Forgive UConn basketball fans if they began to experience a bit of deja vu in early March of 2015, hoping that Coach Kevin Ollie could engineer another remarkable postseason run, just like the one that took the Huskies to the 2014 NCAA National Championship.
The feeling likely only grew stronger as UConn marched through the first three games of the American Athletic Conference Championship to reach the title game for the second straight season. This time, however, the run did not end with a berth in the NCAA Tournament and the Huskies settled for another 20-win season and participation in the National Invitation Tournament for the first time in five years.
In three seasons as UConn's head coach, following two years as an assistant under Hall of Fame Coach Jim Calhoun, Ollie has already experienced a long career's worth of ups and downs. Still, his teams have never won less than 20 games, while posting two perfect APR scores of 1,000. His career record of 72-33 (.686) already has his tied for sixth place on UConn's all-time coaching wins list.
The 2014-15 season was full of ups and downs as well --- with wins over top AAC teams SMU, Tulsa and Cincinnati and the thrill ride through the AAC postseason tournament, coupled with six losses by four points or less. At 42, Ollie is sll considered one of the bright, rising stars in the college basketball coaching world.
It took Ollie just 70 games to join the elite of the profession --- those who have won an NCAA championship.
In just his second season as UConn's head basketball coach and only his fourth year in coaching since retiring from the NBA, Ollie firmly established himself in the college game by guiding the Huskies to a 32-8 season in 2013-14 and the NCAA title, defeating Kentucky, 60-54, in the tourney's championship game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
On his way to guiding UConn to their its fourth NCAA crown in the history of the program, Ollie marched the Huskies past storied programs Saint Joseph's, Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State, and Florida in the tournament before the finale against Kentucky.
It would have been a dream season for any college coach, but for a coach of just 70 games, whose team was not even able to compete in the 2013 NCAA Tournament because of academic shortcomings of years long past, it was truly remarkable. The Huskies, who had a 12-6 mark in the new American Athletic Conference, won eight of their last nine games, 11 of their last 13, and had a 10-4 record against ranked opponents, including two wins against Florida, the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Ollie accepted a huge responsibility on Sept. 13, 2012, when he was named the 18th head coach in the history of UConn men's basketball. With only two seasons of coaching experience after joining Calhoun's staff as an assistant in 2010-2011, Ollie quickly embraced the opportunity to lead the storied UConn program.
Despite a roster depleted by transfers and early NBA entrants, Ollie surprised the experts by guiding the Huskies to a 20-victory season (20-10), a feat no other UConn coach had ever accomplished in his first year.
The Huskies also posted a 10-8 mark in the difficult Big East Conference. At season's end, Ollie's efforts were recognized by Collegeinsider.com, which selected him to receive its Ben Jobe National Coach of the Year Award, given to the top Division I minority coach.
Less than a dozen games into his first season as head coach, Ollie was awarded a five-year contract. Following his second season in 2013-14, he spurned interest from several NBA teams to sign another new contract with UConn that runs through May, 2019.
"It's a humbling experience to be around the UConn fans and the UConn family and to know that I am their basketball coach for the foreseeable future," Ollie said. "I'm very proud of that. UConn is a place that I love. This is where my heart is."
Ollie's UConn history --- which began in the fall of 1991 when he reported to school as a freshman from Los Angeles, continued through four successful seasons, including two as a Husky team captain, and resumed when he returned to join Calhoun's coaching staff following a 13-year NBA career --- has come full circle. He may have only served two seasons as an assistant on Calhoun's staff, but possesses a wealth of basketball knowledge after learning from some of the finest teachers to ever coach the game, including Calhoun, Chuck Daly, Don Nelson, Larry Brown, and George Karl.
"After 13 years in the NBA, Kevin's got a PhD in basketball," Calhoun said as he passed the torch to his former point guard. "He's a great basketball man and an even better person. I'm very proud of him."
Coming out of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, Ollie played on some of Calhoun's finest teams during the mid-1990s, as a four-year starting point guard and a two-time captain.
He played in 124 games for the Huskies, averaging 6.7 points and 5.0 assists. A third team All-Big East pick, his 619 assist total still ranks third on UConn's all-time list. He graduated in 1995 with a degree in Communications.
But Ollie was far more concerned with team statistics than individual ones. During his four-year UConn career, the Huskies had a record of 92-33, 51-21 in the Big East Conference and made three NCAA Tournament appearances. During Ollie's last two seasons, when he served as a team captain, UConn's record was 57-10 overall and a dazzling 32-4 in the Big East, capturing two Big East regular-season championships, and reaching the NCAA Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, respectively.
Yet it was after his UConn career that Ollie was most impressive, displaying unmatched perseverance, intestinal fortitude, and a never-say- die attitude as he fought his way through years in the Continental Basketball Association and the U.S. Basketball League to get his chance in the NBA. Once there, Ollie would simply not give up his dream, signing a series of 10-day and one-year contracts, dealing with trades and frustrating roster cuts.
Yet Ollie would not be deterred, earning a reputation throughout the league as an outstanding teammate, with strong moral fiber, impeccable character, and a vast knowledge of the game. His perseverance finally paid off with a multi-year contract from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ollie had been brought to Cleveland to mentor a young LeBron James about acting as a professional and Oklahoma City brought Ollie in to do the same for Kevin Durant. During a 13-year NBA career, Ollie played for 11 different franchises in 12 cities.
Ollie couldn't have had a more successful debut season to his coaching career than in 2010-11, as he helped guard Kemba Walker produce one of the most spectacular individual seasons in UConn history in leading the Huskies to the program's third national championship. He has had the same kind of success mentoring guards Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and, this past season, Ryan Boatright.
Born in Dallas on Dec. 27, 1972, and raised in Los Angeles, Ollie resides in Glastonbury with wife Stephanie, who is also a UConn grad (1997), and their two children, son Jalen (born 6/22/96) and daughter Cheyanne (born 2/6/01).