I had the chance to speak to another coaching legend today. Larry Brown, 72, who is returning to coaching with SMU, spoke by phone from his office in Dallas and offered some of his thoughts on Kevin Ollie and Jim Calhoun.
Brown, who coached Ollie with the 76ers, 1999-2001, clearly thinks highly – and cares very deeply – about the new UConn coach.
“He’s a great kid, a great teammate, he was great to be around,” Brown said. “He was a mentor to our young players. Like all of the players I coached who had been with [Jim] Calhoun, he accepted coaching the right way, he allowed you to make him better.
“… Two years ago, he called me. I know he was thinking about going back to Oklahoma City [as a player], and I told him, ‘you know you want to coach eventually. What better opportunity than to go back to your school, and with your coach, who loves you.’ … Two years with [Calhoun], Kevin has all the preparation he needs.”
Brown on Ollie’s one-year contract.
“Not to be a jerk, but I’m not happy about the one-year contract. … It’s not going to be easy. But Kevin has been in so many situations and he knows how to handle it and I know he can be successful. I hope they realize at Connecticut that they have something special here. Coach Calhoun recognized it.”
Some of his memories of Ollie as an NBA player
“We had a lot of young players, Todd MacCulloch, Nazr Mohammed, Raja Bell, and I would have workouts just for the young guys who weren’t playing much. And Kevin would show up, and set an example. I’d give the veterans a day off and Kevin would call me on the phone and say, ‘coach, what time is practice.’ And you know, a lot of those young guys ended up getting long- term contracts and staying a lot of years in the NBA, and Kevin helped them achieve that.”
On Jim Calhoun’s retirement
“I can’t imagine The Big East without him. I can’t imagine college basketball without him. I love what he stood for. I just think of all his former players I coached in various places, Ray Allen, Emeka Okafor, Kevin, and how they respected the game, how they played the game the right way. [Calhoun’s] contributions to the game were just tremendous.”