Friday, April 18, 2014

Daniel Hamilton: "I Love it Out Here"

Daniel Hamilton had 10 points and two rebounds Friday night for the West Team in the Jordan Brand Classic game at the Barclays Center. Hamilton started but played just 11 minutes as the East beat the West, 158-147, in a defense-optional game.

Here's some of what Hamilton had to say afterwards:

(on watching UConn's national championship victory)

“I was just so happy for Coach Ollie. Everybody around the house was so happy. We had, like, 13 people there.”

(on his game Friday night, as well as a championship of his own he recently won)



(on what he'll bring to UConn next season)

“I think I can bring my versatility, coming in playing shooting guard, small forward, being able to push it on the break and being able to get our players involved and being able to pull up for jumpers and stuff like that.”

(on whether DeAndre Daniels, whom he's known for many years, will return to UConn for his senior season or turn pro)

“I’ll just let him decide. I’ll let him do his own thing, but I haven’t talked to him about it. Most definitely, I’d love to play with him, especially since I’ve known him probably all my life. We’ll be able to have another chance at a run if he comes back. We’ll be that much better, because he’s a force. A lot of power forwards can’t guard him at that position, because he can put it on the floor and he can shoot, so it’s hard to guard him.”

(on whether UConn's national title will attract more top-notch recruits to Storrs)

“It’ll be easier for Coach Ollie (on the recruiting trail), I think, especially now. The way he coaches the players, it looks like a family. That’s what got me. Two years ago, when they played against Michigan State in that Army game, the way they looked like a family, they all got together and, man, that just touched me. That’s when I figured out I was going there.”

(on playing on the East Coast)

“I love it out here. The fans, they all love you and embrace you. That’s why I like it out here, because there’s no haters.”


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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Omar Calhoun Isn't Going Anywhere

No word yet on whether DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright will be returning to UConn for their senior seasons. But there seems no doubt that Omar Calhoun will be back for his junior year and isn't looking to transfer.

While Calhoun essentially already confirmed this a few weeks ago during the East Regional semifinals and finals at Madison Square Garden, it's always good to check in with his dad, Omar, Sr., who (obviously) is a very influential figure in his life.

Omar, Sr. pretty much echoed what his son had said in New York.

"My confidence in Coach Ollie never wavered," Omar, Sr., said on Thursday. "I believe me and Coach Ollie have the same love and passion for the game. I truly believe in the stuff he teaches to his kids.

"He wants you playing to your potential on the floor. He’s got a lot of Coach Calhoun in him, too, and a lot of the great coaches he’s been around, too. He wants you playing to your potential. That’s how he wants you on the floor. Omar understands that, he’s gonna work extremely hard, and he’s healthy now. I think he’s heading back in the right direction. That’s the beautiful thing about basketball, it increases your value and your character if you grow as a human being and a basketball player. Obviously, at times, he wanted to see more minutes, like at the Garden. But I totally understand what Coach Ollie was doing, the situation he was in."

Keep in mind, any transfer talk regarding Calhoun this winter was pure, 100-percent speculation. But it was certainly on people's minds. It was on my mind, as his playing time
decreased so much that he played a total of four minutes in UConn's six NCAA tournament games. It probably was on Omar's mind, too.

"I'm pretty sure it crossed his mind," Omar, Sr. said. "But the situation he was in, he was always prepared in case his number was called. He wished he was out there, these are kids. But when it's all said and done, Kevin Ollie is a tremendous guy to be driving the bus. He accepted the challenge."

Omar, Sr. also pointed out that, not only did his son have off-season surgery on both hips that prevented him from working out until about October, but he also had smaller injuries throughout the season that hurt his production: a pair of turned ankles early in the season ("one time, Shabazz tried an alley-oop, and he coldn't even get off the ground because of his nagging ankle injury," his dad noted), a sore shoulder and a concussion that kept him out of a couple of games in mid-February.

But he's completely healthy now and ready to get back to the player he was. Omar, Sr. noted that there's one major reason his son was able to handle his tough times so well this season.

