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.