UConn Basketball: 5 Best Coaching Decisions Kevin Ollie Has Made This Season
Kevin Ollie inherited a tall task from his predecessor—legendary UConn coach Jim Calhoun—that would've caused many other coaches to shrink from the job.
An elite basketball program with expectations, facing NCAA sanctions, with an uncertain conference future and its two best players leaving for the NBA is the definition of not easy.
But Ollie has embraced the task and has the Huskies (19-9, 9-7 Big East) overachieving and on the verge of a 20-win season.
Not bad for a team that was a consensus pick to finish near the bottom of the Big East in 2012-13.
How has Ollie gotten his team to this point? Hard work and smart decisions.
These are the five best ones he's made during the course of his first season at the helm of the UConn Huskies.
Trusting Omar Calhoun
One of the few recruits to not spurn UConn after sanctions were announced was freshman guard Omar Calhoun out of Christ the King High School in Queens, N.Y.
The guard has paid immediate dividends for Ollie's team, averaging 11.4 points per game and demonstrating a propensity for hitting clutch shots.
Time after time, Calhoun has been there for the Huskies with a clutch three, or a drive through the lane that netted crucial points, or earned a trip to the line, where he shoots over 75 percent.
As the season has gone on, UConn's big two-guard combo of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright has become a trifecta with Calhoun fitting in nicely in the system and earning more minutes and more of the coach's trust.
He has developed as a player that will need to be watched next year as a potential breakout star, and some of that credit belongs to the coach that gave him the opportunities.
Making Shabazz Napier the Focus of the Offense
Shabazz Napier has always shown great potential but struggled to put it all together into the total package.
This season, that hasn't been a problem, as he has rightfully become the focal point of the Huskies offense.
He has rewarded his coach with career highs in points, three-point shooting and free-throw shooting in a season that has seen him emerge as one of the best guard's in the entire country.
Napier has led the Huskies this season and as he goes, so does the team. His 17 points per game have contributed to many of UConn's 19 wins this year and he's gotten even better as the season's gone along.
Kevin Ollie deserves some credit helping Napier emerge as a top-flight guard and the Huskies' primary scoring option.
Sticking with DeAndre Daniels
DeAndre Daniels has the tools to be a dominant big man inside. But all too often, he just seems to lack the drive to get into the trenches and fight for the ball or get the big rebound.
Many have been critical of Daniels throughout the season for being soft, but his coach has stood by him, and the more recent returns have been more promising.
Daniels' scoring and rebounding numbers have been up over the past few weeks, and the sophomore forward has begun to show increasing signs of progress.
At 6'8", he still has the potential to develop into a force as his body fills out and he enters his final two seasons in Storrs. Patience is a virtue and one that could wind up paying off for both Daniels and his coach.
Understanding the Past but Focusing on the Future
Kevin Ollie is a Husky through and through. There's no denying or doubting his commitment to the program or its players.
When Jim Calhoun abruptly retired last year, there was no better fit for the job than Ollie, who played for him and served as his assistant coach.
It's always difficult to take over for a legend, especially under tough circumstances, but Ollie's decision to honor the past while simultaneously embracing his own style of ball is a big reason for UConn's success this year.
Great coaches adapt to circumstances. Traditional UConn teams have featured solid big men who would dominate down by the basket.
This year's team has been more guard-based, given the presence of Napier, Boatright and Calhoun, and hasn't been what one would call a normal Huskies team.
But you can't force it and you have to go with what works. Kevin Ollie has done a tremendous job of emphasizing his team's strengths.
A team often takes on the personality of its coach.
If you don't want to play with passion and intensity, then Kevin Ollie isn't your guy and UConn ins't your place.
The first-year coach has given his new team a bit of his own personality, emphasizing hustle and determination over virtually all other traits on the court.
A team that comes to play highly motivated is one that is always dangerous, even if they aren't the most talented team on the floor.
The Huskies have shown that intensity this season, winning games over Syracuse, Michigan State and Notre Dame that they should've lost on paper.
While intensity may not be a decision, it certainly qualifies as a trait that Ollie has instilled in his team. And it's why you can't count them out of any games.