Kevin Ollie: Can Jim Calhoun's Successor Lure Top Recruits to UConn?
Kevin Ollie has some massive shoes to fill.
With the retirement of 26-year incumbent Jim Calhoun on the horizon, it appears as though the former NBA point guard will take over as head coach for the University of Connecticut (via CBS Sports' Jeff Goodman):
Kevin Ollie will take the reigns at UConn for this season and be evaluated after the season, source told CBSSports.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanCBS) September 12, 2012
Calhoun, the sixth-winningest coach in college-basketball history, led UConn to 629 wins, 16 Big East regular-season titles, 12 Big East Tournament titles, four Final Fours and three national championships.
Before Calhoun got to Mansfield, the Huskies had failed to make it to the NCAA tournament for seven straight years and appeared just twice in 19 years. During his tenure, they made it 18 times in 26 years.
So, yeah, taking over for the storied coach wouldn't be an easy task for anyone, let alone Ollie, who played 25 games for the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2010 and has been on a college bench for a total of two years.
Another way to put it? Kevin Ollie, owner of the least coaching experience in college basketball, will have more pressure on him than anyone else in the nation as he attempts to lead one of the most storied Big East programs.
But don't be so quick to write off Ollie. Will he experience road bumps and learning curves while he continues to adapt to a relatively new job? Absolutely, but is being a college head coach 100 percent about "coaching"?
Assuming Kevin Ollie remains head coach, where will UConn rank at the beginning of the 2014 season (two years)?
Absolutely not. Recruiting serves as one of the major responsibilities of the job, a part that is, in fact, often more important. Just ask John Calipari and Kentucky how important recruiting can be.
And therein lies Ollie's true worth.
A big reason Calhoun was able to turn around Connecticut's program was his ability to recruit. He brought in countless 5-stars during his reign, and even as his involvement dwindled due to health problems, he continued to load up on talent.
Expect Kevin Ollie to do just the same.
In case you had your doubts about top high-school studs wanting to play for a 39-year-old former point guard who was in the NBA two years ago—is there anyone who wouldn't want to play for that guy?—the early reviews concerning Ollie as a recruiter have been rave ones.
Kevin Ollie does a great job — quote me on that.
Kevin Ollie is a great person, a great coach. Calhoun is great. I think the thing that is most important is that (UConn) becomes eligible for the tournament. With the head coach, whether it’s Ollie or Calhoun or (Glen) Miller or whoever, as long as they have (a good relationship with McCullough), that’s what’s important.
As Williams points out, recruiting may be hampered by UConn's postseason ban in 2013, but Ollie will be recruiting players for after that season.
Up next, with nothing but praise, is Ahmed Hill, the 28th-ranked prospect in the 2014 class:
I would (want Ollie to be the next coach). Every time he gets on the phone with me, he always motivates me. He has me thinking about school; he motivates me to be a better person. We talk about being a better person first of all before talking about basketball.
If that's still not enough to convince you, take Rivals' Christian Bradley's word for it:
Say what you want about Kevin Ollie's lack of experience, but every UConn recruit I've talked to said he's a major factor in their decision.— Christian Bradley (@_chrisbradley) September 12, 2012
Jim Calhoun's leadership and intelligence from the sideline will undoubtedly be missed, but if early indications are true, the talent level on the court—especially at the guard positions—won't even come close to dropping off with Kevin Ollie at the helm. It might even increase.
That's not a bad first step in replacing arguably one of the best college-basketball coaches of all time.
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