In the words of The Carpenters from back in 1970, "We've only just begun."
That's exactly what's happening at UConn, and will continue to ring true after the program won the first national championship ever as a No. 7 seed. All of that is thanks, in large part, to Kevin Ollie's ability to not only turn around the program, but make his players believe in him as a coach.
The job that Ollie did with his alma mater was a revelation for a program that was banned from postseason play the year prior. His coaching also set a historical precedent for the game of college basketball, as ESPN Stats & Info notes:
Kevin Ollie is the 1st coach to win the national title within his first 2 seasons as a D-I head coach since Steve Fisher (1989 Michigan).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 8, 2014
Ollie now sits at 6-0 after running the table in his first ever postseason tournament as a coach. But despite his team's success this season as a lower seed, his leadership is not limited to just one great run.
Following the great run in the tournament, Ollie spoke about his team and apparently doesn't want the title of a Cinderella, per SportsCenter:
Kevin Ollie's good with you calling him a National Champion. But don't call him a Cinderella. pic.twitter.com/orPQ8McuQC— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 8, 2014
Cinderella tag or not, what UConn did during its run to the national championship was astounding and showed how much leadership Ollie provides to the program. Much of that comes from his days in the NBA and as a player at UConn.
Throughout his 13-year career, Ollie split his time between 12 different teams. During that time, Ollie went to five different playoffs with three different teams, most notably with a Philadelphia 76ers team that made it to the NBA finals before being eliminated 4-1.
One of the biggest components that Ollie took from his days as a point guard was the ability to make changes during the game and lead the players around him, as Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports points out:
Kevin Ollie spent over 10 seasons in the NBA as a point guard and it shows. Has an unbelievable feel. In game adjustments are impeccable.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) April 6, 2014
Over the course of his career in both college and the NBA, the 41-year-old also made strong ties with several members of the basketball community. Whether they watched him play or grew to love him as a coach, the outpouring of support came from all over.
David Aldridge of TNT, Magic Johnson and John Calipari, via the Associated Press, all expressed their thoughts on the second-year coach:
Congrats to Kevin Ollie--one of the legit good dudes--and UConn on the school's national championship!— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) April 8, 2014
I was blown away by UConn Coach Kevin Ollie's defensive and offensive strategy against Michigan State, Florida and Kentucky!— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) April 8, 2014
Calipari on UConn coach Kevin Ollie: "I hate losing, but I'm happy he won."— AP Top 25 (@AP_Top25) April 8, 2014
Will UConn win another title under Kevin Ollie?
Don't expect the success to end after this season for Ollie, though. While the Huskies lose the likes of Shabazz Napier and Niels Giffey, they will be replenished by great recruiting classes including one of the best shooting guards in the country in Daniel Hamilton.
The 2015 class includes two four-star players in point guard William Jackson and shooting guard Prince Ali. Include in next year's class Rodney Purvis, a redshirt sophomore transfer from N.C. State and McDonald's All-American coming out of high school, and the next several seasons could be just as special for the Huskies.
Success on the recruiting trail comes from being able to relate to players, something that DeAndre Daniels said Ollie does well, per Jim O'Connell of the Associated Press:
(He's) like one of us. He's like one of our teammates. He's always joking around and playing around with us every day in practice, and I mean he just cares for everybody in this locker room and loves each and every one, and everybody loves him on this team. It's just amazing to have him as a coach. He's just phenomenal.
With the talent coming into the school and the players returning from a national championship team, the Huskies have a look of a team on the rise after doing what many believed couldn't be done.
After leading one of the most remarkable runs in NCAA tournament history, Ollie has the makings of a historically great program. One might say that he's only just begun.
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