Kevin Ollie, Jim Calhoun share unique bond
April, 8, 2014
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPN.com
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.
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.
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.
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.