College Basketball Nation: Connecticut Huskies

Editor's note: During the next five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball, as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today we unveil No. 10: Connecticut's Kevin Ollie. On Tuesday, we release No. 9.

Former Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun once said that his former player turned Huskies head coach Kevin Ollie uses more motivational phrases "than almost any other guy I’ve ever been around in my life."

Ollie has attached those sayings all over the UConn locker room at their on-campus court in Gampel Pavilion. But the Huskies probably don't need any reminders; Ollie is quick to recite new phrases from his virtual unlimited mental Rolodex.

"I just listen to a lot of inspirational people, you hear things that strike a chord with you," Ollie told in November, when asked about his many quotables.

Some are original thoughts, others are phrases he's come across and posted, but the Yogi Berra of college basketball always gets his point across. Here's the top-10 list of Ollie-isms:

[+] EnlargeKevin Ollie
AP Photo/David J. PhillipKevin Ollie's crafty inspirational sayings have helped vault UConn to the top of the college basketball world.
10. UConn basketball, 10 toes in.

When Ollie took over the program armed with only a seven-month contract and an NCAA postseason ban, his first step was to make sure his players were all-in.

"We were banned from the NCAA tournament, but we weren't banned from loving each other, we weren't banned from making each other better," said Ollie, who added: "They really didn't have a choice in the matter. I was going to play the guys who were playing hard. We were just trying to teach these kids a life lesson. A lot of people give up in the face of adversity."

9. Greatness is never on discount. Success is never on sale.

Ollie repeatedly tells his players that they aren't going to take any shortcuts. They will take the stairs instead of the escalators and enjoy the process of building a foundation. A bigger success results only when the small details are taken care of.

"When you're building a wall, you don’t set out to say, 'I'm building this beautiful wall,'" Ollie said. "You put one brick down as perfectly as you can do it."

8. "I want my guys to coach me."

Ollie loves the fact that some of his players call him "K.O." and not "coach." He wants the kind of relationship that once they leave the program, he'll be the one getting that first call about announcements on engagements, buying a first home and other life milestones.

"I'm not the coach and the dictator and what I say goes; I don't coach out of fear," Ollie said. "If you coach out of fear you're just going to get [a little bit] out of guys, but if you coach and you have a loving relationship, those guys will run through the wall for you."

7. Be careful what you're feeding.

When Ollie took over for Calhoun, he admittedly had some doubts about succeeding the Hall of Famer and the architecture of the program. But that's not where his focus rested.

"The most important thing in life: You don’t concentrate, you don’t meditate on your doubts," Ollie said. "You meditate on the different things that are good and going to inspire you to be great. That’s what I did. What are you doing, you feeding that fear or you feeding the good side?"

6. Greatness begins when selfishness ends.

Selfishness was a problem on Calhoun's final team in 2011-12. Despite having big talent, the Huskies were a big disappointment, failing to win a game in the NCAA tournament. Ollie sought to root out selfishness from the start.

"I learned a lot from [Calhoun] those two years [as an assistant coach]," Ollie said. "You can have a small fire, but you can’t let it turn into an inferno."

5. Be phenomenal or be forgotten.

It's Ollie's way of saying: Make an impact -- however big or small -- on those around you. It has nothing to do with scoring a lot of points or winning a lot of titles.

"If you're going to measure me as a coach, don't measure me with X's and O's and wins and losses; measure me with how my guys leave the program and how much better people they are," he said. "If I can do that I've done a great job."

4. "Faith it 'til you make it."

Ollie pointed to his 13-year professional career that involved endless 10-day contracts and 11 different teams. He was used to having the odds against him, but said, "That's kind of how I like it," and he never stopped believing.

"Some people say, 'Fake it to make it.' I say, 'Faith it to make it,'" Ollie said. "I'm going to have to faith it. Sometimes I don't understand it, I don't know the outcome, but I believe in the dark. And I tell these guys they're going to have to have blind trust."

3. The three E’s.

In one of his life lessons not just meant for basketball, Ollie said you have to have "effort, energy, enthusiasm."

"If you’ve got that in life, you’re going to be good," he said. "I might fail, but I'm all right. I'm going to fail until I succeed. I'm never going to stop."

2. "Take care of your 24."

Ollie said everyone has the same opportunity to make his day successful.

"You have 24 hours to do something magical each and every day," Ollie said. "I don’t care if you're black, blue, green, rich or poor -- you've got 24 hours. What you do with your 24 hours is going to dictate how successful you are in life."

1. "I’m not chasing national championships, national championships are going to chase us."

Reread Ollie's quote 100 times and it still might not make sense to you. But considering that he's 1-for-1 in NCAA tournament appearances and national championships makes it hit home a bit. Maybe Ollie knows what he's talking about after all.

What would it take? Kevin Ollie

May, 20, 2014
May 20

Editor’s note: Some coaches’ names always seem to come up for other jobs. But what would it take for them to actually leave? This week, we’ll look at the names most often mentioned. Today, we look at UConn’s Kevin Ollie.

Ollie played for Jim Calhoun at UConn from 1991 to '95. He met his wife in Storrs, Conn. And despite having many offers to begin his coaching career in the NBA, he returned to UConn as an assistant coach in 2010. Ollie, a Los Angeles native, loves being the caretaker of his alma mater, especially being Calhoun’s hand-picked successor. UConn might not advertise it much, but it’s important for the program to stay within the family. It’s not a coincidence that all of Ollie’s coaching staff played for the Huskies.

[+] EnlargeKevin Ollie
John Moore/Getty ImagesKevin Ollie's experience and stature among NBA teams will continue to make him a sought-after coaching candidate.
It’s kind of silly now to think that Ollie’s original contract was signed for a seven-month trial period, but at the time he was an assistant coach with no experience who had just returned to the college game and was being asked to replace the architect of UConn basketball. From his first game, an upset of Michigan State in Germany, Ollie proved to be up to the challenge. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright couldn’t coexist in the backcourt with each other in Calhoun’s final season, but one of Ollie’s first big accomplishments was making them realize they weren’t competing with each other. It goes to show why Ollie is wanted as a head coach. He knows how to relate to and motivate his players. The Huskies were banned from the 2013 postseason due to low APR scores -- through no fault of his own -- but Ollie led them to a 20-10 season despite being unable to play for a championship.

