Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Kevin Ollie: "We're Playing for Each Other and This Great University"

Took a swing by Gampel Pavilion today and ran into Kevin Ollie. However good or bad my day had been before my 10-minute conversation with Ollie, it was appreciably better afterwards.

Talk about a positive, uplifting guy. It’s no wonder that virtually everyone associated with the UConn men’s basketball program would love to see him as the next Huskies’ coach. Recruits love him (and UConn just got a pretty good pair in Kentan Facey and Terrence Samuel), current players and coaches love him and, of course, there’s no doubt that Jim Calhoun wants him as his successor. But that’s for another day.

As for today, Ollie is happy with the state of the program. He said Jim Calhoun has been back in the office several times, doing physical therapy with trainer James Doran, working out in the pool and weight room and “looking good.” He even went up to a Red Sox game recently (how that would make a noted Sox fan feel good, I have no idea.)

Ollie is very happy with the way UConn players have progressed over the summer, both in the gym and academically. He particularly points out Tyler Olander, who has made a major commitment in the weight room before a recent right ankle sprain put him in a walking boot.

“Every time you turn your ankle, you damage your ligaments,” Ollie noted. “It just takes time to heal back. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve had in my three years here. He’s worked tremendously hard to change his body, get in better shape. It’s unfortunate this happened, but everything happens for a reason. I’m glad it’s happening now and not Nov. 9 when we’re playing Michigan State. Hopefully, he can respond to it and his ankle can respond to it and he can get back on the court, because we really need his leadership.”

There is one question that Ollie, Calhoun, the players and virtually everyone around the program will be asked incessantly over the next few months (and, in many cases, have already been asked numerous times): “With no postseason tournament eligibility this season, what are the Huskies playing for?”

As I asked Ollie the question, his brow furrowed and an inquisitive look spread across his face, as if the answer was abundantly obvious.

“It’s competing every night,” he replied. “You go out there and compete every night. You’re still blessed to see another day, to put on this UConn jersey. You go out and compete. I know that’s a simple answer, but that’s what it is. You compete with yourself, first and foremost, because your mind is going to tell you what you’ve got to play for. The enemy is going to ask you that every day. If you can combat that, you can combat that in life. That’s what we’re trying to teach these kids.”

Ollie continued: “It’s not all about basketball skills, it’s about life skills. Things are going to happen to you in life that you can’t control. I didn’t want to play for 11 different teams, but I did. I wanted to be like Reggie (Miller) and play with one team, but it wasn’t (to be). I didn’t want to get cut on Christmas Eve, but I got cut on Christmas Eve. Now, what are you going to do? You expect to win, you prepare for the worst, and you accept whatever comes your way, and you capitalize on it. This situation, we’re going to capitalize on it. I believe that, and I believe these guys in the locker room are here for the right reasons, and that’s who we’re playing for. We’re playing for each other and this great university that we represent.”

As for tangible goals, certainly the Big East regular-season title is something the Huskies can aim for.

“That’s the one thing we can get. Can’t get the NCAA Tournament, can’t get the trophy on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, but that’s alright.”

You listen to Kevin Ollie speak, and you start to realize that this could be a fun year to watch this team. It could really say something about their character, their will to win, along with their on-court abilities.

And it certainly makes you believe that Ollie is head coaching material, too. No question about it.

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