When Kevin Ollie took over the Connecticut Huskies after Jim Calhoun retired it could have gone a variety of ways. But even with hindsight available at our disposal, few likely had the former UConn talent leading the program to a national title, then being shown the door by the school like he was DJ Jazzy Jeff with the university playing the role of Uncle Phil.
And yet, here we are.
Ollie was the man overseeing the next era of UConn basketball. Having to enter immediately after the legend that is Calhoun, he was tasked with the same set of expectations as the coach he was replacing. Ollie was not only meant to lure the nation’s top prospects to Storrs — an incredibly underrated aspect of Calhoun’s tenure — but keep the Huskies nationally relevant on an annual basis.
No pressure, really.
Oddly enough, that’s exactly what happened. At least initially, as Ollie led the 2014 Huskies to that infamous point in space and time where Jim Nantz is looking to hand out his tie on a Monday evening in April. Yet, Ollie wasn’t UConn’s guy, despite being an alum, and the national championship certainly didn’t buy him the goodwill Calhoun attempted to leave him by way of announcing the mustached hero as his successor.
Since the title, the team lost more often. The afterglow was quickly gone, replaced with something that appeared to be disdain on the university’s end.
It’s well documented by now, but Connecticut fired Kevin Ollie — and has attempted to do so “with cause.”
Ollie could have justifiably been fired for not winning enough games, though it seems like UConn not only wanted to move in a different direction, but not have to pay Ollie while doing so. That’s where the “with cause” portion of the story comes in.
To simplify a complex matter: Connecticut has released information by way of the Freedom of Information Act, as well as making its own allegations, which all claim Ollie violated many NCAA rules. One of the biggest accusations is an interview lined up by Ray Allen and a recruit for Ollie in a way the NCAA disproves, as well as supposedly shipping around $30,000 to a recruit for his services.
On Ollie’s end, he not only denies his part in the allegations put forth by the school, but wants a retraction. He also wants his money.
The two parties are still likely months away from an arbitrator making a ruling. It’s time poorly spent.
From a complete outsider’s perspective, the optics don’t look great. Forget about the far more important stuff circling near university integrity, as that’s a conversation above most our pay grades, but focusing on the story from a college basketball point of view, this is less than ideal.
Connecticut, largely thanks to Jim Calhoun, is a national basketball program. Many claim to be those, however few are actually that in reality. Maybe not to the level of a Duke, Kentucky or North Carolina, UConn has been near the peak of the sport’s mountaintop for a few decades.
Whether it has to do with money, or the lack thereof, blue-blood programs are not meant to chase pennies — though, to be fair to the university, we’re talking about multiple millions of dollars.
There’s the added backdrop to how the college basketball community would receive UConn in a post-Calhoun world anyway. Unfair or not, many equated Connecticut’s status in the landscape of the sport more so with Calhoun than the actual program. Plenty expected the royalty of the program to go the way of the dinosaurs when Calhoun.
Ollie, while not perfect and largely benefiting from his predecessor’s work, was able to curtail those discussions, even if only for a little bit. Alas, the man once pegged as the person to snag by an NBA team if it wanted to land Kevin Durant, has had as meteoric a downfall as he had his rise.
Enter Dan Hurley, a widely accepted quality coach who is now manning the helm for UConn. Unfortunately, in what should be a time for optimism for the school, the looming Ollie situation is hovering over the program like some horror movie monster that’s about to devour the soul of a child.
To make matters worse, one of the school’s most notable players in history, the ex-player involved in one of the alleged bad acts, is voicing his concerns about the entire situation.
“Kevin’s situation is a stain on the (UConn) family, on the state,” Allen said shortly after a keynote speech. “For the most part, everybody I know who went to UConn, we have great pride in the university. It’s an isolated incident that needs to be resolved. Both parties need to come to terms to make the situation go away. We know who Kevin is and what he’s done for the state, and they need to make it right by him.”
Allen would go on to claim he’s “on both sides” in this public characterizing fistfight.
The 2018-19 college basketball season is right around the corner. There should be more talk about Dan Hurley trying to bring back UConn with more vengeance than Bruce Willis in a Die Hard flick. Considering Hurley should be the draw for the program, a real reason for optimism to remain nationally relevant moving forward, the Ollie-UConn battle overshadowing that is counterproductive.
Sure, that’s only the perception. But when 99.9 percent of the basketball community is on the outside, perception is often accepted as fact. And the fact of the matter is, if UConn wants to recapture its blue-blood stature and give Hurley an earnest shot at winning, it’s time for the Huskies to take the higher road.
Even if technicalities and legalities are on their side.
Then again, it’s easy to tell other people what to do with their money.
Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly a decade for various outlets in a variety of ways. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.