And of course his second year was even better. Ollie guided an unheralded No. 7 seed to the Huskies’ fourth national championship. He's just as proud that when the APR results were released last week, Ollie’s first season as head coach produced a perfect score.

What would it take?

The Cleveland Cavaliers made inquiries. The Los Angeles Lakers made overtures. In both cases, Ollie resisted the urge to jump to the league where he spent 13 seasons playing for 11 different teams. It’s probably safe to say that Ollie would not leave UConn for another college program. But the NBA? That could be a matter of timing. At just 41 years old, Ollie is in no rush. He could be waiting for his 13-year-old daughter Cheyenne to go through high school before being open to coaching in the league. Ollie’s new contract at UConn, which will reportedly be finalized on Wednesday, changes little on the surface. It might end speculation for this offseason, but NBA teams will continue to seek his services and his name will continue to be floated this time next season when openings arise. The contract may make a bigger difference from Ollie’s perspective. It signifies the university reaffirming its commitment to him. UConn was proactive during his first season in tearing up the seven-month contract and presenting a five-year deal before the Huskies finished nonconference play in December 2012.’s Andy Katz reported that Ollie was first approached about a new contract this year after the Huskies beat Iowa State in the Sweet 16 in March.

Possibilities: Ollie has a Calhoun-like tenure in Storrs. Or Ollie has the itch to coach in the NBA and is just waiting for the right opening.

3-point shot: Major replacements

May, 16, 2014
May 16
In today's 3-point shot, Andy Katz reports on how three key players from the 2013-14 season -- Aaron Craft, Shabazz Napier and Aaron Gordon -- believe they'll be replaced.

At 11:59 p.m. ET Sunday night, the NBA's early-entry draft deadline came and went. No key college hoops offseason date has so much, or so widespread, an impact on the landscape to come. And, for the fledgling offseason rankings writer, no consideration is trickier. Without question, that's the hardest part about the Way Too Early Top 25, which we published with confetti still on the keyboard just after UConn's national championship earlier this month. Until draft decisions are in, you're just making guesses. Educated guesses, sure. But guesses all the same.

Now that we know which players are staying and which are going, it's time to offer an edited addendum to this offseason's first attempt at a 2014-15 preseason top 25. How did draft decisions change the list?

In short, not a whole lot. But we do have a new No. 1. It will surprise nobody.

  1. John Calipari
    Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesJohn Calipari will have a roster full of future NBA players, as usual, next season. And this one will have experience.
    Kentucky Wildcats: Kentucky was our No. 3 in the Way Too Early rankings back when we were almost certain the Harrison twins, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, and maybe even Dakari Johnson would be headed to the NBA. In the end, Kentucky kept all five, and add two of the best big men in the country (Trey Lyles, Karl Towns) in the incoming class to form a team that is surprisingly experienced, mind-bendingly tall (Calipari has three 7-footers and two 6-10 guys, all of whom are likely to play in the NBA), and every bit as loaded on natural talent as ever. Kentucky is losing Julius Randle and James Young to the draft, and will probably be better next season. Kind of insane!
  2. Duke Blue Devils: Nothing less than a Jabari Parker return could have moved Duke beyond Kentucky and into the No. 1 spot at this point in the season, and Parker is heading to the NBA, as expected. Even so, the Blue Devils are in great shape, mixing the nation's best recruiting class with a really solid group of veteran, tried-and-tested role players.
  3. Arizona Wildcats: The tentative No. 1 back when Nick Johnson was still weighing the proverbial options, Arizona takes the deep, chasmic plummet all the way to No. 3. In less sarcastic terms: Sean Miller has Arizona so well-oiled that it can lose its two best players (Aaron Gordon and Johnson) and still be a national title contender next season.
  4. Wisconsin Badgers: Frank Kaminsky almost made this more work than it had to be; after a breakout postseason, Kaminsky saw scouts' interest skyrocket. But he held off in the end, which means the Badgers are still only losing one player -- senior guard Ben Brust -- from last year's excellent Final Four group.
  5. Wichita State Shockers: Nothing to report here: The Shockers are still losing Cleanthony Early and still keeping Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet. Will they go unbeaten until late March again? No, but they'll be awfully good.
  6. North Carolina Tar Heels: Point guard Marcus Paige played well enough in 2013-14 to earn a fair amount of NBA discussion by the time the season was over. Brice Johnson was just as promising, even in more limited minutes. But both players were always likely to come back, and now that they have, Roy Williams has more talent and experience at his disposal than at any time in the past five years.
  7. Virginia Cavaliers: The Cavaliers are still a relatively predictable bunch going forward. Losing Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris will hurt, but Tony Bennett's team will still be led by Malcolm Brogdon and a very solid returning core.
  8. Louisville Cardinals: Montrezl Harrell was probably a lottery pick, making his decision to stay in Louisville for another season one of the most surprising of the past month. It's also worth a big boost to Louisville's 2014-15 projections.
  9. Florida Gators: Probably the biggest boom-or-bust team on this list, Florida's 2014-15 season will hinge on the development of point guard Kasey Hill and raw-but-gifted big man Chris Walker. Jon Horford, a graduate transfer from Michigan, will add size and stability.
  10. Kansas Jayhawks: Bill Self's team won't have Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid in the fold next season, which was always a foregone conclusion (even if Embiid waited just long enough to make us wonder). But the players Self does have returning, plus another solid batch of arrivals, should make for another Big 12 regular-season title, the program's 11th in a row. Ho-hum.
  11. Connecticut Huskies: DeAndre Daniels' pro turn is a little bit surprising, given how quickly Daniels rose from relative obscurity in the NCAA tournament, but it is far less damaging than Ryan Boatright's return is helpful. And transfer guard Rodney Purvis, eligible this fall, will help, too.
  12. Southern Methodist Mustangs: An already good team (and one that probably deserved to get in the NCAA tournament over NC State, but oh well) gets almost everyone back and adds the No. 2 point guard in the 2014 class (Emmanuel Mudiay) to the mix, coached by Larry Brown. This should be interesting.
  13. Villanova Wildcats: Before Jay Wright's team lost to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament and UConn in the round of 32, it lost exactly three games all season. Four starters and an excellent reserve (Josh Hart) return, and Wright's program should remain ascendant.
  14. Virginia Commonwealth Rams: Shaka Smart has a lineup full of his prototypical ball-hawking guards, with the best recruiting class of his career en route this summer.
  15. Gonzaga Bulldogs: As Kentucky prepares for another season in the spotlight, a player who helped the Wildcats win their last national title -- forward Kyle Wiltjer -- re-emerges at Gonzaga, where he'll be the perfect stretch 4 in a devastating offensive lineup.
  16. Iowa State Cyclones: By and large, the Cyclones are what they were when their season ended: Seniors Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane are off to the Association, but Fred Hoiberg still has a lot of interesting, interchangeable pieces at his disposal.
  17. Texas Longhorns: The recently announced transfer of Maryland forward Shaquille Cleare won't help the Longhorns until 2015-16, when Cleare becomes eligible, but with everybody back, the Longhorns have a chance to make a real leap right away.
  18. [+] EnlargeBranden Dawson
    Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesMichigan State shouldn't slide back too far with Branden Dawson returning.
    Michigan State Spartans: Our first offseason ranking of Michigan State essentially assumed that Gary Harris would leave, which he did. Branden Dawson's return is crucial, and if Denzel Valentine has a big year, Tom Izzo's team might not take as big a step back as everyone is predicting.
  19. Oklahoma Sooners: Same story here: a very good offensive team with most of its major pieces back that needs to get a bit better defensively to really make a move into the elite.
  20. San Diego State Aztecs: The team that should have been on our first list anyway gets here now in large part as a function of its competition. But that's not an insult: Even losing Xavier Thames, the Aztecs are going to defend really well again, with a group of exciting young West Coast players on the way.
  21. Syracuse Orange: The Orange took not one, but two big-time hits in the draft-decision window. The first was point guard Tyler Ennis; the second, forward and sixth man Jerami Grant. Ennis was the most crucial, as it leaves Syracuse without an obvious point guard replacement.
  22. Oregon Ducks: Now that UCLA's Jordan Adams switched his decision and will leave for the NBA (with little time to spare, too), Oregon's combination of Joseph Young, Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson looks like the second-best Pac-12 team.
  23. Kansas State Wildcats: Freshman star Marcus Foster was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2013-14 season; he should be even better as a sophomore.
  24. Michigan Wolverines: The worst-case scenario for Michigan fans came true: Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all left for the NBA draft. That said, Caris LeVert is on track for a major season, and while Michigan won't have the firepower of the past two seasons, it's fair to assume the Wolverines will still put up a ton of points.
  25. Iowa Hawkeyes: The argument for Iowa still stands: Fran McCaffery can reasonably replace Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Basabe with Jarrod Uthoff and Gabriel Olaseni and still get the kind of offense that fueled the pre-collapse Hawkeyes last season.

