Getty Images

Kevin Ollie leads No. 7 UConn to Final Four despite transitional state of program

2 Comments
source: Getty Images
Getty Images

NEW YORK — Kevin Ollie had some big shoes to fill when he took over the UConn program prior to the 2012 season.

He was replacing Jim Calhoun, a legend in Nutmeg State for turning Storrs, CT, into the home of one of college basketball’s elite programs. Calhoun won three national titles and made a fourth Final Four at a program that had a non-existent hoops identity before his arrival. He quite literally built the UConn program.

Ollie was Calhoun’s hand-picked successor.

And he was taking over the program at a time when UConn was hurting. They were coming off of a disappointing, opening round tournament exit after entering the year as the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason. They had just wrapped up their probationary period for the violations that were committed during the recruitment of Nate Miles and were heading into a season where they were banned from participating in the postseason thanks to low APR scores.

That postseason ban meant that UConn would be forced to miss out on the final installment of the Big East tournament as we know it, as their bid to move into the ACC was not accepted, forcing the Huskies into the American and creating rivalries against the likes of South Florida and Houston instead of Duke and North Carolina.

Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb went pro. Alex Oriakhi transferred out of the program.

That’s the hand that Ollie was dealt.

And in his second season as UConn head coach, in the first year he was eligible to lead a team into the postseason, the Huskies are headed to the Final Four after knocking off No. 4 Michigan State, 60-54.

————————————————————————–

Boo Willingham saw this coming.

A seldom-used reserve that played for the Huskies from 1991-1995, Willingham knows Ollie as well as anyone this side of Ollie’s wife knows him. They were roommates for four years in Storrs. Willingham was the best man at Ollie’s wedding. “That’s my best friend,” Willingham said while celebrating in the UConn locker room after the game.

“I know the fabric of Kevin Ollie. I know what he’s made of,” Willingham said. “The first day he stepped on campus as a freshman, he came in and was competing against one of the best guards in the country in Chris Smith at the time. He was a little skinny from California that didn’t back down. He poked his chest out, he had a couple of fights in practice and he got into with a couple of guys.”

“He was a tough guy that loved to compete. And he loved to get other to compete with him.”

It was that competitiveness that kept this team and this program together last season. The Huskies had nothing to play for in 2012-2013, and yet they still managed to win 20 games in their final season as a part of the Big East conference.

“Everybody was saying we weren’t playing for nothing, and a lot of media outlets saying we weren’t playing for nothing, but we were playing for something,” Ollie said on Saturday. “We were playing for what’s on our jersey, and that means a lot. If you step on our campus and the pride we have for UConn, it means a lot to put on that jersey.”

He’s been tasked with trying to keep the Huskies, a school and a program that he loves, relevant as a top ten basketball program when it’s the limited value of the school’s football program to the companies that broadcast games that has put them in a position where their rivalry with SMU will be more important than their rivalry with Syracuse; where Sunday’s visit to Madison Square Garden will be their last postseason appearance in a building that Shabazz Napier refers to as UConn’s “third home” for the foreseeable future.

That won’t be easy to do, and reaching this Final Four doesn’t change that fact. Ollie will still be fighting an uphill battle, especially when you consider that the guy that carried the Huskies all season long, Shabazz Napier, won’t be in a UConn uniform next season.

But what this win does prove is that the Huskies picked the right guy for the job.

“He proved me and a hell of a lot of people right,” Calhoun said after the game. “He’s like a son to me. He’s got character, he’s got great knowledge of the game, he works exceptionally hard, he can relate to the kids. And he’s got all UConn guys around him. That fiber of UConn has not gone any place.”

All you had to do was look up into the crowd on Sunday afternoon to see that. Among the 19,000 fans that packed into the Garden were a myriad of UConn alumni. Khalid El-Amin, Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Taliek Brown, Cliff Robinson, Andre Drummond. Ricky Moore and Kevin Freeman are on the UConn coaching staff. Even Kemba Walker’s mom showed up.

The support system is there. The UConn program is very much the UConn family. There is more than enough history and fan support to sustain the program.

The future of the program is cloudy, but the Huskies aren’t worried about the future. At least not right now. They’re worried about the present. They’re worried about playing Florida in the Final Four.

That’s a Final Four, I might add, where they will not be joined by anyone from the ACC or the new Big East.

Arizona State four-star freshman ruled academic redshirt

Adidas Nations Atlanta
Leave a comment

A late addition to the Arizona State will have to wait to make his debut until the fall of 2017.

On Thursday, it was reported that Romello White, a four-star power forward, will sit out the 2016-17 season as an academic redshirt after failing to meet NCAA requirements, according to Doug Haller of azcentral.com.

White, ranked as the No. 87 overall player in the Class of 2016, had previously verbally committed to Tennessee and had signed with Georgia Tech before becoming a Sun Devil in mid-May after the Yellow Jackets had parted ways with Brian Gregory.

