ARLINGTON, Texas – Well, they went and did it.
UConn Huskies. National Champions. Kevin Ollie is returning from Texas to hang a banner, just like he said he would on March 5.
The Huskies saw themselves on the ridiculously big scoreboard, with the confetti coming down, just as Ollie envisioned for them on Jan. 2.
When they lost to Louisville on Jan. 18, Shabazz Napier told his teammates, “pick your heads up. We’re going to be the team holding the trophy,” and when, indeed, they were, he reminded Amida Brimah on stage.
Throughout the year, the Huskies had the look of a good, but not great team, a Sweet 16 team, not a Final Four or championship team. But, Kevin Ollie said he believed they had the talent to do this, and they did. And who is going to doubt him again?
Tons of content on our website, from Paul Doyle, Jeff Jacobs, Sara Grant, Rich Messina, Steve Dunn and myself, plus our reporters on campus. Check all that out.
It’s getting late and I want to get as much stuff up here as I can, so, without further adieu, here is Kevin Ollie, as transcribed by ASAP Sports:
“It feels great, four national championships and do this championship with these students, these student?athletes is amazing. They have been amazing and resilient the whole year. But I keep telling you, it started 18 months ago when they keptbelieving and they stayed loyal to the program.
It’s just a wonderful feeling to hold that trophy up and do it the right way. I think we did it the right way for 18 months and we did it the right way in this NCAA tournament.
It’s a great feeling. It’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable because those guys, my players, stayed with the program. I’m the first one to deflect all the attention. Those players that was up here, they should get all the attention, because if it wasn’t for them, this program wouldn’t be here.
They believed in a vision before anybody seen it. They stuck with it through the down times, when we were losing. When we were winning, they stayed together and they believed it was possible. I think that’s the beautiful thing about this championship for me when I reflect on it, those guys toughness, but also their togetherness.
We just worked on it tirelessly in practice. It’s competitive every time we do it. You got winners and losers. Of course the losers got to run sprints. They get real competitive with it. I think that’s what we tried to create, that competitiveness in them, especially taking free throws.
It’s also getting the right people at the free?throw line. Getting the right people with the ball at the end of the game so they can get fouled and they can knock down the shots.
But our guys are so composed. And in pressure, they are confident and we just worked. My coaching staff does a great job with our bigs, getting them extra free throws after practice and Coach Hobbs and Coach Miller and Coach Freeman and Coach Moore, they are outstanding. They always pride themselves on getting extra work. And then our student?athletes just fall in line.
Spending time with my mother here – she just had surgery and she has breast cancer and I know she’s fighting. She kept fighting through chemo for four months. Just to see her make this trip and us win the National Championship and just see her smile is just real special to me.
My wife gives me an opportunity to work and do what I do on a day?to?day basis and take care of home and take care of my mother. For her strength, she lost her father four months ago.
So it’s been a tough year for us, in 2013 was tough. A lot of people didn’t know it, but behind the scenes, we were just holding each other up. And without my wife, I couldn’t be here doing this job. And for her to lose her father, the man in her life and to lose it and just keep lifting me up, keep providing for our family.
Then take my mother on when she is driving her to the hospital, to appointment after appointment, it’s just a courageous woman. I’m glad she chose me and that’s my No. 1 recruit right there.
“We just tell [Niels] to keep confident. Believe in yourself. You’ve been doing it the whole year. He’s been shooting over 50 percent the whole year from three. So I know it was just a matter of time that he relaxed his shoulders, hold his follow through, just what he’s been doing the whole year. He’s been rock solid.
Even when he had shooting slumps like he did in a couple games, he got 11 rebounds one game. Still got 11 points another game. So he does so much other things on our team, it’s just not the shooting.
But he’s had a great year. I think it started in the summer when he played for the German National Team and got a chance to play against Tony Parker and held his own. He came in with a renewed confidence and I seen it right away in practice.
Yeah, somebody told me we were Cinderellas. And I was like, No, we’re UConn. I mean, this is what we do. We are born for this. We bred it to cut down nets. We’re not chasing championships, championships are chasing us.
We got four now, and Coach Calhoun started a tradition, and my whole coaching staff is from UConn. We are all been through the same things. And we love this university. We put this university first. It’s always family first with us and they kept believing.
I told you, a lot of people was picking against us and doubting us, but I told you the last would be the first. We are first now. Last year we were last. We couldn’t get in the tournament, but they kept believing. That’s what it’s all about.
You believe. I have a strong faith in God, and God is always going to make a way out of no way. And he made this way. And he gets all the glory.
The first African American coach to win a title in 16 years: “It is an honor. I had an interview with John, Coach Thompson after the game and I watched them growing up and just the way they handled themselves, how they conducted themselves on the day?to?day basis. I watched how their kids conducted themselves on and off the basketball court. I know they had a great impact.
I just wanted to come in and do this job and nobody look at my color, just look at what I’m doing. X’s and O’s. But most importantly the impact I’m having on young kids lives. And that’s all I want to do. I just want to coach. I want to coach for the greatest university. And I have this job and we’re national champions. And those guys paved the way for me.
I wouldn’t be here if they wasn’t resilient and fighters. I thank them so much. It’s great to see Nolan finally getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. What a special, special human being, and that’s a great honor, too. I love them and we’re going to have a chance and hopefully they accept me in that group and it’s just going to be fun.
“When the seconds was ticking off the clock I was looking at coach [Jim Calhoun]. My thought is this: He paved the way. He’s my second father. If he didn’t believe in me, I don’t think I would have this job. I really believe that.
From day one he wanted me to come back to the University of Connecticut and sit in his seat when it was time for him to move on. He taught me so much, not only on the basketball court, how to be a great husband, how to keep your family involved while you are still doing your day?to?day jobs as a coach, I learned that from him.
He’s right there beside me. I told you I’m not filling his shoes. I can’t fill his shoes. But man, he’s just a great resource for me, to have a Hall of Famer right there and a person that loves me and believes in me when a lot of people didn’t, when a lot of people was questioning me for this job, he never did.
I thank him to death for giving me this opportunity to be up here and hoisting up a National Championship, a fourth National Championship and it feels great.”
“[I’ll remember Shabazz Napier] as a leader, sacrifice, toughness, just whatever you want as a point guard, winner. If we needed him to lead us in rebounds, he did that. I mean, if we needed him to score, he did that. He’s just a remarkable young man from Roxbury, came from a single?parent home and just his struggle.
But I keep telling Shabazz, I keep telling all of them, With struggle is progress. You can’t have progress if you don’t struggle. And just to keep fighting.
It was a wonderful job and he’s a wonderful young man and I wish him the best of luck. He’s always going to have a home here. He got two National Championships, can’t nobody say that in our history. Niels Giffey, Tyler Olander got two national championships. Can’t nobody say that in our history.
And just another sideline before I go, I want to thank Coach Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats, what a great job that they did all year. And Coach Cal is a wonderful, wonderful coach. He’s one of my great friends and I just wish him the best of luck.
I know that he’s going to get another great recruiting class and he’s going to be right there back here. But what an amazing job he did this year getting those freshmen to buy in. That’s hard. He’s a wonderful man and I wish him all the best of luck in the offseason.