Kevin Ollie Addresses the Media on Saturday at the Garden
Q. When you were a college senior your final game was in the Elite8. What are your memories of that game, and now that you're back to this game as a head coach, does this hold any significance for you personally?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: No. The last Elite8 I remember is 2011 when we won, and went to the National Championship. So that's the one I'm worried about now.
The last one ‑‑ in 1995 it was my last game in an UCONN jersey. So it ended not the way I wanted to, but I still remember the fond moments I had with my university and with my teammates, that I still have as friends to this day. But the last Elite8 I remember is winning, and going on and playing in Houston.
Q. Kevin, the Germany game the beginning of last season, how significant was that for you? Not only as your first collegiate win as a head coach but going into the season with no post‑season and all that stuff. With as that a particularly poignant and significant win for you guys?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: First win for me as a head coach, the players, it was just a great, like Shabazz said, it was just great to honor our soldiers, honor our Air Forcemen and just to be in that venue, to play in front of that crowd and give back and have them smile a little bit. I wasn't worried about myself and the first win; just to see that crowd and just see how much they appreciated us.
And just having in mind student‑athletes being around on the base with those guys. And they were sharing stories about their service and what they have been through. And they are almost the same age as our student‑athletes, and it clearly puts life into perspective. I think that was a good time for us to bond as a team, when you're away from other things and you got your immediate family here with you, your brothers. It really gave us the opportunity to bond and forged a memory that we'll always have, and nobody can ever take that away from us.
Q. As you replaced Jim, Tom had to replace Jud. He talked about in Germany he talked to you about that. Do you remember what he said to you and how much you appreciated it at that time?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: I just appreciate Coach Izzo from what he's done, the culture he's built at Michigan State and how he kept it going after Jud. The thing that sticks out to me is he just said "Be yourself." I can't be Coach Calhoun. I can't build his program from '86 when he arrived, I can't do that. But I can be Kevin Ollie. I can take some great life lessons I learned from Coach and build on them and just try to create my own, forge away my own program and going forward. And that's all I'm trying to do.
We're going to build it on love. We're going to build it on toughness and togetherness. And one thing I learned from Coach is it's all about family. Your brothers, they all have each other's back, no matter if it's down times or no matter if it's up times we're going to have each other's back and that's how these guys are playing right now, and that's what we want to continue, no matter what's going on.
Q. Shabazz, you said you felt like you owed something, because of your sophomore year or because of that NCAA Tournament game?
SHABAZZ NAPIER: My sophomore year. That's the reason why I didn't transfer. I felt like I owed something. That's why I came back my junior year.
The reason why I came back my senior year is because I promised my mother I was going to get a degree.
Q. What do you think changed for you? Was there anything specific that happened?
SHABAZZ NAPIER: My sophomore season, we had one of the best teams in the country. I'm not sure. I think we were ranked, we started off No. 4 in the country. And we had great talent, Andre Drummond, Jeremy Lamb, Roscoe Smith, Alex Oriakhi. And I didn't know how to be a leader out there at that point. I was doing things that I wasn't definitely happy about. I isolated myself a lot when things were down. I didn't learn how to be a leader, even though I had one of the greatest leaders in front of me my freshman year. It was quite‑‑ I was quite flustered most of the time.
But I felt like I didn't play to my capabilities my capabilities that year, and I wanted to show my teammates, show the fans, show the coaches that I'm going to come back strong and I'm going to come back better.
Q. For actually for Niels, this is the best UCONN team from three‑point range since the 2004 team that won it all. A lot of you guys can shoot so well from three, but Niels your role really boosted in a big way this season. Were you expecting that sort of responsibility coming into this year or did it develop? And what do you attribute that to in the past few months?
NIELS GIFFEY: I kind of expected it for myself and I think the way we play this year is creating so many matchup problems for other teams with me and DeAndre playing the three and the four, just being able to stretch out the defense. And then our guards are just one of the best in the country at penetrating and finding other people. I think we have a lot of different weapons that we can use and utilize, just to stretch out the defense and put them in a position where they have to choose who to cover, and from there on definitely it helps us as shooters out there.
Q. You've had kind of a unique first two years as a head coach. I'm wondering what surprised you? Has anything? Obviously your relationship with Jim, I'm sure he's prepared you on a lot of things. You've seen a lot. You've been an assistant. But what, has anything been unexpected?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: I didn't expect Jim to retire when he did because he was in there, we were recruiting very hard and one day he said, "All right, it's time for me to retire. I want to spend a little time with my grandchildren and go play a little golf in January." And I was surprised with that, because his energy was good, his health was good.
But at the end of the day I just wanted to be who I am. I knew I had a great passion for this university, and it's a lot of things that are involved in it. But I have a great coaching staff. That coaching staff when I took over had probably about 40 years of head‑coaching experience. We had Coach Blaney, I had Coach Miller, Coach Hobbs. Then I had two wonderful young assistants that know what it is to be national champions. They were our first national champions in 1999, and that's Ricky Moore and Kevin Freeman. So it made my job easier.
I had Coach Calhoun there. I had Geno Auriemma there. I had the great Dee Rowe there. All these guys I can go and use them as a sounding board, and it was just a great situation for me, but at the end of the day you take suggestions, but you got to make the decisions. And as a coach, I wanted to make the right decisions. I wanted to stay hungry, but I always wanted to stay humble. And it's not about me, it's about the university and me treating everybody the same, and going out there for one thing, and that common goal is us. And that's what we believe in and that's what I'm all about. It's not one player. It's about a team effort. And that's what I try to establish, and that's what I continue to try to establish in my young men.
Q. It's kind of gone viral here, your interview last night on national television, at the end you gave Terrence Samuel a smack there as it was breaking up. What all happened there? Did he make a gesture that needed a teaching moment or were you just goofing around?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: No, we were just goofing around. It wasn't no big deal. So we were just goofing around and they play a game, and they were putting bunny ears behind me. It just wasn't nothing.
Q. Going back to Kevin Durant, he recently said that the Oklahoma City culture, you were the player most responsible for shaping that culture, even though you weren't there fore a long time. What do you think you taught Kevin Durant, and how might that translate to a college basketball?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE: I sure didn't teach him how to score 30 points a game. So I don't take no credit for that.
Kevin and Russell, you don't have to teach those guys too much. I appreciate the comment, but them guys are just, they're just are workers. That organization is a great organization. I thank them for taking a chance on a 38‑year‑old point guard and bringing me in just for that one year. They taught me more than I believe I taught them, just a player for his magnitude to be so humble.
In that interview, I know a lot of people caught on to what he said about me, but I caught on to what he said about the end, that I want to be known as a servant. And that's what I believe. A player of his magnitude to say "I want to be a servant" is pretty big time. And the humility that he shows, I want all our players to have that humility, and I think that's why he's such a great player. And he's going to be a great player for a long time.
And he just wants to win. That's what I've seen in him. A tireless worker, always trying to give, always trying to evolve as a basketball player. And if I can just bring a little something to the table, that's good, but he gave me probably more than I gave him. I appreciate our friendship. We're still friends to this day. We talk on occasions. We're always praying for each other. And I just love him. I love the things that he's doing. It's not only the basketball player, but it's how he carries himself. When he gets I know interviewed, it's not about himself, it's about a team. And that's a special individual when you got that type of talent.