Early-entry winners and losers

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
The NBA’s early-entry deadline passed Sunday night as Division I coaches were returning from the only April recruiting weekend.

For the first time since the end of the season, the coaches finally know whom they will have and whom they won’t for next season.

Here are the winners and losers after the early-entry deadline. Keep in mind, some teams -- Duke, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Colorado, Arizona State and Tennessee -- knew long ago they would be losing players, so they don’t fit in either category.


Kentucky: The Wildcats could have been starting from scratch again next season. The players would have had plenty of reason to bolt after making the national title game. But only two did, and the Wildcats can absorb the losses of Julius Randle and James Young. The decisions by Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee to stay, coupled with newcomers Trey Lyles and Karl Towns Jr., give Kentucky a deeper and more versatile frontcourt. The return of guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison means coach John Calipari doesn’t need to restart his perimeter. Kentucky is probably the only program in the country that can be in the winners column by losing two lottery picks because of the NBA draft-level depth of the freshman and sophomore classes.

Wisconsin: The Badgers were within one stop of advancing to the national title game before Aaron Harrison’s 3-point dagger in Arlington, Texas, in the national semifinal. Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky easily could have put their postgame emotions behind them and said goodbye to Madison. But they did not. The return of the two scorers -- one on the wing and one inside and out -- means the Badgers have enough returning to be a Big Ten preseason favorite, a top-five team and a national title contender.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels were in a danger zone. UNC lost James Michael McAdoo, who had been inconsistent at times during his career. It could have seen point guard Marcus Paige and forward Brice Johnson bolt too. But that didn’t happen. Having Paige return is huge for coach Roy Williams. Paige will be the preseason favorite for ACC Player of the Year. His return was a must for UNC to be a conference title contender.

Louisville: The Cardinals had the most electric frontcourt player in the American last season in Montrezl Harrell. Few players could keep him off the backboard when he was going for a flush. The Cardinals continue to reload but don’t need to restart in the ACC sans Harrell. They won’t have to with his return.

Arkansas: The Hogs were a bit of an enigma last season with a sweep of Kentucky and a near-miss overtime loss at home to Florida. But the chances for Arkansas to make the NCAA tournament next season under Mike Anderson would have been reduced considerably if 6-foot-10 Bobby Portis and 6-6 Michael Qualls declared for the draft. Anderson was pleased to report Sunday that they did not.

Nebraska: The goodwill created by the Huskers’ run to the NCAA tournament could have been snuffed out if Terran Petteway was romanced by the good fortune and declared for the NBA draft. But he chose against it, and as a result Nebraska should be in the top six in the Big Ten and competing for a bid again.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers had moments last season when they looked like an NCAA tournament team. They should be next season with the decision by point guard Juwan Staten to return to Morgantown. He averaged 18.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game. He will enter the season with a strong case to be considered for Big 12 Player of the Year honors.

Oregon: The Ducks are constantly in transition but needed some sort of consistency from one season to another with a key transfer. Joseph Young had the goods to declare. But he’s coming back to give them a legitimate scorer going into next season and an all-Pac-12 player in the quest to return to the NCAA tournament.

Utah: Larry Krystkowiak has the Utes on the verge of being an NCAA tournament team. That plan could have easily been derailed if Delon Wright took the bait of being a possible first-round pick. Wright’s return means the Utes will be an upper-half Pac-12 team and a preseason pick to make the NCAA tournament.


UCLA: The Bruins found out late Saturday night that Jordan Adams was gone. He joins Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine. That means four of five starters are not back from the Pac-12 tournament champs. Steve Alford has a stellar recruiting class, but this team will be extremely young.

Michigan: The Wolverines are a prisoner of their own success. Nik Stauskas was hardly a two-year player when he was signed. But he matured into a Big Ten Player of the Year. He jumped with Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, who had no choice after a one-year ban because of a failed drug test for marijuana during the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines will enter a new era under John Beilein.

