For the first time in a quarter-century, Jim Calhoun will not be running the show for UConn basketball this fall. The Hall of Fame coach retired last week, and assistant coach Kevin Ollie was announced as his successor in Storrs.
A first-time head coach is always something of a gamble, especially at a program as high profile as the Huskies’. Nevertheless, there’s a lot working in Ollie’s favor as he looks to fill some of the void left by one of the legends of the coaching profession.
In the first place, Ollie knows the UConn program, and how Calhoun ran it. He was a three-year starter at point guard in a Husky uniform, and he’s been learning his trade as an assistant for the past two seasons—including, of course, the 2011 national title run.
Just as crucially, Ollie—while hardly a star even as a collegian—enjoyed a long and productive NBA career.
Most notable as a backup on the 2000-01 76ers team that Allen Iverson carried to the NBA Finals, Ollie played 13 well-traveled seasons as a teammate of such luminaries as Iverson, LeBron James and (in his final pro campaign) Kevin Durant.
That kind of experience will serve Ollie well on the recruiting trail, because knowing what it takes to make it as an NBA player is the most valuable asset a coach can have for attracting top-tier recruits.
Ollie doesn’t have the recruiting experience of a bigger-name college coach—though assistants such as George Blaney will be a big help there—but he’ll make up for a lot with his firsthand knowledge of the pro game.
The other vital edge Ollie holds, relative to any high-profile coach who might have been hired in his stead, is continuity.
The Huskies couldn’t have brought in a coach who could match Calhoun’s name value. There are few enough of those in the history of the game, and none who could be lured from their current jobs.
They’ve done the next best thing by bringing in a coach whose appointment says, “We’re going to keep doing what has worked for Jim Calhoun for the last 26 seasons.”
The Huskies were always going to be in for a rough ride in 2012-13, with the roster gutted by transfers and no possibility of a postseason appearance. For the longer-term future, though, Kevin Ollie is a great choice to build his own legacy on the foundation laid by his Hall of Fame mentor.