Kevin Ollie

New coach Kevin Ollie is Connecticut’s Optimist-in-Chief during the program’s trying times

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NEW YORK, N.Y.—When Connecticut guard Ryan Boatright received a text from teammate DeAndre Daniels telling him that the longtime coach of their program, Jim Calhoun, had decided to retire, Boatright was in disbelief.

“I thought he was kidding. We were just shocked,” Boatright recalled to at Big East media day.

“Since he hurt his hip [in a bicycle accident in August] he was there every day on crutches. We thought if somebody can be dedicated enough to be there with a screw in his hip, he’s definitely coming back.”

But the day that had loomed for years had finally come, the day Calhoun would hand over the keys of the Connecticut program to a successor was here, and at Big East media day, it had finally set in.

Reporters still gathered around the Connecticut table to ask questions, with this team coming off of a berth in the NCAA tournament, but the man answering the questions on behalf of the Huskies was different.

Gone was the often stubborn, sometimes grumpy old man with the New England accent and in his place was, by comparison, a young man and former player who spoke with the eloquence and optimism of a Sunday preacher, today speaking to a congregation of non-believers.

And rightfully so were these non-believers steadfast in their attitudes, considering the mass exodus of talent from Storrs after the NCAA slapped a postseason ban on the program, compounding that with the departure of the man who had long been the face of this perennial Big East contender.

But when 39-year-old Kevin Ollie speaks, people listen. In the face of difficult questions, Ollie’s answers toe the line between cliché and perfect sense, remarkably almost always shading toward the latter.

“I don’t see obstacles, I see opportunity,” Ollie said. “It’s always been tough. I don’t see it like a lot of other people see it.

“Whether it’s seven months, seven years, or 27 years, I’m going to take it one day at a time and I’m not going to take it for granted.”

Ollie, a 13-year NBA veteran, takes over at his alma mater after serving as an assistant under Calhoun since 2010. Often seen as a player’s coach, Ollie has had to reshape his approach as the leader of the program.

“He’s always been the same person, character-wise,” Boatright said. “But his coaching style, him being in a higher position, he has more to say and demands a lot more respect from everybody.”

“My first impression of him was like, ‘Wow, this guy is super positive,’” junior guard Shabazz Napier said. “He’s all about preaching the right words and preaching the right things.

“As long as we walk through that valley together, we all should be fine. That was he always says.”

According to Napier, players had a good sense of who Calhoun’s successor would be, with Ollie as the leading candidate.

Having played at Connecticut for four years, Ollie, having secured the job, sees this as an extension of a long Husky career that Calhoun promised him more than two decades ago.

“He told me the first time I came on a recruiting visit [as a player] that I’d stay in Connecticut. I was like ‘No, I’m not,’” Ollie recalled. “Now, 22 years later, I’m still in Connecticut.”

But behind the flowery language, a number of challenges reside.

Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond have both move on to the NBA. Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith, and Michael Bradley are all at other schools, continuing their careers.

The postseason ban had some ripple effect in recruiting, landing the Huskies New York standout Omar Calhoun, but perhaps putting a damper on a more extensive recruiting haul.

Despite all of that, leave it to Ollie, the self-identifying Husky for more than half of his life, to bring a relentless optimism, exalting the program even in its most trying times. Beyond what he can accomplish on the court in 2012-13, this may be the greatest skill that he brings to the Connecticut sideline.

“This is a special place for me,” said Ollie. “I’m always going to be a Connecticut Husky. This is the only brotherhood I know.”


Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press
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With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.