Ollie ready to prove his worth again

STORRS, Conn. -- Kevin Ollie was given a chance to be the head coach at UConn.

That's all he wanted.

That's all he got.

Ollie has one season to show he is worthy of being entrusted with a featured role, just like he had to do throughout his college career here in the early to mid-'90s. Ollie was given one year to prove himself by Jim Calhoun for each of his four seasons, and then each of his first six of 13 seasons in the NBA, when he was given one-year contracts.

UConn announced Thursday that Ollie would be named the head coach to replace the retiring Calhoun, but the contract goes only until April 4, 2013.

But Ollie and Calhoun have no doubt that Ollie will be the head coach for the foreseeable future.

"Oh yeah, I believe I'm going to be the head coach here for a lifetime, for 15-20 years,'' said Ollie after the news conference at Gampel Pavilion. "I don't know if I'll make it to 70, hopefully I'll make it to 50 and then work on the next 20.''

Ollie said that he was told by UConn athletic director Warde Manuel that he would be evaluated during the season.

"I'm fine with that,'' said Ollie. "I've been evaluated a lot of times. I'm used to waiting until January 10th to get that guaranteed contract.''

Ollie said he was told he is the coach until UConn tells him he's not.

"I should be evaluated not about the X's and O's and wins and losses but about how they [the players] succeed, how disciplined they are and how much they sacrifice,'' said Ollie.

Ollie has the support of the two coaches who are bandied about most as national candidates: Butler's Brad Stevens and VCU's Shaka Smart. Stevens said the few times he has met Ollie he came away incredibly impressed and hopes that he gets the job full-time. Smart said, "Hire Kevin Ollie. He is a star.''

One unique aspect of handing off the job to Ollie in a joint news conference is that Calhoun will also be evaluating whether Ollie can handle the position.

"Warde told me that I will have a major vote on this,'' said Calhoun. "We'll work together on this and [UConn president] Susan [Herbst] said I want you two to make the decision. Like everything in life Kevin knows he has to earn that right. I have great faith that Kevin can do it as long as we can play pure basketball and not worry about other things. We just need to play every game not for an NBA contract or an NCAA berth but to play every game the best we can and if we do that it will turn out fine.''

Calhoun said his fractured hip last month from a bike accident didn't force him to make this decision to retire, but did allow him time to think about his priorities. Calhoun said he will be at practice. He may come to some games. But he said he has to make sure he doesn't cause a distraction.

Calhoun said he will have personal involvement but it won't be every day. He said he has even started to think about how the Huskies should play with a depleted roster. He and Ollie both agree the Huskies will have to play four guards out and one in to take advantage of the speed and quickness of Shabazz Napier, who is recovering from a broken foot, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun.

Calhoun said having himself as an adviser to go along with a staff of former head coaches in George Blaney (Holy Cross and Seton Hall), Glen Miller (Brown and Penn) and Karl Hobbs (George Washington) gives Ollie plenty of experience to lean on during the season.

"It would be a bad mistake to bet against Kevin,'' said Calhoun. "He just has to show that he is the head coach. He just has to be Kevin Ollie.''

Calhoun said he will serve in a hands-on advisory role, much like the way in which John Thompson Jr. still unofficially consults with his son, Georgetown head coach John Thompson III. The elder Thompson can be seen at practice and is still seen as the head coach emeritus.

"John isn't a bad model,'' said Calhoun, who added he spoke with Thompson about retirement and still staying involved. Calhoun will have fund-raising responsibilities for Herbst, especially for the new practice facility, but wants to be as driven to help Ollie be successful. Calhoun said Ollie isn't his son, but he's like his son.

"Early on I'm going to take a step back and let Kevin run the team,'' said Calhoun. "I know there is some talk if I should go to Germany [Nov. 9 against Michigan State] or to St. Thomas [for the Paradise Jam a week later]. I want to be there for him. All of us want someone that we respect. I wonder what Kevin would do if it's 62-62, but in 13 years in the NBA, just think how many times he's seen that. He controlled the locker room. Kevin was hired by two teams that I know to manage the locker room. He gets it and he gets basketball.''

One of those teams was Oklahoma City. General manager Sam Presti said that Ollie's leadership during his one season with the Thunder in 2009-10 is still being felt.

"We're still benefiting from the fact that Kevin Ollie passed through our program,'' said Presti. "He touches your environment and your culture. He probably had some of his greatest leadership moments when we were off the court.''

Presti said Ollie's greatest strengths are his observation skills and understanding of meaningful relationships that extend beyond the basketball court.

"If you can find someone more professional I'd like to see him,'' said Presti. "He carries himself as someone that is committed to the greater good. He holds himself accountable to the standards and expectations that you would expect of teammates. He has a tremendous sense of self-awareness. He's a continuous learner and continuously is curious about self-improvement and how to help others.''

Count Kemba Walker as one of the biggest beneficiaries. Ollie's first season at UConn was Walker's greatest in leading the Huskies to an iconic five-game, five-day Big East tournament title before winning the national championship in Houston.

"In my one year around him he gave me so much confidence,'' said Walker, who was at Thursday's news conference. "He got me to believe in myself that I could be a great player and not only a great player but a great person and he's one of the reasons I am who I am.''

Presti said it's no secret that Ollie and the Thunder have a close relationship. But Ollie said there was only one place he wanted to be and that was at UConn.

Ollie was genuine during Thursday's news conference. He nearly cried a few times when he talked about what his family -- his wife, Stephanie, and children, Jalen and Cheyenne -- and Calhoun meant to him. He romanticized his recruiting visit and couldn't stop saying how much he loved his teammates and the current players.

He said that coaching at UConn was his dream job. Manuel wasn't ready to hand him the tag officially, although he will be recorded as the head coach -- not interim -- for the 2012-13 season. He will receive $625,000 for the next six months. He fully expects that he will be coaching in Storrs a year from now, too.

"Warde gave me all the insurance that I will be his coach for a long time but he will take the time to evaluate me,'' said Ollie. "He said, 'I can give you a contract next week.' That's all I want here. I just want that opportunity and I thank him for that.''