passed those tests with flying colors.  The word coming out of the practices is that his kids are working hard and prepared for the games.  His team never looked overwhelmed or lacked effort, but were simply out played in their losses.

There were some noticeable changes of philosophy between Calhoun and Ollie. Calhoun was stringent when it came to having a player sit with two fouls in the first half of ballgames no matter who it was.  There were times last season when Napier had two fouls and with the shifting of momentum late in the first half, Ollie didn’t hesitate to reinsert his star.  Another difference was in Ollie’s use of the zone defense.  Calhoun would only use zone as a last resort.  He felt that the man-to-man defense held more accountability, but Ollie employed it throughout the season though it had limited effectiveness.

The last true test for Ollie was after the season.  Could he lure top recruits to his program?  He answered that with a resounding yes.  Sure Purvis, Brimah, Facey and Samuel aren’t blue chips recruits, but they are foundation builders and are in the mold of what Calhoun has had success with; players with raw talent that want to get better.  And Kevin Ollie has proven over the last season that he can mold players like Nolan and Daniels and make them better players.

Kevin Ollie’s success has yet to be truly determined, but he has shown in his first year that he has all the tools to bring UConn year in and year out success at a high level.  He’s already earned the respect of other coaches in his profession for his character and professionalism and for him to be at his dream job right off the bat, UConn won’t have to fear other teams swooping in to snatch him away like they had to do with Randy Edsall. It is early but it really is a blessing and a lucky break for UConn to be able to land such a young and decorated person in Ollie. It is still early but what had once seemed like murky waters, UConn is now on stable footing with a talented new coach and the NCAA penalties and conference implosion behind them.  They have set themselves up nicely to keep this program on a steady course which is something  no one expected after just one season.

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