The Sports Thread #1/The Final Two Title Game Preview Thread #1 For 4/7/14: Teams of Perseverance - Olliedays Are Here To Say
There have been few in the college basketball coaching ranks who have handled adversity better than Kevin Ollie.
Coaches with longer resumes and years at the helm could take lessons from the 41-year-old, and that also includes those in the college football ranks who love to use their powers of leaving the kids they recruited behind as soon as the next big money, big job opportunity opens.
When Ollie took over the reigns of the UConn program after Jim Calhoun retired and left him with sanctions two years ago, it could have lead to a slow but steady demise of one of NCAA basketball's prime institutions. The legacy of Geno Auriesma on the women's side of the program wasn't going to be of any significant aid to Ollie, who needed to find a way of stabling a program who had lost a legendary coach and seemed destined for the downward slope (the "demise" of the original Big East also was of no facilitation to Ollie's difficult challenge).
Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boutright, and DeAndre Daniels could have easily bolted to another school, particularly one Napier. The Boston product was entering a key junior season after seeing his original backcourt mate Jeremy Lamb go straight to the NBA after the Huskies were manhandled by Iowa State in the 2012 NCAA Round of 64. He may have been tempted to see his NBA development be handled by another coach, but the Roxbury legend trusted Ollie. In fact, he truly became the patriarch Napier never had in his roughest time, just one year rumored from the then freshman being Kemba Walker's title winning backup.
“I was crying in his arms because I was upset the way I was playing, he was always there for me,” Napier said of his sophomore season, in which UConn ended up with a pedestrian 20-14 record and under .500 in conference play. “I never had a father in my life, and like I always said, I feel like he was always a father figure to me.”
It's the type of strength that Ollie brings that made Napier, along with Boutright, Daniels and others, deal without a year of postseason play for the ultimate goal of this season. And it is Ollie's strength in perseverance that has them in the ultimate game of the collegiate season tonight.
When UConn lost to SMU to begin their AAC lifespan with an 0-2 record, Ollie took his team across town in Dallas to the AT&T Center and told his team that they would play in "JerryWorld" in March.
It was the same sentiment that was felt for the former NBA guard when his team were crushed 81-48 against Louisville last month and then lost to Rick Pitino's side again in the AAC title game a week later. And it was the same belief, when they could have easily went out to an inform St. Joe's team, that propelled them through that overtime Round of 64 thriller and into being true, all-time bracket breakers.
That 16-4 opening deficit to a Florida Gators team desperate for revenge against them did not phase Ollie's side one bit, because they had already mastered the ability to deal with adversity.
An ability that comes from the belief and determination that comes from their head coach and new sideline national star.