"He had the support of his family. I know basketball, I know right from wrong. A lot of parents don't. They fall into the trap. I never wavered from Coach Ollie. I told Omar to stay positive, stay ready. His number wasn't called. But if it was called, I'm pretty sure he would've helped out in the moment. But he's gonna accept this challenge. You can't run from challenges. Coach Ollie preaches perfection. I think (Omar) can make a nice living in the NBA, because he's gonna be prepared. He's gonna be a survivor, someone who knows what it takes when things are good, and when things are bad."

"I wouldn't trade this experience for the world," Omar, Sr. added. "Obviously, he would've loved to see more minutes. But he went through a great deal, and when he comes back next year, he'll be ready."

And, he'll be coming back as a UConn Husky.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Kevin Ollie Talks with Gayle King on "CBS This Morning"

Transcript of Kevin Ollie's interview with Gayle King on "CBS This Morning":

GAYLE KING: Well, LeBron James said this about you, that Kevin Ollie has the coaching gene. Kevin Durant said, "He taught us a mindset and professional. And all of us wanted to be like him."

KEVIN OLLIE: Wow. That's-- that's pretty awesome.

KING: What's the Kevin Ollie formula for success?

OLLIE: Oh, man, it's just a lot of hard work. It's believing in yourself. It's a pride that I gotta get better at something every time I wake up.

KING: Okay, so we've been on YouTube. We've seen that "'Cause I'm happy." You even had a thing where you did a Jay-Z brush your shoulders off, too, Kevin.

OLLIE: Yeah, we have to brush the doubters off. We always gotta brush the doubters off.

KING: Let's talk about the doubters for a minute. 'Cause you inherited a team that was on academic probation. It wasn't these particular players. But because of that, U-Conn wasn't allowed to play last year. What do you do to motivate that group of-- that group of players? Because everybody says, "We're going to win." Everybody says that.

OLLIE: Yeah, I mean, you’re exactly right. Everybody brings it in before the season, say, "One, two, three, championship." I'm not chasing championships. Championships are chasing us. I'm not doing that. I want my players to be better people, once they leave campus. Because this is a life lesson. This is more than basketball. This is life lessons that we’re trying to teach.

KING: Let's talk about unionization. A lot of college campuses are talking about it for athletes. Where do you stand on that?

OLLIE: I just think they need a voice. Whatever that voice is. Somebody needs to be talking on their behalf. You know, NCAA can use your likeness for a lifetime. We have to do something for our student athletes. We have to change.

KING: Did you ever have any trepidation about stepping into the shoes of Coach Jim Calhoun? I remember Jim Calhoun.

OLLIE: I cannot step in his shoes. Only thing I'm glad that he passed me the baton. And I'm trying to run as fast as I can with it. And, you know, he's a great man. He's a father figure to me. But I gotta be Kevin Ollie. He seen something inside of me before I seen it.

KING: Before you saw it in yourself?

OLLIE: Oh yeah, even when I was a 17 year old coming from Los Angeles to Connecticut.

KING: What did he see?

OLLIE: Oh, he's seen a fighter. You know? He's seen somebody that-- you know, like, when I first got to campus, I'm a freshman. I'm playing against all these great players. And I'm like (MAKES NOISE). And I'm-- I went to the dorm after our first practice, I called my mother, said, "Mom, I’m coming home." I was crying. Last thing I heard was a click. (LAUGH) That's all--

KING: She hung up?

OLLIE: She hung up. And then-- I was like, "All right, I gotta go back, 'cause I can't go back home. So I just had to stick it out. And he just always told me, “Be the hardest worker. No matter what, just be the hardest worker."

KING: Mom did a favor hanging up on you.

OLLIE: She did a big time favor. She was like, "I sent you there for a reason, to get your degree and play basketball.”

KING: You played 11 different teams in 13 seasons You've been to a lot of different teams.

OLLIE: A lot of different teams. And I wasn't the most talented guy. So I had to watch tape. I had to-- I was playing, like, ten minutes. So I had to-- I had to make sure I knew every play, not only on my team, but the opposing team. So I had to do my homework. And when you put the work in, great things happen.

KING: Do you think that that-- what you learned as a player made you a better coach?

OLLIE: I'm so glad, when you look back at it, that I went and I was able to be around so many different players and so many coaches. Of course, when I was in the NBA, I wanted to stay in one city and have a 20-year contract and all that. But, It's good to come in the locker room. And you say, " Ollie's on one of those jerseys." So I don't care if I'm on a ten-day contract. I was on a make-good contract. Make-good contracts is-- every day, they can cut you. So I've been on all those. But that's what made me. And I'm so glad God took me on that journey.