Syracuse: Tyler Ennis was probably more of a two-year point guard when he was signed. But he was one of the best players in the country as a freshman and capitalized on his success by leaving for the lottery. Jerami Grant's departure means the Orange will look quite a bit different in their second year in the ACC.

Missouri: The Tigers lost coach Frank Haith to Tulsa and their two best players in Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown. They will be pushing a restart button next season.

Xavier: The Musketeers had one of the most dynamic players in the Big East last season in Semaj Christon. Xavier is never down, but this presents yet another challenge for Chris Mack.

New Mexico: Alex Kirk was a potential early entrant. Add his departure to the known exits of Cameron Bairstow and Kendall Williams and the Lobos are rebuilding under Craig Neal.

Clemson: The Tigers had serious momentum with a strong finishing kick led by K.J. McDaniels. Brad Brownell always finds a way to keep his teams competitive. He’ll need to reinvent the team again with the loss of McDaniels.

Oregon State: The Beavers had a real gem in Eric Moreland, if he came back to work on his skills. He is tantalizing with his length and athleticism for the NBA, but he leaves the Beavers as a raw product when he and Oregon State could have benefited from his return.

Indiana: The Hoosiers have recruited at a high level the past four years under Tom Crean. Noah Vonleh is the latest to bolt. The problem for the Hoosiers is that he left a year too early, before he could have a full effect on the program with an NCAA berth.

NC State: The Wolfpack made a remarkable late surge to the NCAA tournament and won a game in the First Four before a late-game loss to Saint Louis in the round of 64. They had the ACC Player of the Year in T.J. Warren. The Wolfpack were supposed to be rebuilding last season and at times looked the part. But the run to the tournament changed the narrative. Now, with Warren gone, the rebuild might be underway.

UNLV: The Runnin’ Rebels were a disappointment last season even with Khem Birch and Roscoe Smith. Now they’re both off to the NBA draft, putting more pressure on Dave Rice to keep the Rebels chasing San Diego State, among others, next season.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes lost their best defensive player and leader in Aaron Craft. Now one of their top scorers is gone, too, with LaQuinton Ross' decision to declare.


Arizona: The Wildcats lost Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson -- two significant body blows. But the return of Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski, coupled with another elite recruiting class led by Stanley Johnson, means the Wildcats will be the pick to win the Pac-12.

UConn: The Huskies could afford to lose DeAndre Daniels with the addition of transfer Rodney Purvis but couldn’t handle the loss of Ryan Boatright. His return gives Kevin Ollie a lead guard to run the offense and jump-start the defense. No one will pick the defending champs to win the title again, but that’s exactly how UConn likes the odds.

LSU: Johnny Jones knew he was likely going to lose Johnny O’Bryant III, but there were questions about whether he would be without freshmen bigs Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. He got them both back, and the Tigers should be in contention for the NCAA tournament.

Michigan State: The Spartans weren’t surprised Gary Harris left after two seasons. But Michigan State would have taken an even deeper dip if Branden Dawson had jumped at the chance for the NBA. Dawson wasn’t a lock for the first round. He took the advice and stayed.

3-point shot: White staying put

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22

Andy Katz talks about Mike White staying at Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss' next coach and potential NBA futures for Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan, Fred Hoiberg and Kevin Ollie.

Look back, look ahead: American

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
As I exited the court in Arlington, Texas, on Monday night, confetti from Connecticut’s national championship celebration still stuck in my shoe, Tom Odjakjian walked up beside me.

“What do you have planned for an encore?” I asked the American Athletic Conference senior associate commissioner.

As rookie years go, the American’s inaugural season ranks right up there with the Beatles. A creation born solely out of conference realignment, the league that seemed little more than the safe landing pad for teams that didn’t quite fit anywhere else, put four teams in the NCAA tournament.

Two lost in the first weekend.

One made it to the Sweet 16 and one won the whole thing, the first time that a member of a brand-new conference was crowned the national champion.

Oh, and the NIT runner-up is an American member, too.

The irony, of course, is really too delicious. The league formed only because a handful of schools had nowhere else to go and the program that now stands as the conference’s face -- UConn -- is a reluctant member at best. Yes, the American has been good to the Huskies, but fed a dose of sodium pentothal, administrators would admit they’d jump to safer harbors in a heartbeat were the phone to jingle.

[+] EnlargeShabazz Napier
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsShabazz Napier and UConn did wonders for the American Athletic Conference's profile by winning the national championship.
Maybe even more delicious, though, is the fact that while schools scurried and lobbied to find new conference homes, the one born out of the mess and the school left on the roadside won the whole thing.

What we saw this season: A top-heavy league that could play with anyone and a bottom-heavy league that could be forgotten by everyone. The American boasted a core of teams that would be the envy of any conference -- Louisville, Connecticut, Memphis, Cincinnati and Southern Methodist.

The first four, of course, don’t qualify as news-breaking.

The Cardinals, Huskies, Tigers and Bearcats have a long history of success to draw on, regardless of conference affiliation.

But maybe the best thing to come out of this season for the American was the emergence of SMU. The fast-tracked Larry Brown experiment turned the Mustangs into a hot ticket and a legit national threat.

Most expected Brown to turn things around in Dallas, but certainly no one anticipated the quick return on SMU’s investment. The Mustangs are exactly what this fledgling league needs.

Still the league suffered the price of being a newbie. When Selection Sunday came around, the American was penalized for both its lack of history and the bottom feeders that ruined the league’s overall impact.

SMU should have gotten into the field and did not. Louisville wasn’t a 4-seed and UConn, as it turns out, wasn’t exactly your typical 7-seed. Certainly you could chalk that up to some terrible overall seeding on behalf of the committee, but also there’s no denying the American suffered worse than most other “power conferences.”

Still, when all was said and done it didn’t turn out too badly for the conference.

The national championship trophy will reside in the new league’s office, and that’s a pretty good way to get things started.

What we expect to see next season: Change, some for the better and some not so much. Will anyone miss Rutgers? Uh, no. But losing Louisville will be a big blow. The Cardinals brought not only legitimacy (albeit temporary) to the league, but another viable opponent to boost the league’s strength of schedule and image.

That puts even more onus on the other core four of Connecticut, Cincinnati, Memphis and SMU to carry the league.

