Kevin Ollie played 13 years in the NBA, so he knows what it takes to make it there and, having played for 12 different teams, he has lots of contacts. The credibility is there. But he is now the head basketball coach at UConn, and certainly wants to have as much talent on his roster as he can.
So when one or more of his players are weighing whether to stay in Storrs or go leave early for the NBA Draft, how does he handle it?
We talked about it this week:
“First thing I want is kids to come back and get their education,” Ollie said. “It’s not like I want a kid to come back, if they’re ready to go to the NBA. I’m not saying ‘I just want you to come back for my sake.’ If you’re ready and I really think you’re ready – like Kemba, after his junior year. I wasn’t the head coach then, but we were all on the same page. That kid was ready because he is able to handle it if he gets drafted by the best team or by the worst team. I keep coming back to that because you’ve got to be able to handle it. You’ve got to be able to handle going down to the D League if that opportunity presents itself, you have to be able to handle that mentally and have that toughness.
“The process is, I want kids to get their degree. I want you to come back. I don’t care if you go to the NBA for five or six years, I want you to come back and get your degree. That’s the only thing I really want.
“Now, I definitely want this basketball team to be the best basketball team possible and to have that, you have to have talent. But you have to have guys buy in, that really want to be here. If you’re mind is, ‘one foot to the NBA and one foot here,’ it’s not going to do anybody any good.
“… So that’s my focus and when I sat down with [Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels]. I think I gave them the feedback that should have been shared at that time. We went forward and they made decision. This program is about kids, about conditioning kids to make the right decisions. That’s what I try to do on a day to day basis – condition kids.
“I want everybody to be together. We’ve got a great team coming back, but there are going to be some ups and downs, where guys can start pointing fingers at each other. I want them to all stay in the process where UConn is No. 1. We’re going to try to make the UConn brand better and, as individuals, they will get their accolades coming from our team hopefully winning a lot of games.”