KING: This was in the USA Today right before the tournament. Did you see this?

OLLIE: No, I didn't.

KING: Okay, this-- I thought this was really great. "Coach's pay, Kevin Ollie, $1.25. Billy Donovan, $3.9. John Calipari, $5.5. Bo Ryan, $2.2." There's a rumor that they're gonna renegotiate your contract. Should they just back up the truck? BEEP BEEP BEEP. What does Kevin Ollie want?

OLLIE: I just want the right conditions around my players. I want the right condition around them.

KING: I knew you wouldn't tell me the salary. But you are thinking, "I could probably get a little bit more than $1.25."

OLLIE: I mean, I imagine, because of a national championship, yeah. I mean, just like-- just rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. When your stock is up, yeah, I mean, it's more. But money don't move me. I played in the NBA. That don't make a man. We’re gonna sit down and negotiate. But I want the best for U-Conn.

KING: So even coming in here today, somebody sees you, somebody on the street, and says, "Hey, Kevin Ollie, you going to the NBA." Has the NBA called?

OLLIE: No, NBA hasn't called. No.

KING: If the NBA called, would you answer?

OLLIE: No, not now in my life. Like I say, I can't never --say no--

KING: Don't let me pick up the paper next week Kevin and it says, "Guess what? (LAUGH) So and so has called and Kevin has accepted the call." There's no secret meetings?

OLLIE: No. I'm just worried-- worried about my kids here at the University of Connecticut. And I got three guys-- four guys is gonna graduate on time. And I want to be there for the graduation. That's actually, that's gonna be even better than the national championship. I'm never gonna say never, but I'm having so much fun. It's my dream job.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

President Obama Congratulates Kevin Ollie, Geno Auriemma

From the White House, Office of the Press Secretary:

Today, the President called University of Connecticut Men’s Basketball Head Coach Kevin Ollie and University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball Head Coach Geno Auriemma to congratulate both teams on their respective National Championship wins in the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments. The President commended Coach Ollie and his team on their decisive championship victory and noted that he enjoyed watching the team throughout their tournament run. On the call with Coach Auriemma, the President expressed how impressive it’s been to see the team continue to dominate the field of Women’s NCAA Basketball and commended Coach Auriemma on yet another championship win. The President told both Coaches that he looks forward to congratulating their teams at the White House in the coming months.

*** Elsewhere, as we mentioned on this blog over the weekend, the UConn men and women will be recognized at Fenway Park on April 22, prior to the Red Sox-Yankees game. No details yet on exactly how they'll be honored (first pitches, etc.), but we'll have those in the coming days.

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Monday, April 14, 2014

AAC Tournament Moving to Hartford for 2015

Win a national championship, get the conference tournament in your backyard.

The 2015 American Athletic Conference tournament will be held at the XL Center in Hartford.

“We are pleased to bring our 2015 men’s basketball championship to the city of Hartford and to this outstanding arena,” said AAC commish Mike Aresco. “The success of UConn’s men’s and women’s teams this year has made Connecticut the center of college basketball nationally. This event will enjoy tremendous fan support and our visitors will enjoy the many attractions in Hartford and its surrounding communities.”

Sounds like it's a one-year deal. The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that the tourney will be held in Orlando in 2016 and 2017. Aresco said an announcement about those years' sites will be made on Tuesday. There will also be announcements on the site of next year's women's tourney, as well as a bowl game, later this week.

Aresco said that moving to Hartford has no bearing on the women's tourney, which was held at Mohegan Sun this season and will likely be held there again next season.

“Today’s announcement puts Hartford back in the basketball tournament business,” said Governor of Connecticut Dannel P. Malloy. “While this is great news for next year, I am even more excited for what this means in the future. I believe we can and should be in consideration for more NCAA tournament events, and I will continue to push to bring those games to our state. I want to thank the American Athletic Conference for making this decision. I also want to send a message to college basketball fans everywhere – come to Hartford next March. You won’t be disappointed.”