“Just having (White) in the program, as disappointing as this feels, his upside and future here are very strong,” Hurley told azcentral sports. “We’re going to have to be a little different (without him), a little unique. With this news, we’re going to be obviously driven through our guard play.”

White was set to be one of several freshmen to see immediate time on an inexperienced frontline. The Sun Devils had graduated Willie Atwood and had lost Savon Goodman to transfer. The 6-foot-8 White, along with fellow newcomer Jethro Tshisumpa, was expected to help the team’s top returning rebounder Obinna Oleka.

This news puts even more of an emphasis on the backcourt, one that returns leading scorer Tra Holder and adds Shannon Evans, a double-digit scorer for Hurley at Buffalo, who sat out this past year due to NCAA transfer rules.

Arizona State began the Bobby Hurley era with a 15-17 (5-13) record. The Sun Devils begin the 2016-17 campaign on Nov. 11 against Portland State.

Virginia basketball joins kneeling protest

ctjtdz6xyael_-c
Leave a comment

On the latest CBT Podcast, Rob Dauster, Scott Phillips and Travis Hines, wonder whether a college basketball player will kneel for the national anthem, a nationwide protest — from the professional level to the high school level — that was sparked by San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those questions were quickly answered on Thursday night, as Virginia freshman guard Ty Jerome tweeted out the above picture of the entire Cavalier team kneeling at halfcourt with a caption, “Kneel for injustice. Kneel for inequality.”

It’s hard to imagine this protest, which began during the NFL Preseason when Kaepernick was photographed sitting during the national anthem, simmers by the time the college basketball season starts. For starters, it’s still very much apart of the daily sports and political conversation in this country. You also have to imagine that next month, when the NBA season starts, several players will join in on the protest.

This time last year, a video — counter to this current protest — went viral. It was of Virginia Tech head coach Buzz Williams teaching his players, only 150 miles away from where Virginia’s protest picture was taken, the importance of the national anthem.

It remains to be seen if Virginia — or any other college basketball player/team — kneels for the national anthem during games this season, but one thing is clear: this protest will continue.

CBT Podcast: We talk players kneeling for anthem; Coaches as debate moderators

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins questions a call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against TCU in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 conference tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday, March 10, 2016. } West Virginia defeated TCU 86-66. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Leave a comment

On the latest CBT Podcast, the guys discuss the new head coach at George Washington, a search that was completed several weeks after firing Mike Lonergan. The group also wonders if any college basketball player follows Colin Kaepernick’s lead and kneels for the national anthem.

Given this week’s first presidential debate, Rob Dauster, Scott Phillips and Travis Hines, each choose a college coach they want to see moderate the next debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

(Side note: the podcast begins with the trio discussing how difficult it is for Scott being a fan of the Bears, Bulls and White Sox. I wish I had the chance to talk about how awesome it is to be a Patriots fan. Seriously, how can you like football if you aren’t? It’s awful.)

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Audioboom or anywhere else that podcasts are given away for free.

If you enjoy what you hear on this podcast, please rate and review the podcast, as it will help us reach more listeners.

Thanks for listening!

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

NC State waiting on NCAA answer on Yurtseven’s eligibility

TREVISO, ITALY - JUNE 07:  Omer Yurtseven in action during the adidas Eurocamp at La Ghirada sports center on June 7, 2015 in Treviso, Italy.  (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)
Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images
Leave a comment

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) For now, all North Carolina State freshman Omer Yurtseven can do is work on his game and be patient.

With all the attention on possible one-and-done freshman Dennis Smith Jr., the Turkish 7-footer gives the Wolfpack a second five-star prospect on an overhauled and potential-filled roster. But he’s still waiting for the NCAA to clear him as eligible to play as an amateur.

Practice starts Friday and the opener is six weeks away.

“I can’t control it so I’m trying not to think about it,” Yurtseven said Thursday during the team’s preseason media day. “Just think about education and basketball, to control as I said what you can. Because that’s not in your hands, so if you think about it more, all It’s going to get you is frustration. And I don’t want that.”

Yurtseven, a native of Istanbul, had a professional contract offer with a European club team, but opted to play college basketball and committed to the Wolfpack in May. The 18-year-old also has international experience, is considered a potential one-and-done talent himself and even had a 91-point game in a Turkish Under-18 game this spring.

“He played overseas and he grew up playing the game the right way,” junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu said, “so he’s very skilled and has a super high IQ.”

Smith’s debut at the point guard after enrolling in January to rehab a serious knee injury has caused the biggest buzz for the Wolfpack. And sixth-year coach Mark Gottfried isn’t shying away from fueling the hype about Smith, calling him Thursday “the best guard in the country” even while saying he will have a learning curve as he transitions to the college level.

