UConn Coach Kevin Ollie Guards the Bench

17bd93e33dd413e9a3f2_Ollie.jpg
Coach Ollie and Niels Giffey at Friday's game against Iowa State. Credits: Steve Slade
03588d210cd0714449c9_Ollie3.jpg
Coach Ollie on Sunday Credits: Steve Slade
17bd93e33dd413e9a3f2_Ollie.jpg

With nine seconds left in Connecticut’s taught 60-54 victory over Michigan State, coach Kevin Ollie finally cracked his first smile of the afternoon. And what a smile it was. UConn had just wrapped up the East Regional Final at Madison Square Garden and with the victory is headed to North Texas for an improbable spot in the Final Four.

“It was just an amazing feeling to do it in Madison Square Garden,” said Olllie, whose squad was the beneficiary of a loud partisan Husky crowd.“And for the NCAA not to be here for 50 years and then we come out and we win it, it just puts a great bow on this gift.”

Ollie’s focus was evident from the moment his team took the court for pregamewarm-ups. During the national anthem, he had the determined look of a prize fighter, while lined up next to his team. Once the game began, his enthusiasm and affection for his players was non-stop. Even with his team trailing by as many as 11 points early in the second half, Ollie showed no signs of losing confidence in his squad. In fact, that’s when he became even more demonstrative in his support. Walking the sidelines, clapping his hands, clenching his fists, making facial contortions, all the while calling out plays, Ollie would not let his Huskies stop thinking that this game was still theirs for the taking.

Sign Up for E-News

“Coach told us to keep our composure,” said Shabazz Napier, a consensus first team All-American who finished with a game high 25 points.“They made their run and it was time for us to make ours. And when coach looks at me a certain way, I just know I have to be more aggressive, and I got to get open shots when my teammates get me the ball and we just kept running.”

That’s exactly what the Huskies did, sparked by the play of Napier, who soon after, drilled a three pointer and made four free throws enroute to their own 12-0 run. UConn eventually took a 35-31 lead and never looked back.

“Guys believe,” said Ollie, in his second year as head coach. “They didn’t get out of their roles and they believe in each other and we call it Level Five and that’s a championship mentality.”

Ollie, along with seniors Napier, Niels Giffey, and Tyler Olander were a part of Connecticut’s 2011 NCAA championship team and know something about a winning mentality—only all of their roles were quite different during that run to the title.

Ollie was the top assistant to the Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, and all three players who were just freshman, contributed to the team’s success. Napier has developed into one of the brightest stars in college basketball, and Giffey is a now a major all-around presence in each game plan.  But it is the connection between Napier and Ollie that has allowed such success during this transition period. Ollie, 41, a guard and captain himself for UConn back from 1991 - in addition to carving out a 13-year overachieving NBA career -was the backcourt coach for Napier as a freshman.

 Along with star guard Kemba Walker, the three forged a special bond working on the inside secrets of ball handling, shooting, and passing that Ollie had picked up from all his years playing the position. Kemba, a gifted leader and player, led the team to the title that year, and Napier was soaking up knowledge from the experience while alsobeing mentored by Ollie. Another gifted guard, junior Ryan Boatright, joined the team the year after Kemba left for the NBA, and, now, along with Shabazz, forms one of the fastest and most talented backcourts in college basketball.

“And you know what, I can do this job, but I need a lot of help,” said Ollie, when asked about taking over after the retirement of legendary coach Jim Calhoun.

“It’s not just a one-man show. That’s why I got a great coaching staff, that’s why I got great players, and that’s why I want to just keep forging on and keep building.”

This closeness between Ollie and Napier and the entire team was on display at the Garden in front of 19,000 plus cheeringfans. Often times it is the non-verbal cues that give a team an edge – familiarity and camaraderiethat can only be gleaned from years of being together on the practice court and in intense game situations.

Late in the game against Michigan State, the referees overturned a call that awarded the ball to the Spartans. Shabazz calmly informed Ollie that the ball would now belong to the other team. Ollie didn’t say a word – only nodded his head. Connecticut took to the defensive end without any fanfare and did what they had done all game long when it was really needed –made a defensive stop. With the ball back in the hands of Napier, the Huskies were on their way to North Texas.

Mike Cohen is a sports writer for Education Update and the founder and director of Throwback Sports, a Westfield-based individual and small group sports program for children. Reach him at throwbacksports@verizon.net.

