Column: Are Ollie’s Huskies on thin ice?

Freshman guard Christian Vital and Coach Kevin Ollie shake hands following the Huskies 81-71 loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats on in the semifinals of the American Athletic Conference championship on Saturday, March 11, 2017. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

In the past few weeks, there’s been some turmoil (and turnover) in the basketball capital of the world.

While Geno Auriemma and the women’s team keep on marching toward a fifth-straight championship, the men’s side is not picking up their end of the bargain.

Kevin Ollie’s Huskies posted their first losing season in 30 years, largely due to multiple players missing significant time due to injury. In just the few weeks since the Huskies’ season came to an end in early March in Hartford to Cincinnati, the team looks drastically different.

First, strength coach Travis Illian and the program went separate ways. Same with long time coach Glenn Miller. In between all this, promising sophomore forward Steven Enoch, a Norwalk native, requested his release.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, Vance Jackson, one of the Huskies “Top Five” freshmen and an American Athletic Conference All-Rookie team member this season, announced via Twitter that he’d be leaving as well.

For those of you keeping score, that’s four people involved with the team that are gone within the last week or so. If you look at the bigger picture, Enoch and Jackson bring the total of players that have transferred during the Ollie era up to five.

Is that a problem?

It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s certainly not great. Transferring is common in college basketball today (according to some certain college basketball analysts, it’s an epidemic), so that is certainly part of it.

But taking a step back, it’s easy to see it might not be that simple.

Since the inception of the American four years ago, UConn was expected to be the big fish in the small pond of the conference’s men’s basketball. Instead of coasting through the conference with ease, the Huskies are 42-28 all-time in conference play. While UConn has done well in the conference tournament, it’s usually been due to the fact that winning it all was UConn’s only chance at an NCAA tournament bid.

Maybe players, like so many fans, simply don’t think the allure of being the most prestigious program in the American is all it’s cracked up to be. Aside from the opponents, the environment and exposure (or lack thereof), maybe the rigors of traveling all over the country, something that is essentially unique to the American, is too much. Why go to UConn and travel all over the place night and in and night out, when there are other conferences just as a good (if not better) with schools closer together?

Could it be that Ollie, who has shown to be an impressive recruiter in his time in Storrs, focuses too much on simply bringing in the best available players and not the best players for his guard-oriented system?

Jackson and Enoch both are leaving more or less due to displeasure with their use in their time at UConn. For the most part, it makes sense. While both had their fair share of playing time, neither did much with it. Some of this is without a doubt because they did not make the most of their opportunities.

Another part, albeit small, is because at UConn, it revolves around guards, which Jackson and Enoch are not. If they think they can develop into NBA-caliber players, they might feel like their talents can be used and displayed better elsewhere.

Ollie can recruit without a doubt, but with these transfers and recent coaching changes, the problem might not be bringing these players onto campus, but keeping them there.


Dan Madigan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus, covering women's basketball. He can be reached via email at daniel.madigan@uconn.edu. He tweets @dmad1433.