The Huskies and Mustangs likely will start in most folks' top 25 thanks to the return of Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels for UConn and the addition of Emmanuel Mudiay for the Mustangs.

But it’s not those four that the conference has to worry about. It’s everyone else. In order for this league to be viable long-term, it needs other teams from the netherworlds of the basement to get better.

Houston might be the best bet for the immediate future. Hiring Kelvin Sampson has the potential for the same invigoration as bringing Brown to SMU. Sampson, let’s not be confused, is not the coach that Brown is, but his name has some cachet and with a hot recruiting bed in Houston to choose from, he could be the shot in the arm the program needs.

In Louisville’s place, the American adds Tulane, East Carolina and Tulsa. Only one of those -- Tulsa -- was in this year’s tournament field and the Golden Hurricane lost head coach Danny Manning to Wake Forest. The rest don’t exactly have a long history of success to count on.

Connecticut, Memphis and Cincinnati will always be in the national conversation, but in order for the American to be a viable threat and not just a one-hit wonder going forward, it needs other teams to be equally reliable.

That’s what this next season will be about.

Offseason story lines

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11

Player unions and paying players are issues that touch all of college athletics, including basketball, and they will continue to be talked about during the summer. The 2014-15 season won't be a time to usher in rule changes, like this past season's emphasis on freedom of movement. But here are a few things to keep in mind as college hoops begins its offseason:

[+] EnlargeNik Stauskas
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan's Nik Stauskas has denied that he has decided to turn pro.
Declare or return: Almost every year, the saga of who’s coming and who’s going makes for a couple weeks of anxious coaches. There have already been official NBA draft announcements from Kansas’ Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins. Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Michigan’s Nik Stauskas are reportedly going, too, which prompted denials from both players. Generally, the biggest surprises come from those players who decide to return to school. Duke’s Jabari Parker, a projected top-five pick, has not yet publicly announced whether he’ll return for his sophomore season. There’s a growing scuttlebutt that he will stay in school, which would likely cement the Blue Devils as the preseason No. 1 team. For early entrants who don't sign with an agent, the NCAA’s deadline to withdraw from the draft and retain eligibility is April 15. But it’s a pretty soft deadline considering that the NBA’s deadline for underclassmen to declare is April 27, so some players could keep their intentions secret until well after the NCAA’s date.

Coaching moves: With Boston College hiring Jim Christian and Wake Forest selecting Danny Manning, California remains the lone major conference school with an opening. That means filling it (Xavier’s Chris Mack is reportedly the lead candidate) would potentially make for only a small ripple effect in the offseason. Then again, keep in mind that last year Brad Stevens didn’t leave Butler for the Boston Celtics until July. So until NBA jobs are filled, college coaches like Kentucky’s John Calipari, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg and even Connecticut’s newly crowned national champion Kevin Ollie could appear on the short list of candidates to fill those slots. Shortly after the national championship game, Calipari issued denials that he’s interested in the Los Angeles Lakers. But nothing can stop the rumor mill until the hiring and firing is completed, and that could go into the summer.

Transfer status: Maybe the blame belongs on the high school and AAU culture, where players jump around until they find a good fit. Or maybe kids have just wised up and realized that rather than ride the bench for four years, some coach at some school will value them more. Regardless of how it got to this point, the smoldering over transfers has been growing among coaches to the point that it’s about to be a fire. Some even feel that the rules are being outright exploited. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim lamented during ACC media days last October about the transfer who leaves a school due to a sick family member, but then never sees the family after the transfer is completed. Some players have followed the model set forth by coaches themselves by playing for a lower-level school long enough to make a name and then transferring to a bigger stage. Toss in the graduate student waiver, and the culture of transfers seems like the college equivalent of free agency. Until the rules are changed, there are plenty of good players available. Over the next two months players will find new homes, and fan bases will find new reasons to be hopeful about their futures.

[+] EnlargeJohn Calipari
AP Photo/David J. PhillipJohn Calipari has already denied being linked to one NBA job, but questions about his job status could linger into the summer.
Recruiting quirk: Because of the way the schedule fell this year, the NCAA eliminated one of the April evaluation periods and opted against moving it to May. (Easter and SAT/ACT test dates provided the scheduling conflict in April.) One weekend might not seem like much, but it could end up having a big impact on the Class of 2015 for schools outside the major conferences. The spring dates usually allow those schools to identify who they’ll target, and July’s period offers the true evaluation. It could make the entire process a bit slower or cause some schools to gamble on players. Major conference schools that throw around major conference budgets are less affected by the shortened April window since juniors can make official visits after Jan. 1 and many of those coaches have already honed in on the players they want to recruit.

Silver lining: The earliest either side can opt out of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement isn’t until June 2017, so any talk about increasing the league’s age limit is just talk. For now. But as one-and-done players trickle into the league each year -- there could be about 10 taken in the first round of this year’s draft -- the discussion perks up again. It’s an issue that is gaining momentum from the highest office in the NBA. New commissioner Adam Silver has made it known that he supports raising the age limit from 19 to 20. On Thursday he told that he’d also consider providing a subsidy to college players that would include a complete insurance plan. At the very least, Silver has indicated that he’s open to dialogue with the NCAA and the NBA players’ union. And that is a start in bringing a little more stability to the college game.

2013-14 hoops season in review

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10

Connecticut’s national title as a No. 7 seed provided the conclusive evidence of what we knew early on in the 2013-14 men’s college basketball season. There was no dominant team. Arizona settled down the revolving door of No. 1 teams -- the Wildcats were the third to hold the mantle just six weeks into the polls, and their eight weeks atop the Associated Press poll was the longest of the five teams (Kentucky, Michigan State, Syracuse, Florida) to be ranked No. 1. With the odds of winning the Billion Dollar Bracket already outrageous, parity in college basketball made it downright impossible.

With the book finally written on the season, here are the chapters we’ll remember most:

Freedom of movement: Officials were quick to say this season they weren’t creating new rules, they were enforcing the old ones. College basketball had become too defensive, the critics said. Physical play was ruining the game. The season started with an emphasis on allowing freedom of movement and handchecking was called to the point of being a “touch foul.” Players, coaches and officials alike never came to a consensus of understanding how a block/charge would be called. While scoring on the whole increased slightly, there was no denying that foul calls and free throws had a substantial spike.

