Column: Be thankful for Kevin Ollie

It seems like a long time ago that Ollie led UConn to a National Championship in his first year as a head coach eligible for the NCAA tournament. Since then, UConn’s record is 39-23 and 19-13 in conference play - not exactly awe inspiring. (Ashley Maher/The Daily Campus)

Who would you call if there were ten seconds left on the clock in a tie game and you needed a coach to draw up a play to win the game?

Kevin Ollie probably doesn’t make many short lists, that doesn’t mean he isn’t a superb college basketball coach.

It seems like a long time ago that Ollie led UConn to a National Championship in his first year as a head coach eligible for the NCAA tournament. Since then, UConn’s record is 39-23 and 19-13 in conference play - not exactly awe inspiring. The 2014-15 Huskies missed the NCAA tournament one year after the title and a lot of fans pointed fingers at Ollie.

It became clear in that season, that without Shabazz Napier running the show on offense, Ollie had a long way to go as a head coach in college basketball. The rumors of the young coach leaving for the NBA simmered down as it became more and more evident that he wasn’t necessarily ready from an X’s and O’s standpoint.

UConn has six losses by five points or less this season and late game execution has been a glaring issue in all of them. Ollie hasn’t been able to get his players to execute in late game situations with consistency and I’m sure he would be the first one to admit that.

However, next time you want to rip your hair out over poor execution to end a close game, think about all of the great qualities Ollie brings to the UConn program.

First things first, Ollie is still a very young college coach. At 43 years old, he has had 13 years of NBA experience, two years as an assistant under Jim Calhoun and one National Championship as a head coach under his belt. He is not past the point of improving as a head coach and his work ethic has never been in question.

Ollie took over as head coach at a time when UConn was banned from the tournament for poor academic performance and conference realignment left the future of the program in question.

There hasn’t been an academic concern since he took the job in 2012 and he has managed to encourage some of the best high school players in the country to play for an American Athletic Conference program in cow country, Connecticut. That is not an easy task and it speaks to Ollie’s ability to carry on and promote the special culture Calhoun created in his 26 years in Storrs.

It would not have been outlandish for the UConn basketball program to implode with their departure from the Big East, one-year tournament ban and retirement of a legendary head coach. Ollie was there when UConn needed optimism and a “no excuses” attitude. His ability to walk into a room and captivate recruits is the backbone of the program.

Listen to the words of recent commits and you can see how Ollie sells the UConn family culture and standards of excellence to recruits and their families, regardless of conference. As a native of Crenshaw, he appears to have opened a pipeline to California and he continues to draw recruits from the usual suspects like New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Whether UConn can force their way into a power conference or not, the university’s basketball brand is as strong as ever and Ollie has a lot to do with that. He might not be a wizard with the clipboard, but college coaching is about so much more than drawing up plays.

Husky fans should be happy to populate Olliewood as long as he continues to attract great talent and push that talent to play hard, play defensively and together. Nobody can sum up the UConn basketball program better than Ollie did during the national title run in 2014.

"Somebody told me we were Cinderellas. I was like ‘no, we’re UConn.’ This is what we do. We're bred to cut down nets," he said.

It won’t always be a smooth ride, but even the most dominant programs in college basketball have their ups and downs. Embrace Kevin Ollie, because he’s done nothing but pour his heart and soul into the UConn men’s basketball program and it has put the Huskies in a good place at a tough time.