UConn Men's Basketball Coach Kevin Ollie: The Overachiever
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A year after Ollie’s introductory press conference, the Big East is essentially gone. UConn was passed over yet again by the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference, and is stuck in a league called the American Athletic Conference, whose name reflects its complete lack of regional identity. (Conference rivalries with Syracuse, Georgetown and Villanova are gone, replaced by emotionless battles with the likes of Houston, Central Florida and Memphis.)
UConn’s postseason ban has been lifted, but with the possibility of postseason glory comes an added pressure to win, and an element of scrutiny that was largely absent during Ollie’s first year on the sidelines.
Every season at UConn begins with the expectation that, at the very least, the Huskies will be playing in the NCAA tournament. Yet when practice begins Oct. 15, Ollie will be up against both short-term and long-term expectations: In the short-term, finish near the top of the AAC and go to the Big Dance.
The long-term goals are more daunting: He’ll have to show that UConn, post-Big East and post-Jim Calhoun, is still a program with a bright future and an upward trajectory. Between its men’s and women’s programs, UConn has won 11 national championships in 18 years. Mediocrity is not an option. “We can’t go and lay on our past success,” he says. “I thought we were an NCAA tournament team last year, but we have a lot to play for next year.”
Ollie’s long-term contract came as a relief to Stephanie Ollie, who married the coach after the two met while students at UConn in the mid-90s. The couple has maintained a home in
Glastonbury for the past eight years so their son, Jalen, a two-sport athlete at Glastonbury High School, their daughter Cheyenne and Stephanie’s teenage nephew, who lives with them, could go to the same schools.
Stephanie Ollie’s occupation as a nurse in the cardiac arrest unit of Hartford’s St. Francis Hospital is even more intense than her husband’s. The morning after a UConn game many patients joke that her husband almost gave them a heart attack. The roller-coaster career, she says, has toughened her husband.
“He has had experience. His players can learn from him,” she says. “This is all he’s ever wanted to do.”
It’s not just Stephanie who believes in Ollie.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino—a recent Hall-of-Fame inductee—stated that belief last year, after his Cardinals, on their way to winning the national title, beat UConn 73-58.
“I’ll be long dead, but Kevin Ollie is going to be an unbelievable coach,” the 62-year-old Pitino told reporters after the game. “The guys who have played professional basketball, who did it through hunger and pain and work and travel overseas and play on 13 one-year contracts, they make the best coaches because they have to fight every year of their life to make it.”