“We're honored and proud to have been chosen to host this prestigious event,” said Global Spectrum's Chris Lawrence, General Manager of the XL Center. “Through the commitment and unified approach of Global Spectrum, the Capital Region Development Authority, the city of Hartford and the downtown business community, we're extremely excited and eager to showcase Hartford. Combined with our scheduled summer renovations and an ever-growing events calendar, the American Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Championship will highlight a resurgent XL Center.”

The inaugural AAC tourney was held this past March at FedExForum in Memphis, and the league had a one-year option to remain at FedExForum for 2015. But the league has decided to move to Hartford instead.

Attendance at the inaugural tourney was solid but unspectacular, especially after UConn knocked out the home team in a first-round game. Louisville brought a decent amount of fans from not too far away, but, of course, the Cardinals will be in the ACC next season.

With the conference championships in Hartford, good crowds can be expected -- assuming UConn doesn't get bounced in the first round.

Memphis, which offered Beale Street, blues music, Graceland and several other interesting tourist attractions (not to mention a strong college basketball fan contingency) was a good choice for Year One. Hartford remains to be seen.

Here's what Kevin Ollie and Warde Manuel had to say:

Ollie:

“We are excited and proud that the American Athletic Conference has chosen the XL Center as the site for next season’s men’s championship tournament. It will give more of our great fans in Connecticut a chance to watch the intensity and competitiveness of postseason play. Last year’s tournament in Memphis brought together some of the top teams in the country and I know next year in Hartford will do the same. We want to keep Connecticut in the college basketball spotlight.”

Manuel:

“I am very excited that the American Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament is coming to Hartford in 2015. I want to congratulate Governor Dannel Malloy and the state of Connecticut, UConn alumnus Andy Bessette and the Connecticut Region Development Authority and Chris Lawrence and the staff at Global Spectrum for submitting an excellent proposal that resulted in the event coming to our capital city. We believe that our loyal UConn fans will once again fill the XL Center for our men’s and women’s basketball games in 2014-15 and that will continue during the 2015 American men’s tournament.”

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

Shabazz Napier on Kevin Ollie: "He's Not Going Anywhere." Ollie Essentially Agrees

Some quotes and video from today's parade, where we learned that Kevin Ollie "isn't going anywhere," but DeAndre Daniels, Ryan Boatright could be.

Shabazz Napier talked about his "hungry Huskies" comment and what he really meant by it:



(on appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated)

“Man, that’s surreal. My stepfather had bought a couple of magazines. I just saw it first glance, that’s just so surreal. I can’t believe that.”

(on now getting ready for NBA workouts)

“I knew, going into the tournament, before the first game, I’ve got to be prepared for anything, whether we lose or win. I’ve been preparing myself since then. I played well in the tournament, so it kind of showed how much I was prepared. But I”ve got a lot more to prepare for, a lot more to work on, because that’s a big jump.”

(on LeBron James saying on Twitter that Napier should be the first point guard taken in the 2014 draft):

“I don’t social network. But that is definitely cool. It’s just so surreal to see guys who you look up to shout you out and say stuff like that. I want people to know that, at the end of the day, they’re not picking. I wish they were. But at the end of the day, I’m going to go out there and treat every opportunity I have like an interview, like it is, and hopefully their words can get inside people’s heads. Maybe it’ll work. But I’m gonna work, no matter what.”

(on rumors of Kevin Ollie leaving for the NBA)

“He’s not going anywhere. He loves this university. When you love this university with the passion he has, he’s gonna stay here until they tell him he’s got to leave.”

“I doubt that he will leave. But, at the end of the day, I state what I believe.”

*** Incidentally, if you were wondering whether or not Jim Calhoun was at the parade, he wasn't. Calhoun was vacationing in Hilton Head, S.C.

*** Ryan Boatright said he'll talk to Kevin Ollie on Monday and his family this week regarding his future, and if he wants to turn pro or not.

(Boatright on paying attention to what scouts, critics, etc. say about his game translating to the NBA)

“You do a little bit. You take the good with the bad. Everybody ain’t gonna believe in you or think you’re a pro. So, you’ve just got to take the good with the bad and have firm belief in yourself, firm confidence.”

(on whether the idea of being "The Man" next year would help lead him to decide to return to UConn for his senior season)L

“It ain’t even about being the man. It’s just getting to put on the UConn uniform again, just having another chance to do this again. These type of experiences drive you to want to do it again. This is something special. It felt good to be a part of this.”