Champions Classic: Teams were allowed to begin practice two weeks before the traditional Oct. 15 start date, which in a practical sense meant earlier than ever. It resulted in a November filled with high-quality games beginning with a special night in Chicago. The Champions Classic doubleheader featured Michigan State’s win over Kentucky and Kansas beating Duke and ushered in the season with big-name matchups with budding superstars to get college hoops buzzing even in the midst of the BCS race and the NFL, the overlord of American sports, in the middle of its season.

[+] EnlargeDoug McDermott
AP Photo/Nati HarnikScoring machine Doug McDermott was one of the many seniors to make an impact on this season.
Freshmen focus: The Champions Classic just solidified what was already being said about the 2013 recruiting class. These were not ordinary freshmen. Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins was projected as the potential No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft long before ever stepping foot on campus. Those expectations might have skewed his performance this season because it was always in the context of being a top pick instead of simply being a freshman. Duke’s Jabari Parker, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon were all expected to be exceptional before the season started. But others like Syracuse guard Tyler Ennis and Kansas center Joel Embiid elbowed their way into the elite conversation with their play.

Senior spotlight: Plenty of seniors weren’t going to let the young guys hog all the spotlight and reminded us of the value of staying four years. No way UConn’s Shabazz Napier was mature enough in his previous three seasons to lead a team to the national title the way he did this season. Creighton’s Doug McDermott returned to school -- as a walk-on no less -- and finished as the fifth leading scorer in Division I history. He was also the first player since Wayman Tisdale (1983-85) and just the sixth ever to have three consecutive seasons scoring 800 points or more. Louisville’s Russ Smith returned and ranked No. 1 in offensive efficiency by for a second straight season.

Conference realignment: With the dust finally settled (we think), and teams shuffled into new leagues, we saw the good and the bad from the new configurations. A record crowd of 35,000-plus at the Carrier Dome watched Syracuse’s 91-89 overtime win against Duke become an instant classic in their first meeting as ACC foes. The future of ACC basketball, which adds Louisville next season, is partly why Maryland’s season-long swan song as a former ACC charter member was overshadowed. Creighton excelled in its new locale, finishing second in the new Big East, even though its move from the Missouri Valley hurt Wichita State. (More on that below.) The brand-spanking new American Athletic Conference truly reflected the nation with its huge disparity between the haves at the top of the league and the have-nots at the bottom. In the end, the national championship trophy resides in the rookie league.

Shockers chase perfection: Wichita State became the first team since St. Joseph’s in 2004 to finish the regular season undefeated. Instead of drawing praise, it drew some skepticism from those who pointed to a weakened Missouri Valley schedule. Still the Shockers plugged along reaching 35-0 -- one game better than the 1990-91 UNLV squad that went 34-1 and lost to Duke in the Final Four -- and grabbing a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Their season ended against eventual national runners-up and 8-seed Kentucky in the round of 32.

Coaches behaving badly: The season provided Internet trolls a seemingly endless supply of memes and GIFs to loop. The list was long, including Iowa’s Fran McCaffery slamming chairs against Michigan State, Nebraska’s Tim Miles ending the Cornhuskers’ most memorable season in decades with an NCAA tournament ejection and Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson’s postgame rant that included that his wife, not his players, knows to, “at least shot-fake one time.” But a few stand out. Who can forget the sight of Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim nearly losing his jacket while running on the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor to protest a charge with 10 seconds left in a loss at Duke? Boeheim joked after the game that his first trip to Tobacco Road, which resulted in his first regular-season ejection, would be a memorable one. Then there was Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (insert sarcasm font here) who will certainly think twice before throwing a pen toward his bench. Krzyzewski got a technical foul for doing so in the ACC tournament final against Virginia.

[+] EnlargeJim Boeheim
Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/Getty ImagesJim Boeheim's jacket-removing, court-sprinting rant against Duke earned his first regular-season ejection.
Marcus Smart’s split-second snap: Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart earned praise in the preseason for putting off the NBA for a year and returning to school to work on his game. He couldn’t envision how frustrating the year would be. A season that began crumbling came to a boiling point at Texas Tech. With the Cowboys nearing a fourth straight loss, Smart shoved a fan when his momentum from a play carried him to the footstep of the stands. Smart said the fan called him a racial slur. The fan, Jeff Orr, said he called him a “piece of crap.” Regardless, Smart received a three-game suspension.

Safety issues: There were the things out of man’s control like the postponement of Iowa’s game at Indiana due to a pane of the ceiling crashing into the stands. North Carolina and Duke postponed their first meeting when a snow storm left the Blue Devils’ bus unable to safely travel eight miles to Chapel Hill. It was the Tar Heels’ first postponed game since the Gulf War. Court storming continued to be a topic when a fight broke out at the end of Utah Valley’s win over New Mexico State. The incident started when an agitated K.C. Ross-Miller of NMSU hurled the ball at Holton Hunsaker as time expired. Two Aggies were suspended for their roles in the altercation. Thankfully no one was hurt when an alcohol-fused adrenaline rush sent a UC-Santa Barbara student running onto the court during the first half of a game against Hawaii; the fan got close enough to confront Hawaii coach Gib Arnold before players pushed him away and he was escorted out.

Those were the top highlights from the season. Just missing the cut were: how teams turned around their seasons (including Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee); the impact of transfers (from the spectacular, including Duke’s Rodney Hood; to the cautionary, including Georgetown’s Josh Smith); the Carolina blues (potential All-American P.J. Hairston sat out the first nine games before the school announced it would not seek his reinstatement); and basketball as an emotional outlet (cellar dweller Boston College handed Syracuse its first loss after the passing of longtime BC media relations director Dick Kelley, and Georgia coach Mike Fox winning at Missouri after attending his father’s memorial service).

Another NCAA tournament is in the books, and before we get too sad over saying goodbye to college basketball for six months, let's review what we just witnessed:

One player can carry a team: It's particularly true if that player happens to be a guard. UConn's Shabazz Napier proved that point -- like Kemba Walker before him -- by leading the Huskies to the national championship.

One player can't carry a team: Particularly if his team relies on outscoring its opponents. For all the scoring records Creighton's Doug McDermott broke, the Blue Jays defense was ultimately picked apart by Baylor, and one of the great college basketball careers of the past decade ended in the first weekend of the tournament.

Freshmen can carry a team: Kentucky was only the second team to start five freshmen in the title game. After many stumbles during the regular season, the youthful Wildcats put it together at the right time.

