What a difference a year makes. Last season, Kevin Ollie inherited a Connecticut team that had been banned from the NCAA Tournament, lost Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb to the NBA and saw valued role players Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith transfer, as a result of the sanctions placed on the program.
Still, Ollie impressed. Leading a Huskies squad that had been stripped of an opportunity to defend its national championship to a respectable twenty and ten record, including wins against Pittsburgh, Michigan State and Syracuse. Furthermore, Ollie helped played an instrumental role in the development of UConn’s backcourt, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.
Yet, for his efforts, the first year head coach received relatively little praise or attention. Now, he is one of the hottest names to discuss.
In the midst of a national championship run that few could have predicted, everything from Ollie’s journey in the NBA, one in which he had to continuously prove himself, bouncing around the league on ten-day contracts. To his ability to lead and mentor players, which Napier and Kevin Durant, repeatedly raved about during the Huskies championship run, were discussed.
Those qualities, combined with his calm, confident demeanor and the success his team achieved this season, has NBA teams salivating. One NBA GM told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, “He’s a stud. He understands the NBA, he’s a leader, has faced adversity and fought through it.”
It is that adversity that has molded Ollie into a coach who understands the ins-and-outs of the game and more importantly, how to relay that understanding to his players, helping them to achieve their potential.
In the article, Goodman also cites an NBA executive who claims that assuming Durant hits the free agent market in 2016, teams will be in hot pursuit of Ollie, in hopes to increase their odds of landing the superstar.
Only time will tell if Ollie’s desire is to return to the NBA as a head coach or to remain in Storrs, Connecticut for the foreseeable future. But if a franchise is able to convince Ollie to make the leap, even if it only comes away with Ollie, it has set itself on the right course.