Some Very Interesting Words from Kevin Ollie, Rick Barnes
Here's some of what they had to say:
I asked Ollie if he thinks he'll be animated and, shall we say, "vocal" on the sideline like his predecessor, Jim Calhoun.
“Anybody who knows me from when I played here ... once I got between those lines, I’m a tough competitor. I want guys to compete, to understand who I am, what I demand. I demand excellence in everything I do, I demand that from my coaches, I demand that from myself.
"You can make a suit out of the same material 15 different ways. Me and coach have the same material. I might make my suit different, he might make his suit different, but it’s the same material. It’s hard work, it’s different, it’s understanding that it’s the group greater than the individual. And theyr’e going to understand that. If not, they’re going to be sitting right down beside me and they’re gonna get the picture real quick.”
He added that there's a running joke around the players that "Coach Ollie is different now," moving from assistant to head coach, "but they understand what’s on the line, and putting on that UConn jersey is something special.”
“You’re gonna see the passion," he concluded. "If that’s laid-back passion or (in-your-face) passion, you’ll see it.”
Calhoun has been around Gampel just about every day since his retirement, and Ollie doesn't see that changing anytime soon. And he's happy about that.
“I think he’ll be around. I don’t think he can leave. He’s been great so far. Any question I ask, he’s already seen it, done it. Before I can even say it, he knows what’s coming. He gets me really focused on my task around. He’s been a tremendous asset for me."
Ollie added: “It’s not like I’m following him. I’m right on the side of him. I think we’re locked on. It’s going to be a great new era of UConn basketball, but not an era without Coach Calhoun. I’m gonna be with him. I’m looking forward to it.”
Ollie said that the extra hour or two of practice each week now allowed by the NCAA has helped his team get off to a "tremendous" start, particularly picking up defensive principles. He had a sports psychologist, Dr. Joseph Carr, who's worked with numerous NBA and college teams, come in with the team a few weekends ago and spent about 30 hours with the players, helping them "just getting to know each other, how to common-bond. We established that. I wanted to establish the guys taking ownership of the team. Hopefully they run with it throughout the whole season … and throughout their whole life.”
Ollie said Tyler Olander (ankle) is in "great" health, and that Shabazz Napier should be about "85 percent" by Saturday, when hopefully he'll be back on the floor. Napier hasn't been doing drills, but rather doing rehab in the pool and treadmill, but has ramped up his rehab over the past week.
Ollie said he has a comfort level with both Glen Miller and George Blaney, and that "Glen will be a great person at my side, and just in case I get kicked out of a game, he’ll take over.”
*** Some real interesting stuff as well from Barnes -- who, of course, went up against Calhoun many times at Providence (and later at Texas), and who coached against Ollie when Ollie was a player. Boy, does he respect Ollie.
"I’m not sure people really understand that he was the perfect guy to step into this position," Barnes said of Ollie. "My only thing, as a coach, I wish they would have given him a long-term contract, to have him do what he needs to do. He’s gonna get it done, but still … I can tell you this, there’s not a university in the country that wouldn’t want him to represent their university, the way he conducts himself. And he’s another guy, like Jim Calhoun, that truly, truly loves the University of Connecticut.”
Barnes continued: “We were out recruiting yesterday. I said to him, ‘I’m happy for you, because you’re the perfect guy, but I wish they would have done things different.’ And he immediately said, ‘Hey, this is a great opportunity. I appreciate them giving me this opportunity.’ That tells you all you need to know. He could have gone the other way, but he didn’t … that right there, as much as anything, tells you how loyal he is. I don’t think you could find a coach that wouldn’t say he’d wish he’d have a four or five-year (contract).”
Barnes confirmed one of my favorite Calhoun stories of all time: that UConn recruited both Austin Croshere and Travis Knight, got Knight but not Croshere, and every time Croshere hit a 3-pointer against the Huskies, Calhoun would turn to his assistants and yell, "Wrong guy!"
But he also told me this story: After Barnes' Longhorns had beaten UConn in the Elite Eight in 2003, Calhoun sent Barnes a letter (not an email, a letter) a couple of days later.
"I got a great, great letter from him," Barnes recalled. "He told me how much he hated losing, and said, ‘I want you to know that I’m extremely happy for you.’ It was one of those letters where when you read it … I felt he meant it, because he knew that we both had some tough jobs along the way."