Mernagh: Set up for Failure? Ollie’s History Suggests Otherwise
Kevin Ollie wanted a chance to coach his alma mater and now he’s gotten it…in the form of a one season contract.
Everyone has an opinion on the deal, and most fall somewhere within the range of he’s being set up to fail to the Husky roster isn’t nearly talented enough for him to succeed.
The problem with the first opinion, which seems to be the consensus, is that it completely fails to take the man into consideration. Kevin Ollie and his history suggest the opposite.
The second opinion is garbage.
But let’s start with the man in question, Kevin Ollie, and his history.
Ollie came out of Crenshaw High School in L.A., where he displayed a steely resolve to stay out of trouble off the court, but also a toughness on the court that made him an attractive recruit to then UConn assistant Howie Dickenman. Ollie was the unquestioned leader of three Husky squads before graduating. Most thought he would play overseas for a while, especially after not being drafted, before going into business or coaching. Ollie ignored the perception surrounding his hoops future and did what he’s always done. He went to work. First the CBA, and then incredibly, the NBA.
Below is the list of teams Ollie played for in his 13 year career.
00-01 New Jersey
That list represents a lot of 10 day contracts parlayed into full seasons and the value placed on Ollie’s kind of leadership inside NBA locker rooms. It’s a tale of Ollie receiving a lot of calls come spring or summer from GM’s offering employment, because they knew that Ollie’s ego was non-existent and that he’d do the job on the court when called upon. That’s being a highly respected pro. A team-first guy in a league that seems to acquire its fair share of me-first guys.
Ollie’s first year on the bench beside Jim Calhoun resulted in a national title. Talking with him in the bowels of the Garden after UConn beat Pitt on Thursday of that crazy week, I asked him if he thought that team – a team that finished ninth in the regular season – could win the Big East Tournament. He held my gaze for a second or two and responded, “I think we can win the whole thing!”
He was talking about the NCAA Tournament. And of course, they did win it all, reeling off wins on Friday and Saturday in NYC, followed by six more on their way to Jim Calhoun’s third title.
Eleven straight wins, and following the third of eleven, Ollie was already preaching that the impossible was possible.
Telling Kemba Walker he was the best player in the country. Telling Jeremy Lamb that he couldn’t be stopped. Telling Roscoe Smith that nobody could box him out. Telling Tyler Olander they needed big things from him. Telling Shabazz Napier that he was a key. Telling all of them that the workouts they’d gone through together were about to pay off. The list goes on but basically Ollie was preaching the gospel according to KO. A guy that turned one or two isolated and minute chances into a 13 year NBA career.
And about that dearth of talent?
Tyler Olander had offers from Florida, Notre Dame, Virginia, Wake and Rhode Island.
Ryan Boatright has proven he’s special and had Oklahoma, UNLV and WVU wanting him.
Napier’s played a key role on a championship team and seen what happened the following disappointing year.
DeAndre Daniels had lightweights like Duke, Kansas, Florida, and Kentucky after him and was a top-10 talent.
Phil Nolan had offers from a myriad of high majors despite a transient high school career.
Omar Calhoun had everyone offering except Kentucky and UNC.
The roster has three top 40 players, plus role players in Niels Giffey and RJ Evans.
Last year’s team had two lottery picks and went 9-13 after an 11-1 start. This team is thin upfront but so are most of the teams they’ll go to battle against. Ollie will put guys in position to score with a perimeter heavy lineup.
So what if Ollie wins the same amount of games as last year’s group or even a few less minus two lottery picks?
Who’s in a better position come April when his contract expires?
Manuel, a new AD whose signature program had success despite a coach under a 7-month contract who really couldn’t, in good faith, recruit over that time span (despite getting a miraculous in-home visit with Jabari Parker and family). All of a sudden he’s a guy who has to decide whether to extend the favorite son who everyone loves or roll the dice on someone wanting the job who’s better.
Or Kevin Ollie? A free agent coach who got a group of kids with no postseason prospects to ball out. Who now has high major head coaching experience, to go along with strong ties to the NBA, and roots on both coasts.
If Ollie has success, with his personality and experience, there will be strong interest in him.
So, you can go ahead and believe that Warde Manuel has set Kevin Ollie up to fail if you want. That’s your prerogative.
The belief here, until proven otherwise, is that this decision will end up costing UConn.
Hopefully for the Husky Nation, it will only cost them in the pocketbook when they have to dig deep to keep Kevin Ollie. Because the man’s history has proven it’s unwise to bet against him…and when you really think about it, that’s kind of what his boss has done.