It took Kevin Ollie just 70 games as a collegiate head basketball coach to join the elite of the profession --- those who have won an NCAA championship.
In just his second season as the head basketball coach at the University of Connecticut and only his fourth year in coaching since retiring from the NBA, Ollie firmly established himself as one of the rising young coaching stars 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.
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. With a sparkling 52-18 coaching record, Ollie's .743 winning percentage is the highest of any coach in UConn history who coached more than 20 games. The 32-victory season is the ninth 30-win season for the Huskies.
Ollie, 41, accepted a huge responsibility on Sept. 13, 2012, when he was named the 18th head coach in the history of UConn men's basketball, replacing legendary Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun.
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 guided the Huskies to a 20-victory season, a feat no other UConn coach had ever accomplished in his first year.
The Huskies finished 20-10, extending UConn's streak of 20-win seasons to three straight, five in the last six years, and 14 in the last 16 years, as well as extending its streak of winning seasons to 26 in a row. UConn 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.
Ollie raised eyebrows with the season's very first game, upsetting 14th-ranked Michigan State, 66-62, in the Armed Forces Classic at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany. The season also included victories over ranked teams Notre Dame and Syracuse, and five wins in overtime, a school record.
On Dec. 29, 2012, less than a dozen games into his first season as head coach, Ollie was awarded a new contract that will run through at least the 2017-18 season.
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, 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."
The reins to the Huskies could not have been handed to anyone who wanted them more than Ollie.
"This is my dream job. I was made for this job," Ollie said on the day he was hired. "UConn is a special, special place and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else but right here."
Ollie made that same decision about UConn more than 20 years ago, coming out of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles. Playing on some of Calhoun's finest teams during the mid-1990s, Ollie was 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 and learned from 15 different NBA coaches. It was apparent that Ollie would eventually become a coach.
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. The 2011-12 season culminated in another NCAA appearance and another UConn guard, Jeremy Lamb, drafted as an NBA lottery selection. This season, Ollie enhanced his reputation as a teacher, molding point guard Shabazz Napier into a consensus first team All-American and the leader of the NCAA national champion.
"Kevin Ollie epitomizes what we want a UConn athlete, a UConn student, to be all about. When you say that about somebody, that's heavy stuff," Calhoun said. "Any fox hole you need to jump in, there's your guy. Anytime you need a person who won't quit, there's your guy."
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 Cheyenne (born 2/6/01).