But Yurtseven’s commitment was a big deal, too, and a key reason why the Wolfpack ranks No. 6 nationally in Scout.com’s recruiting rankings.

Gottfried said Thursday that “nothing has happened in a negative way” during the NCAA’s review process of Yurtseven’s amateur status, saying there is plenty of discussion but no timetable for a decision.

“It’s not frustrating because quite honestly for us, there’s really not a whole lot we can do about that,” Gottfried said. “He’s participated in every workout. He’s integrating himself with our team in a really positive way.

“We’re approaching it with the hope he won’t have to miss any games and move right in and play. If he does (have to sit out games), we’ll deal with that, too.”

Yurtseven said he understands the evaluation process takes time.

“You’ve just got to hope for the best,” he said. “I think that they should let me get cleared because I don’t think I have done something wrong. But you know, they’re trying to do their part, so I can’t do nothing but respect them. So that’s what I’m trying to do.”

While N.C. State has plenty of backcourt options, the Wolfpack sure could use Yurtseven up front. Abu (12.9 points, 8.8 rebounds) and 6-9 senior BeeJay Anya are back after offseason flirtations with the NBA draft, but Gottfried is leaning toward redshirting 6-9 senior Lennard Freeman to let him fully heal after an injury-plagued season following surgery to repair a fracture in his lower right leg in summer 2015.

The opportunity is there, assuming Yurtseven suits up as planned.

“It’s a new experience and it’s fun,” he said. “I’m in a place that I’ve never been in, a situation that I don’t know if I’ll live (through) ever again, a different situation than this. I’m just trying to have fun, enjoy and hope for the best.”

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

More than 35 A10 games to be aired on NBCSN

E.C. Matthews
Leave a comment

NBC Sports Networked announced on Thursday that the station will air more than 35 Atlantic 10 basketball games during the course of the 2016-17 season.

The slate includes 25 men’s basketball games and 10 women’s basketball games. In March, during the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Pittsburgh, NBC Sports Network will have exclusive coverage of the second round and quarterfinals.

All of these games will be streamed on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports mobile app.

Rhode Island is expected to be the team to beat this season, with E.C. Matthews returning from injury, while Hassan Martin and Jared Terrell are also back in South Kingstown. The Rams, a team likely ranked in the top-25 to begin the season, will play four nationally-televised games on NBCSN.

Here is the full schedule:

Saturday, January 7

UMass at VCU

1 p.m.

Saturday, January 7

Saint Joseph’s at Fordham

3 p.m.

Saturday, January 7

George Mason at St. Bonaventure

5 p.m.

Sunday, January 8

Richmond at George Washington

Noon

Sunday, January 8

Davidson at Saint Louis

2 p.m.

Wednesday, January 11   

St. Bonaventure at Saint Louis (Women’s)

Noon

Saturday, January 14

Richmond at Saint Joseph’s

12:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 14

Saint Louis at George Mason

2:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 14*

Fordham at St. Bonaventure (Rochester Arena)

4:30 p.m.

Sunday, January 15

UMass at Rhode Island

2:30 p.m.

Sunday, January 15

George Washington at La Salle

4:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 21

Rhode Island at Duquesne

12:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 21

Fordham at UMass

2:30 p.m.

Sunday, January 22

La Salle at VCU

2 p.m.

Saturday, January 28

Davidson at Fordham

Noon

Saturday, January 28

St. Bonaventure at Rhode Island

2 p.m.

Wednesday, February 1

Fordham at George Washington (Women’s)

Noon

Saturday, February 4

Duquesne at Dayton

12:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 4

George Washington at Richmond

2:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 11

UMass at Saint Joseph’s

2:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 11

St. Bonaventure at George Washington

4:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 18

Davidson at UMass

Noon

Saturday, February 18

St. Bonaventure at Dayton

2 p.m.

Saturday, February 18

Rhode Island at George Mason

4 p.m.

Sunday, February 19

George Washington at Duquesne

Noon

Sunday, February 19

Dayton at Fordham (Women’s)

2 p.m.

Saturday, February 25

Richmond at Fordham

2:30 p.m.

Saturday, February 25

Saint Joseph’s at Saint Louis

4:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 9

Atlantic 10 Championship Second Round

Noon

Thursday, March 9

Atlantic 10 Championship Second Round

2:30 p.m.

Thursday, March 9

Atlantic 10 Championship Second Round

6 p.m.

Thursday, March 9

Atlantic 10 Championship Second Round

8:30 p.m.

Friday, March 10

Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinals

Noon

Friday, March 10

Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinals

2:30 p.m.

Friday, March 10

Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinals

6 p.m.

Friday, March 10

Atlantic 10 Championship Quarterfinals

8:30 p.m

The Atlantic 10 Conference schedule begins on December 30.