When Coach Kevin Ollie was an NBA player he was often described as a journeyman point guard; however, he is no more a journeyman in the coaching ranks since his Connecticut Huskies won the NCAA Tournament. Ollie is now a master. Ollie had to fight his way into the NBA. Nothing has come easy for Kevin Ollie and he is the better man for facing his challenges.
Ollie was undrafted coming out of UConn. He finished his college playing career in 1995 and failed to latch on even as training camp fodder, at least initially. His first foray into even an NBA practice was training camp for the Golden State Warriors in 1997. He lasted only a week before his release. In his second NBA stint with the Mavericks, he lasted into December before being let go. He latched onto a gig with the Orlando Magic in March, 1998 with a 10 day contract and was picked up for the remainder of the season. Once obtaining a foothold in the league, Ollie played for numerous teams until his playing days ended in 2010 with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
To survive in the NBA as a fringe player, a guy has to be viewed as offering something extra beyond basketball talent. They have to be thought of as “good guys.” You never see malcontent stars play long in the NBA once their skills begin to diminish. No doubt Allen Iverson still had NBA level talent after he played a few games for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2009, yet his temperamental nature left him without a team after he parted ways with the club. Coach strangling Latrell Sprewell is another example. Once he was no longer a marquee performer, the headaches connected with his antics left him without a playing gig as well. Guys who have long careers out of the spotlight need to be solid citizens. There is no debate that journeymen NBA players such as Connecticut Husky Coach Kevin Ollie need to do more than play the game, they have to be good examples for the younger players in order to assist the NBA coaches in player development.
Although largely ignored as an NBA player, Ollie has excelled as a college coach for the Huskies team. Replacing the legendary Jim Calhoun at UConn is a tall order. Calhoun put them on the map. Instead of distancing himself from Calhoun and his legendary status, Ollie has embraced his former coach and the challenge of following a legend. To make things more difficult for Ollie, Calhoun and UConn were cited for multiple recruiting infractions in 2010, plus the program took flak for academic shortcomings. To walk into a situation in which he followed a hall of fame coach and had to wrestle with an NCAA microscope into the program activities required grit and determination, which is just what the former NBA walk on had to offer.
Ollie has remade the UConn Husky team into his own image. The team plays with fire, grit and determination. They do not back down from a challenge. Not one outside of Connecticut picked the Huskies to win the NCAA title, yet they were the team cutting down the nets in Texas. They played on the largest stage of them all and beat back the enormously talented Kentucky Wildcats. No doubt the Connecticut Husky players used their talents to the fullest potential and maybe more, just like their own Coach Ollie when he was an NBA journeyman player. The Huskies beat down the door to get their due, the same as Kevin Ollie in the NBA. The championship trophy is no coincidence.
Commentary by William Costolo