STORRS – Here are Kevin Ollie’s thoughts on the seniors who will be honored before UConn’s game vs. Rutgers on Wednesday night at Gampel.
Their loyalty, what they showed staying with the program through adversity, the character, the leadership they showed when we were in a difficult time. It means a lot to me, and, I can’t speak for Coach Calhoun but I’m sure he has the same sentiment.
We needed those guys to stay, and they stuck with us. They won a national championship, two NCAA tournaments, 95 wins in their career and a few more to go, if they could that century mark it would be terrific.
It’s been a pleasure to be around them. I came in t he same time they came in, I was kind of a freshman in the [coaching] profession. All of us have grown together.
Adversity always molds you. The character you show in those times is going to mold you, you’re probably not going to see the benefits til after their career here, when life hits you. How to continue to stay with it and not give in, understand that you have to embrace pain. There was a lot of pain around here, but everybody who was in this program embraced it and then success came.
They’re the beneficiaries. Leadership is not just in words, they showed it with their actions and these other guys are better leaders for it, too
I think Tyler [Olander] has learned since his four years being here, national champions, starting, not playing a lot, going through the mistakes on and off the basketball court. … I think Tyler would be a hell of a coach. I observe everything. I’m a point guard so I observe everything. The way he’s treating the other guys that are pretty much taking his minutes – I’ve been in that role before – and for him to embrace them and teach them the little nuances of the game has been great.
Niels [Giffey] is my rock, I tell you all that all t he time, a typical UConn basketball player, an ambassador for our program. Playing, not playing, he’s like ‘coach what do I need to do, how can I get better?” I’ll love him for that always.
And ‘Bazz [Napier] is just an incredible person. He’s going to pass me on assists in a little bit, eighth in scoring. I think his name will be following Khalid [El-Amin] soon up in the rafters. He deserves all of the accolades he’s gotten. A tremdenous person on and off the court, how he’s grown as a leader. He’s been great.
Lasan [Kromah] coming in for the one year here, he’s made a mark on this program and I appreciate his hard work also.
The game [against Rutgers] is very important. We’ll get through that [emotion and ceremony] and then play basketball. We’ve been talking about hangovers. We understand you can’t have hangovers, we had a great win against Cincinnati, but now we’re moving on.
[Napier’s] legacy is going to be great. He’ll be first one to say he only wants to win, and he’s won a lot of games here. He’s done a great job understanding leadership from the inside out, going through tough times as every leader does, showing his vulnerability, showing that’ I don’t know it all. I need help from my teammates. I can’t do it by myself, I can’t separate myself from my team.’ All the different things he’s learned in his four years here will help him immensely outside of basketball. That’s the thing I’m so proud about.
“Tyler … awesome. He was in Florida [on the video], rapping … he’s not doing that stuff anymore. He’s just grown. His being on time, the different things – we know what he had to do to get reinstated and he did it it. And what he’s doing now, being a selfless leader, not getting all the accolades, not getting all the minutes, but he’s right there coaching the guys on. I believe in second chances, I got a lot of second chances in life. He’s made the most out of his second and third chance.
“All of them are going to graduate on time. It’s tremendous, especially with the APR situation we had. They endured. It speaks volumes of them as student-athletes. Shabazz has a big time load, two labs that he’s doing,. But he wants to get that paper. He wants to walk across that stage to his mother and say ‘I graduated.’ Kudos to him and all the guys. Niels is probably taking one or two classes now, he has done his work. Tyler has done his work It’s just a great class. There’s going to be a lot of tears shed. I’m going to miss those guys a lot.”
It would not be complete, writing about this senior class, without talking to Jim Calhoun, who shared his thoughts with me from home on Tuesday night. That will be included in our main advance for the Wednesday Courant.
And here is our capsule look at the UConn-Rutgers game.