Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Kevin Ollie on UConn's Seniors: "That Loyalty They Showed ... Really Means A Lot to Me"

Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey, Tyler Olander, Lasan Kromah and walk-on Tor Watts play their final games at Gampel Pavilion Wednesday night against Rutgers. Kevin Ollie talked about the players before Tuesday's practice:

"I think Tyler's learned in his four years being here -- national champion, starting, not playing a lot, going through the mistakes on and off the basketball court and learning. I mean, I think Tyler will be a hell of a coach, just the way he's been. I observe everything, I'm a point guard. I observe how he's treating the other guys that have pretty much taken his minutes. I've been in that role before. For him to embrace them, teach them the little nuances of the game has been great."

(has he matured?)

"Yeah, I mean, he was in Florida rappin' ... he's not doing that stuff anymore. He's grown. Even his GPA, being on time ... we know what he had to do to get reinstated, and he followed it. And what he's doing now, being a selfless leader, not getting all the accolades, not getting all the minutes. I believe in second chances. I got a lot of second chances in life. He's made the most out of his second and third chances."

"Niels is my rock. The typical UConn basketball player, ambassador for our program. Throughout the not playing or the playing, he's like, 'Coach, what do I need to do? How can I get better?' I love him for that, always."

"Bazz is just an incredible person. He's going to pass me on assists here in a little bit ... I think his name will be following Khalid's soon up in the rafters. He deserves all of the accolades that he's got. He's been a tremendous person, on and off the basketball court. He's grown as a leader. It's been great."

"His legacy's going to be great. I can't chart them 1 through 5, because that's not wise on my part. He'll be the first one to say that the only thing he wants to do is win. And he's won a lot of games here, always having his mark on the team, growing up as a person. He's done a great job understanding leadership from the inside out, going through the difficult times, which every leader does. Showing his vulnerability, showing that he doesn't know it all and (he needs) to help his teammates and (he can't) do it all (himself). All the things he's done here his four years are going to help him immensely outside of basketball."

(first memories of Napier)

"Just his confidence. Being around Kemba, him coming in and first working him out. Who as this little kid? Telling Kemba what we're doing next, this and that. Just him understanding the big moments. Even his freshman year, the Kentucky game, him turning the ball over then coming back and telling coach, 'I got it,' then making two big free throws."

"Lasan, coming in in his one year here, he's made a mark on this program. I appreciate his hard work, his dedication to the program also."

(on Napier, Giffey and Olander all being on pace to graduate on time)

"It speaks volumes on them as student-athletes. Shabazz has a big-time load. He's got two labs he's doing, but he wants to get that paper. He wants to walk across that stage, and he can say 'I graduated' to my mother."

(on the group sticking with the program through tough times)

"That loyalty, what they showed the program in the midst of adversity, the character that they showed, the leadership they showed when we were in a difficult time, it really means a lot to me."

"They won a national championship, been to two NCAA tournaments, 95 wins in their whole career and hopefully even more. Hopefully they can get that century mark, it would be tremendous. It's just been a pleasure to be around them. I came in the same time they came in. I was kind of a freshman myself in the college profession. I think all of us have grown together."

"Adversity always molds you. The character that you show in those difficult times, that's going to mold you. They're probably not going to see the benefits until after their career here, when life hits you -- how to continue to stay with it, not give in, understand and embrace pain. There was a lot of pain around here, but everybody in this program embraced it and success came. They're the beneficiaries of it."

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