Oklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant Credits UConn Coach Kevin Ollie for Helping OKC Thunder Be Winners

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Kevin Ollie, left, pats Kevin Durant on the head after the Thunder lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers 100-99 in an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2010, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Tony Dejak
Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 8, 2014

Current coach of the Connecticut Huskies—and, as of Monday night, a national champion—Kevin Ollie played 25 games of his 13-year NBA career with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

According to MVP front-runner Kevin Durant, that was all the time the veteran journeyman needed to leave an indelible mark on the franchise.

"Kevin Ollie, he was a game-changer for us," Durant told Grantland's Bill Simmons during All-Star weekend. "He changed the whole culture, I think. He might not say it, but I think he changed the whole culture in Oklahoma City."

Ollie arrived in OKC as a free agent in 2009. The Thunder were coming off a dismal 23-59 season, which was actually an improvement over their 20-62 2007-08 campaign.

Ollie's arrival also coincided with an incredible three-year run near the top of the draft by OKC. The Thunder landed Durant in 2007 (No. 2), Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka in 2008 (Nos. 4 and 24, respectively) and James Harden in 2009 (No. 3).

OKC had talent, but it needed someone to show those young guns the right way to play. Ollie, according to Durant, was that person.

Tony Dejak

"Just his mindset, professionalism every single day," Durant said. "And we all watched that. We all wanted to be like that."

The Thunder won 50 games during Ollie's lone season in Oklahoma City and haven't had a winning percentage below .671 in the four years since.

Ollie showed the Thunder the way to success. He also began carving his own path to his next career during that time.

"He coached while he was on the team," former Thunder and current Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green said of Ollie, via Jay King of MassLive.com. "He’s a great motivator. As a teammate, he expected the best out of his teammates."

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MARCH 22:  (L-R) Nick Collison #4, Serge Ibaka #9, Etan Thomas #36, Kyle Weaver #5, Kevin Durant #35, Kevin Ollie #7 and James Harden #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder watch the action from the sidelines during the game against the San
Larry W. Smith/Getty Images

He also expected the best out of himself. With just 15.6 minutes a night thrown his way over the course of his career, the point guard didn't always show his best on the stat sheet.

But the way he carried himself, that same professionalism that Durant described, is where Ollie really shined.

"I didn't really pride myself on looking over at the coach for the play," Ollie said, via Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated. "I wanted to be an extension of the coach so he didn't have to call a play. I knew exactly what he wanted on the court every minute of the game."

Now, he's the one with a message to be delivered by his players. Obviously, it's a good one. This was just his second season on the job, first in the NCAA tournament, and it ended in championship bliss.

Yet it may not be the last time his fingerprints are seen on a title run this season. Not if his lasting legacy—combined with OKC's otherworldly collection of talent—helps power the Thunder to the same crowning moment his Huskies just enjoyed.

 

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