Kevin Ollie

Kevin Ollie has support from Jim Calhoun, why not all of UConn?

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Friday afternoon, Andy Katz of ESPN was on the Connecticut campus to watch Kevin Ollie in his first year as the head coach of the Huskies.

As Katz reported, Jim Calhoun sat off to the side, offering support for the Ollie and UConn.

“I just think it’s good to be here and talk to Kevin afterwards and more importantly to support Kevin. This is his ship and his program,” Calhoun told Katz.

Ollie spent over a decade in the NBA, before spending two years as assistant coach at his alma mater being groomed to become a head coach.

However, when the Hall of Famer Calhoun retired in September, Ollie was the obvious choice and yet the initial contract didn’t exactly represent the same feeling. Ollie is working as the head coach, not the interim head coach, under the cloud of a one-year deal.

And as Katz wrote in his piece Friday, Calhoun doesn’t think this is the best plan for the program:

Calhoun and longtime assistant coach George Blaney don’t believe athletic director Warde Manuel should hesitate to give Ollie a long-term contract. But Manuel has made it clear he will observe Ollie before making a decision.

Calhoun said it would be a mistake to wait until after the season, when the chaos of a coaching search would occur and the opportunity to lock in recruits would be lost. The Huskies have two commitments from New York — wing Kentan Facey and point guard Terrence Samuel. Those two players and any others need to know who will be coaching UConn if they’re going to honor or make a commitment.

It’s difficult to feel sorry for someone who will make over $600,000 over seven months of work, but a one year deal was unfair to Ollie under these conditions. Regardless of how this season goes, it won’t be the best representation of Ollie as the leader of the program. He’s facing an uphill battle, yet the recruits highly respect him and that doesn’t seem to change in the near future.

The UConn recruiting class hasn’t been hurt thus far. In fact, you can make the case it has strengthened. A week following Calhoun’s announcement, Jabari Parker (Simeon/Chicago, IL) added UConn to his list of schools, before eventually cutting down his offers. Top-ten recruit, Noah Vonleh (New Hampton/Haverhill, MA) has UConn in his list of six schools.

If all goes according to plan, Ollie could land five players in ESPN’s Top 100 for his inaugural recruiting class. UConn had landed power forward Kentan Facey (Long Island Lutheran High/Glen Head, N.Y.) under Calhoun.

It’s not just UConn supporters, who feel this way, as Louisville coach Rick Pitino proved at the Big East Media Day:

I don’t know the new athletic director [Warde Manuel], but I can say this: There’s not a coach in the country Connecticut can hire that’s better than Kevin Ollie. He’s extremely bright. The players are going to love him. Technically, he’s very sound at the game of basketball. Overachiever as a player, college and pro. He attended UConn.”

To base Ollie’s future of the wins and losses would be a mistake. Ollie will land the recruits and rebuild the program. The longer the wait, the longer the chaos ensues about where this program is going and creates more and more uncertainty for prospective recruits.

Rousing endorsements from a Hall of Fame coach and a soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach should be enough. In the coming months Manuel and the rest of the UConn administration can make a key decision: extend Ollie and return the team to where it’s been or keep the storied program in limbo.

Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne

Auburn lands third transfer within the last week

Auburn guard T.J. Dunans (4) and coach Bruce Pearl celebrate a 75-74 win over UAB in an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.  (Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP)
Julie Bennett/AL.com via AP
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After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.

Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.

The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.

Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.

SMU lands former Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt

Arkansas guard Jimmy Whitt (24) leaps for a layup past Tennessee guard Shembari Phillips (25) during an NCAA college basketball game in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Arkansas won 75-65. (Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)
Adam Lau/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP
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With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.

As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.

At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.

 

Boise State assistant named head coach at Northern Colorado

rp_primary_Linder_Jeff_Action_vs_Dayton_031815_2_
Courtesy UNCBears.com
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GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.

Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.

University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.

Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.

In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”

Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.

Duke’s Azura Stevens transfers to UConn

Duke's Azura Stevens (11) steals the ball from North Carolina A&T's Kenya Hailey, right, as Duke's Ka'lia Johnson watches during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Jan. 2, 2015, in Durham, N.C. (AP Photo/Ellen Ozier)
(AP Photo/Ellen Ozier)
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STORRS, Conn. (AP) Azura Stevens, the leading scorer and rebounder for Duke, has decided to transfer to UConn.

The 6-foot-6 sophomore center from Raleigh, North Carolina will sit out next season and will have two years of eligibility remaining when the 2017-18 season begins the school announced Saturday.

Stevens averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds a game and was named to the ACC’s all-conference first team.

She was second in the league both scoring and rebounding.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Saturday that he normally doesn’t get involved in transfer situations, but Stevens convinced him that Storrs would be the right place for her going forward.

Beachem says he’ll be back at Notre Dame for senior season

Notre Dame's V.J. Beachem reacts during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Wisconsin in the regional semifinals of the men's NCAA Tournament, Friday, March 25, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
(AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Forward V.J. Beachem has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will return to Notre Dame for his senior season.

Beachem made the announcement Sunday night on Twitter, writing that he was thankful for the opportunity to experience the NBA draft process and invitations to work out for teams, “but now I’m ready to lead [Notre Dame]. #IMBACK.”

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward finished third on the team in scoring, averaging 12.0 points and 3.9 rebounds as the Irish finished 24-12. He was at his best in the NCAA Tournament, when he averaged 17.5 points as the Irish advanced to the Elite Eight for a second straight year.

Coach Mike Brey sent a Tweet saying he was thrilled Beachem will return.