*** Ollie said nothing's really changed over the past week after winning a national title.

"I have to walk my dog and pick up the poop, all that stuff. Dogs don’t really care. Nothing’s really changed. It’s just amazing. I know their lives are going to change.”

“It’s great to be the fourth African-American head coach to win a national championship, to be with those names, mention my name with them, it means the world to be. Hopefully, it creates the path for other African-Americans that can get these jobs and perform very, very well.

He said he talked with John Thompson and Nolan Richardson at the Final Four, and plans to reach out to Tubby Smith, as well.

(on if anything would shake him to leave UConn for the NBA):

“No. Nothing will shake me. I love this place. Like anything else, I evaluate it each and every year. I want the conditions right around my student-athletes. You just never know where the NCAA is going in years to come. I want to make sure the university is doing everything possible for our student-athletes to succeed. If I don’t see that, maybe it’s an opportunity for me to leave. But I’m going to evaluate that each and every year, and it’s perfect right now. We’re doing everything it takes for our student-athletes to get their grades and do certain things on the road and have a great experience at this university.”

(on a possible contract re-negotiation with Warde Manuel)

"We’re going to sit down. Whatever it takes, I want to be here at the University of Connecticut. Hopefully, we can come up with a great solution that benefits not only me, but benefits the university going forward.”

(on what he'll tell Boatright and DeAndre Daniels about leaving for the pros)

“I’m just going to give them information that I’ve received from general managers, and then they’re going to have to make their own decisions. I don’t want to make any decisions for them. I want them to be committed, if they’re gonna come back. They’ve got to have the right attitude. If they decide to go to the pros, they’re gonna have to have the right attitude. I’m gonna give them information, and they’re gonna have to make the decision that’s best for their family. Not what’s best for UConn. What’s best for them and their family. And hopefully, they make the right decision and be committed to it. If you decide to go the NBA, you’d better be in the best shape of your life. If you decide to come back to UConn, you’d better be in the best shape of your life. I know they will.”

(It's worth noting that Daniels, one of the most congenial guys on the team, didn't want to talk to the media on Sunday)

Ollie has been out recruiting the past few days and said he hasn't heard anything yet about anyone possibly transferring from the program, but will start meeting individually with players on Monday.

"From what I hear now, they’re working, they’re in the weight room already. When they come to my office, I’m going to be all ears and all heart opened to them. Because they gave me so much. Even the guys that weren’t playing, they were great teammates. Whatever it takes for them to be better – if that’s moving on or if that’s staying at the University of Connecticut – I’m gonna be there for them.”

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Huskies Putting in Some Bullpen Sessions?

To the victors go the spoils: UConn's national-champion men's and women's basketball teams will be feted in numerous ways over the coming weeks and months. There will be Sunday's parade, which is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of fans. There will be trips to the White House, championship dinners and loads of other stuff.

There will also likely be ceremonial first pitches. Now, the question becomes, where do these pitches happen -- Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, CitiField ... or, possibly, nowhere at all.

The UConn women will almost certainly be taking part in ceremonial first pitches at Fenway Park on Tuesday, April 22, according to a source from the Red Sox. The men may join them that day, but that hasn't been determined yet. There are minor issues like classwork and the like that the Huskies must catch up on after their incredible run through March and early April.

Invitations have also come from the Yankees and Mets. This makes things even more intriguing. The 2011 team did the honors at Yankee Stadium.  Kemba Walker, the New York native (and non-baseball fan) threw out the pitch, but he was joined by Roscoe Smith, Alex Oriakhi and several other teammates. Not Jim Calhoun, however -- he threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park a few days later. Just as he'd done in 2004, after saying that he had rejected the Yankees' offer (this was later found to be an embellishment, at best).

Now, the question is -- does UConn, which is trying to strengthen its foothold in New York and will be playing a football game next November in the Bronx, go with Yankee Stadium? What about CitiField -- let's not forget, SNY broadcasts both UConn and Mets games.

Maybe there's a happy medium. Maybe Roxbury native Shabazz Napier does the honors at Fenway, while other UConn players accept the Yankees and/or Mets' offers.

Or maybe nothing comes of it at all. Seriously, there are classroom issues to take care of, and that's a concern for the Huskies over the next couple of months.