 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Berkeley Heights

New Jersey Youth Symphony Announces 2018 Summer Camps

February 20, 2018

NEW PROVIDENCE—The New Jersey Youth Symphony announced today that it will hold two summer camps, Orchestral Camp from June 24 until July 7 and Junior Winds Camp from July 30 until August 3, at 570 Central Avenue in New Providence. Campers can take advantage of a 5% tuition discount by registering before the Early Registration deadline on June 1, 2018. For more information visit ...

Return Berkeley Heights Public Library's Books, etc.

Remember those book and DVDs and other materials borrowed from the Berkeley Heights Public Library before it closed? It's time to return them.

Staff will be at the Municipal Courtroom/Council Chambers at 29 Park Ave. from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24 to accept them. Enter through the glass door, using the stairs by the Police Department.

For more information, email ...

2018 Gov. Livingston Highlander Softball Clinic Set for March 19

Come join and learn from the 2017 Union County Softball Champion Gov. Livingston coaches and varsity players on Monday, March 19, 2018 from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Activities will include the following fastpitch softball skills:

Batting Techniques
Throwing Mechanics
Fielding
Base Running

Who: Children grades 1-7 of any skill level or ability

Where: Gov. Livingston High School, 175 ...

Mike Zuko at Salem Roadhouse Cafe

Raised on a diet of The Beatles, Buddy Holly and The Doors, Michael Zuko was exposed first hand to the thrilling music of the legendary 70s NYC club scene. Zuko and the band show a skilled singer-songwriter who is backed by solid musical talent, bringing original, fresh and intelligent lyrics to the stage. A true entertainer, Mike engages the audience fully and leaves them wanting more. Mike and ...

We Need More Women Like Colleen Mahr in Municipal, County and State Government

February 19, 2018

Dear Editor:

I’m proud to support Colleen Mahr for Chair of the Union County Democratic Committee  (UCDC) and am encouraging my Scotch Plains peers to join me.

I was a first time candidate wanting to make a difference in my hometown of Scotch Plains, when Mayor Mahr of neighboring Fanwood stepped in to help me campaign and win my election to be Councilwoman three years ago.

Democratic Party Would Be Making a Big Mistake by Not Recognizing Colleen Mahr's Talents

Dear Editor:

Mayor Colleen Mahr has been a valuable friend to the Township of Cranford. Whether it’s offering advice and assistance during devastating flood cleanup, supporting the Mayor's Council on the Rahway River, or her insight and assistance in meeting our affordable housing obligations, Mayor Mahr is always there for Cranford.

Colleen’s fairness and integrity is ...

Colleen Mahr Is The Leader Our Party Needs

Dear Editor:

My name is Patti Murgo. I am Committeewoman in Linden’s Eighth Ward. I am a life-long  DEMOCRAT, a party activist, and a believer in what being a democrat stands for. Last week, I received a piece of literature from our municipal chairman, Nick Scutari, regarding his “plans” for the County Democratic Party if he is elected county chairman.

Mr.

Chatham Borough Police Chief Crosson has Retired; Captain Gibbons is Acting Commander

February 12, 2018

CHATHAM, NJ - Phil Crosson Jr., who has been a member of the Chatham Borough Police Department since 1992, retired from his position as the police chief on Feb. 1.

"It came on pretty quickly," Crosson said when reached by phone on Sunday. "I was on vacation for six weeks and I bought a business. I came back for one day and retired."

According to Crosson, ...

‘Reefer Madness’ Comes to Chatham Borough Council; Cannabis Advocates Make Pitch for Chatham Marijuana Shop

February 14, 2018

CHATHAM, NJ - A group of pro-cannabis activists came to the Borough of Chatham Council meeting on Monday night and used the public commentary portion of the meeting to ask the council to support a marijuana dispensary in town.

The advocates, who say they have attended more than 80 town meetings to inform about the benefits of medical cannabis, mentioned the 1936 movie "Reefer ...

Upcoming Events

Tue, February 20

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Volunteer Art Show!

Arts & Entertainment Green

Wed, February 21

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Volunteer Art Show!

Arts & Entertainment Green

Wed, February 21, 2:00 PM

New Providence Memorial Library, New Providence

The Underground Railroad Documentary

Arts & Entertainment

Thu, February 22

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Volunteer Art Show!

Arts & Entertainment Green

Thu, February 22, 6:00 PM

UCEDC, Cranford

Next Level Business Planning

Business & Finance

Fri, February 23

Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: Volunteer Art Show!

Arts & Entertainment Green

Invest Like a Tortoise -- Not Like a Hare

Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare” is a perfect metaphor for the way people go about investing their money. As you recall in the fable, the hare brags about his ability to beat the tortoise and is overly confident about winning. In the investment world, the hare is someone who thinks he or she is great at selecting “winners” and avoiding “losers.” The ...