[+] EnlargeShabazz Napier
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesShabazz Napier took over the tournament and was a dominant force in UConn's run to the title.
Freshmen can’t carry a team: Kansas played without its talented freshman center Joel Embiid in the tournament. Its other highly touted freshmen starters, Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden Jr., combined to shoot 2-for-11 and score six points as the Jayhawks were eliminated by Stanford. Wiggins might still prove to have Carmelo Anthony-type talent in the NBA, but he didn’t come close to matching Anthony's NCAA tournament legacy.

Seeding is an inexact science: Louisville as a 4? Kentucky as an 8? The selection committee’s favorite phrase is "whole body of work," which is understandable, but it doesn’t take into account a team that's playing its best late, such as the Cardinals; or a team clearly better than its record, such as the Wildcats.

Brackets aren't fair, but such is life: The biggest example was having No. 1 seed Wichita State pitted against No. 8 Kentucky in the round of 32. The game had an Elite Eight feel for a reason -- it probably should have been played in the later rounds.

A 12-seed beating a 5-seed is no longer an upset: The 12-seeds nearly -- and probably should have -- completed a full sweep of the 5-seeds. No. 12 seeds Harvard, Steven F. Austin and North Dakota State all advanced and North Carolina State was positioned to join them but missed 9 of 17 free throws before blowing a late eight-point lead to Saint Louis. It was the second game in three days for the Wolfpack, who had to play their way in by beating Xavier.

The 16-seeds are getting closer (incrementally, maybe, but closer): For those counting, the No. 1 seed is 120-0 against No. 16 seeds, but the gap is closing. Coastal Carolina led Virginia by 10 in the first half and by five at halftime before losing. Albany and Weber State also gave Florida and Arizona tougher than expected games.

Four-point plays do exist: And for Stephen F. Austin it happened at the best possible moment. Desmond Haymon drew a foul on VCU's JeQuan Lewis and his four-point play tied the score with three seconds left in regulation before the Lumberjacks won in overtime.

Big shots: Whether true buzzer-beaters such as Cameron Ridley's putback in Texas' win over Arizona State or simply big shots in closing seconds such as North Dakota State's Lawrence Alexander forcing overtime against Oklahoma with a 3-pointer, we love seeing a game-changer. Kentucky's Aaron Harrison made the most of his big shots, taking down Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin in the process.

Shots not fired: With 2.3 seconds left, Arizona's Nick Johnson took one dribble too many and failed to get a shot off before time expired. The Wildcats' loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight proved the shot that's not taken hurts most.

Check the monitor (Shots not fired Part II): Then again, it might hurt more to lose the game after an officials' conference. Officials didn't see North Carolina coach Roy Williams signaling for a timeout with 1.6 seconds left immediately after Iowa State's DeAndre Kane scored the go-ahead basket. The ball was inbounded but the clock operator started it late, allowing Carolina a timeout after the ball was advanced to half court. The officials checked the monitor, huddled and determined that time had expired before the timeout was granted.

We still never figured out the block/charge call: It didn’t outright decide the outcome of any game, but it came close. Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes was called for a charge with six seconds left in a one-point game. Michigan's Jordan Morgan sold the call and the Wolverines advanced.

[+] EnlargeMercer Bears
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsAn upset of Duke sent Mercer's Kevin Canevari into his version of the Nae Nae.
Location. Location! Location? Wisconsin doesn’t rally to beat Oregon had the partisan crowd in Milwaukee not helped turn the momentum of that game. UConn might not get past Michigan State had it not been in the familiar confines of Madison Square Garden. Then again, Syracuse lost to Dayton in Buffalo, N.Y., and Duke lost to Mercer in Raleigh, N.C. Maybe location doesn’t matter as much as we think.

Conferences might want to rethink who earns the automatic bid: Milwaukee had a losing record in the Horizon, yet beat regular-season champ Green Bay in the league tournament en route to earning their NCAA bid. Cal Poly had a losing record overall and finished tied for sixth in the Big West, yet earned the bid and beat Texas Southern before getting pummeled by Wichita State. Mount St. Mary's also had a losing record overall before winning the Northeast tournament title. All those upsets, of course, led to NCAA tournament seeds.

Seniors matter: Obviously the shining example was Napier carrying UConn to the title and Florida reaching the Final Four by starting four seniors. But the common thread in nearly every early-round upset was that schools such as North Dakota State, which had five seniors in its rotation, and Mercer, which had seven seniors, played a lot of experienced players.

Conference affiliation doesn't: The Big 12 had the most teams in the tournament with seven, but they flamed early. Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma lost their first games, only Baylor and Iowa State made it to the Sweet 16.

Michigan State starting over: One of the best streaks came to an end this season when the Spartans lost to UConn. Keith Appling and Adreian Payne are the first players who stayed four years under coach Tom Izzo but did not play in a Final Four.

Pay more attention to the Atlantic Sun: From the conference that gave us Florida Gulf Coast last season, Mercer came out of the league this year. The Bears beat Duke in a game they were positively poised and confident they would win.

THE University of Dayton made a statement: A headline in the Dayton Daily News poked a little fun at Ohio State, but the way the Flyers were embraced after beating the Buckeyes, Syracuse and Stanford showed just how much March can unite a community.

Kevin Canevari can dance: Moments after Mercer topped Duke in the tournament’s biggest upset, Canevari provided arguably the tournament’s best celebration dance by doing the Nae Nae in front of the Bears' fan section.

Grudges last: Napier blasted the NCAA for keeping the Huskies out of the tournament last season because of their APR. That means SMU, which beat UConn twice, is on the clock for next season with some hard feelings of its own. The Mustangs missed the NCAA tournament and finished runners-up in the NIT. With most of their starters back, and adding arguably the best point guard from the 2014 recruiting class, Larry Brown's crew will be a force next season.

Watch UConn's title celebration

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8

On Monday night, UConn completed its march to the 2014 national title with a 60-54 victory over Kentucky. On Tuesday, the Huskies celebrated that championship -- and you can watch the whole thing here on ESPN3.

3-point shot: UConn's historic run

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8

Andy Katz discusses the historic nature of UConn's national championship, what it means for the American Athletic Conference and the next step for Kentucky's pro prospects.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- You could see it from the start. You didn't even have to look that hard.

