Arlington, Texas • It’s not that Kevin Ollie looked uncomfortable sitting on a stool in front of the Connecticut bench. It’s just that he looked a lot more comfortable in a defensive stance exhorting the Huskies in the national championship game.
That’s how he spent the majority of the biggest game of his short college coaching career Monday night, a 60-54 victory over Kentucky. Right on the sideline. In some plays he looked like a sixth Connecticut defender.
He was wearing a suit with a tie. When he was a standout defender in college, he wore a UConn uniform from 1991 to 1995. Then it was off to the NBA for a long career before he returned to UConn for two years as an assistant. Jim Calhoun hand-picked him as his successor.
Maybe he will start a trend in college basketball: a longtime NBA player taking over a program. He was in the NBA for 12 seasons. Never a star but always wanted. Twelve teams and his best scoring season was 8.0 points per game with Seattle in 2002-03.
Players who average 3.8 points per game over 12 seasons usually spend a lot of time on the bench. Ollie did.
“You know what he was doing while he was playing?” Kentucky coach John Calipari asked Sunday. “He was coaching. That’s how he played. He was an unbelievable student of the game.”
Seems he learned pretty well.
In only his second season as head coach, he won it all. Steve Fisher is the only coach to win the title in his first season, with Michigan as an interim coach in 1989.
Technically, Ollie did it in his first chance. The Huskies were ineligible for postseason play in 2012-13 over academic issues before he or these players got to Storrs. The players could have transferred. They stayed and won the school’s fourth national championship.
With 5 seconds left and the Huskies up by six, Ollie extended his arms in the air. He turned toward the crowd and let out a scream.
He exchanged a quick hug with Calipari and shook hands with the Kentucky assistants and players. Then he turned toward the court and started celebrating with his team.