Kevin Ollie got everything he ever had in basketball through hard work.
And now he's going to have to work harder than ever, replacing a legend, Jim Calhoun, as UConn basketball coach.
Calhoun, 70, is retiring — there will be a news conference Thursday in Storrs at 2 p.m. — and Ollie is stepping in.
Ollie, 39, played for Calhoun, had a long NBA career and went back to campus as an assistant coach with the Huskies for the 2010-11 season. Calhoun wanted Ollie to succeed him, and those who know Ollie realize why.
"Kevin [Ollie] is a great role model," former UConn star Ray Allen said this summer at his camp for youngsters at E.O. Smith High in Storrs. "He always inspired me to work harder."
Allen and Ollie played together for Calhoun in the early to mid-1990s.
"He started out in the D-League," Allen said, "and he never had a guaranteed contract in the NBA, yet he got in 13 seasons. A lot of guys are drafted in the first round and don't play three years because they don't work hard enough. So he's a great example. ... The game had changed. They used to say in the NBA, you had to coach in the D-League; you had to coach overseas and come back and be an assistant before you get the opportunity to be a head coach. That's changed. You have to be able to motivate your players, you have to have good people around you and you have to be a great recruiter. Kevin has been around the program. ... He played here; he knows what it's about, what's expected with the media here and so forth."
Ollie was a two-time captain at UConn who averaged 9.8 points and 6.7 assists his final season, 1994-95. His career totals were 6.7 points, 5.0 assists. He ended up playing 13 seasons for 12 teams in the NBA, his last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2009-10. He played 662 games in the NBA and made upward of $20 million.
He realized he did not have the talent of others, but he had the desire.
Another former UConn player, Kevin Freeman, told The Courant about legendary Ollie workouts.
"He would work out 2½ hours and then go to the weight room," Freeman says. "You mention anybody you want, Kobe Bryant? Kevin [Ollie's] workout was tougher. It's 120 percent all the time."
Ollie simply said, "I knew I couldn't take short cuts, I couldn't miss a day."
That is what he will expect from his players, which falls into the Calhoun line of thinking.
Since going back to UConn, Ollie has put players through some grueling offseason workouts.
Guard Ryan Boatright, of whom much will be expected this season, called them "the toughest workout I've ever had. The word I'd use for it, 'crazy.'"
That might be a word to describe Ollie's NBA career: stops in Dallas, Orlando, Sacramento, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Chicago, Indiana, Milwaukee, Seattle, Cleveland, Minnesota and Oklahoma City. He often played for more than one team in a season early on, cut by one squad and picked up by another. His first season was 1997-98; his final one was 2009-10. The year 1999 alone sums up his early struggles to stick in the NBA: Signed as a free agent in January with the Sacramento Kings; waived by the Sacramento Kings; signed a 10-day contract in March with the Orlando Magic; waived by the Orlando Magic; signed as a free agent in October with the Dallas Mavericks; waived by the Dallas Mavericks; signed as a free agent in November with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Before he made it to the NBA, he played for the Connecticut Pride of the Continental Basketball Association and the Connecticut Skyhawks of the United States Basketball League. Meanwhile, his buddy, Allen, was making the big bucks in the NBA.
"I'd love to be in [Allen's] position, but I've got to plug away," Ollie said in 1996. "I've got to live Kevin Ollie's life, and I wouldn't trade it with anyone. And when I get up [to the NBA], I'll appreciate it even more because I worked so hard to get there."
Get there he did, making a nice career. Now it's on to a new job, his roots planted in one state.Copyright © 2015, CT Now