It was Kentucky's third game of the season, its first against serious competition, and the Wildcats looked lost. Its transition defense was nonexistent. Its offensive sets were a jumbled mess. Its opponent, Michigan State, had taken to Nov. 12's United Center stage with veteran aplomb: The Spartans were defending in sweeping collective movements, pushing forward with fluidity and pace. The Wildcats entered the game ranked No. 1 in the country, wielding the best recruiting class in modern college hoops history, with nothing less than a perfect 40-0 season on the lips of its fans. Instead, John Calipari's team looked like what it was: A bunch of self-aware kids very publicly feeling each other out.

And it almost didn't matter. In exactly three minutes and 27 seconds, Kentucky exploded a 13-point second-half deficit into a one-point Michigan State lead. With five minutes left, Julius Randle, who finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds on 13 field goals shots and 15 free throw attempts, tied the game at 66-all. Tom Izzo's team, the more cohesive and polished group in every visible way, found itself holding on for dear life.

The Spartans' grip held. Gary Harris and Keith Appling made two huge back-to-back buckets, and late free throws sealed the win. The final result obscured nothing; you could see it all then. Even in a larval state, the youngest, most freshman-packed team in the country was a primal force of nature.

In the same gym two hours later, Andrew Wiggins would dunk Kansas past the gorgeous scoring of Duke's Jabari Parker. Everything we had been breathlessly told about both players was true. Kentucky's promise had already lived up to its hype. One week in to the 2013-14 season, there was no other conclusion to draw.

This would be The Year of the Freshman.

To continue reading this story, click here.

UConn never stopped believing

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Believe, that's the word everyone used. The players, the coach, his wife, the mothers. Everyone associated with Connecticut kept coming back to believe.

It's a powerful tool, the power of conviction, the kind that can change the world, and yes, rebuild a basketball program.

Two years ago, Kevin Ollie told his Connecticut players that they were going to get through APR sanctions, a coaching change and player defections and come out on
the other side, a stronger, better team.

And they believed him.

Three months ago, after the Huskies lost to Louisville at home, Shabazz Napier gathered his teammates in the locker room and told them a crazy tale. He told them they were going to end the season holding the national championship trophy.

And they believed him.

Two months ago, Ryan Boatright went home to bury his cousin, a man who was more like a brother than a cousin. His mother sent her boy back to college and told him not to worry, that Arin Williams would be with him.

And he believed her.

Now, finally maybe everyone will believe in UConn. Counted out of virtually every game since this NCAA tournament began, the Huskies are now the national champions, 60-54 winners over Kentucky.

A year ago, the Huskies weren't allowed to play in the tournament.

And now they own it.

To continue reading this story, click here.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Khalid El-Amin, the Connecticut point guard whose college career ended 14 years ago, sprinted over to former coach Jim Calhoun and gave him a bear hug in the victor’s locker room.

Ray Allen, who started checking the Miami Heat’s schedule a couple of weeks ago to see if he could attend the championship game, walked around UConn’s locker room congratulating the newest Huskies to be crowned NCAA champions.

So did Richard Hamilton, another former UConn star, who played 14 NBA seasons.

[+] EnlargeJim Calhoun
AP Photo/Eric GayFormer UConn coach Jim Calhoun had to recruit Kevin Ollie to his staff as Ollie weighed a coaching offer from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Calhoun, the man who built this program, sat in a quiet corner of the Huskies’ locker room, beaming proudly as he talked about Kevin Ollie and his hand-picked protege’s ability to maintain the program’s lofty standard.

UConn beat Kentucky 60-54 on Monday night at AT&T Stadium to win its fourth national championship since 1999.

No program has won more in that span.

“No matter who you are and what you are, you always want an affirmation of things,” Calhoun said. “We have had a great last 25 years. We’re probably one of the top five winningest programs, and that’s important.

“But teams like North Carolina, Indiana and Kentucky have been incredible for 50 years. We want to keep that thing going. I never wanted our program to be about one player, one team or one coach.

“That’s what Dean Smith taught me when I was young coach at Northeastern.”

Obviously, Calhoun took the lesson to heart.

Hamilton starred on the 1999 championship team. Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon led the Huskies to their 2004 title and Kemba Walker starred on the 2011 team.

This season’s team belong to Shabazz Napier, who was sensational in the title game with 22 points, six rebounds, three steals and three assists.

Any program can have a good run when blessed with a special talent. But the best programs keep their rosters stocked with players capable of leading them to championships.

Such is the case at UConn, where they expect to compete for the championship every season.

“Somebody told me we were Cinderellas, and I was like, 'No, we're UConn,'" Ollie said. “I mean this is what we do. We are born for this. We’re bred to cut down nets. We’re not chasing championships, championships are chasing us.

“We’ve got four now and Coach Calhoun started a tradition and my whole coaching staff is from UConn. We’ve all been through the same things. We love this university. It’s always family first with us and they kept believing.”

Ollie’s attitude is why Calhoun wanted his former player to replace him when he retired two years ago.

Ollie played point guard for the Huskies from 1992-95, but he always returned to the community during the NBA offseason, so he has been connected to the program for more than 20 years.

Ollie can communicate with Cliff Robinson, UConn’s first great player under Calhoun, and Walker because he was an assistant coach on 2011 team. Ollie understands what it means to be a Husky, and Calhoun knew Ollie would adhere to the ideals and standards that he established when he arrived before the 1986 season.

Before he accepted the Huskies' job, Ollie weighed an offer from the Oklahoma City Thunder. He could either be the assistant director of pro personnel or Scott Brooks’ assistant coach.

“I had to recruit him again,” Calhoun said. “I told him I’d already recruited him from Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, so I shouldn’t have to recruit him again.”

But Calhoun did, and once again, Calhoun persuaded Ollie to come to UConn.

“The transition worried me,” Calhoun said. “Kevin kept the things that are important to UConn and the things important to Kevin Ollie and made it work.”

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Ollie said he thought about his mentor.

He thought about the trust Calhoun bestowed on him to maintain the program. And he thought about the lessons Calhoun taught him about being a man and a father.

“He’s right there beside me,” Ollie said. “I told you, I’m not filling his shoes. I can’t fill his shoes.

“He just a great resource for me -- to have a person that loves me and believed in me when a lot of people didn’t. A lot of people questioned me about getting this job; he never did.”

It’s why both men were smiling broadly at the end of the night.