Kevin Ollie went from an NBA journeyman to a championship coach in four short years – and with only two as head coach of the UConn Huskies men’s basketball team. He and women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma gave UConn the Division 1 basketball championship sweep this year.
Ollie joins an elite fraternity – he is only the fourth Black Division 1 men’s basketball coach to win a championship along with Tubby Smith at Kentucky, Nolan Richardson at Arkansas and John Thompson at Georgetown. The championship is particularly sweet for Ollie as he is a former Husky who graduated from UConn.
The Tom Joyner Show caught up with Ollie to talk basketball, history and his evolving legacy.
Tom Joyner: The 2014 NCAA National Champions are the Yukon Huskies coached by my man, Coach Kevin Ollie. Congratulations coach, congratulations.
Kevin Ollie: I appreciate it, Tom. Thanks for having me, brother.
Tom Joyner: You know I have go to with black, especially at the head coaching position. All right, let’s get right to it. All right, Coach, have you redone your contract?
Kevin Ollie: No, not yet, not yet. We haven’t talked but it’s going to be great. Just continue and know I’m going to be there for a long time at the University of Connecticut.
Tom Joyner: Oh, really?
Kevin Ollie: It’s the place I went to school, too.
Sybil Wilkes: Tom is already arranging your next career move, coach.
Kevin Ollie: What’s the next career move?
Tom Joyner: NBA.
Kevin Ollie: NBA? Okay. Okay. That’s what you already negotiated.
Sybil Wilkes: Yeah, he’s working on that for you, coach.
Tom Joyner: You played for how many NBA teams?
Kevin Ollie: I played for 11 NBA teams. They fit at 11 because I played for Seattle and Oklahoma City, but they just combine that as one, so.
Tom Joyner: So you not only know the system, but you know the players. You have played with some of the star players.
Kevin Ollie: Yeah.
Tom Joyner: And they respect you.
Kevin Ollie: Yeah.
Tom Joyner: Where can you go from here? I mean, you made it to the top in two years.
Kevin Ollie: But you know what, Tom, for me, you know, I like championships. Don’t get me wrong, but I’m not chasing championships, the championship is chasing me, because we have the right attitude towards student athletes and I want them to be better people. So just don’t look at me as wins and losses. Look at me how my players leave the store’s campus and when they get an interview, how they’re talking and how well they are with their families and what they’re doing in their communities.
I think you’re more successful when you don’t have those pressures of I got to win, win, win all the time. I don’t look at the scoreboard; I look at the spirit of my team. And if my spirit of the team is good, I know I’m going to win. Ultimately, it might not be always on the scoreboard, but in the heart, and those guys having something that nobody could take away. Now that moment that confetti went down, can’t nobody take that away from me -that moment in this journey that they’d been on. It’s been incredible.
Tom Joyner: One of your quotes you said you can’t control events, but you can control the meaning of events.
Kevin Ollie: That’s correct.
Tom Joyner: Your team was banned from the tournament last year because of grade issues. Was this…?
Kevin Ollie: Not their grade issues. This happened back in 2008 and 2009. I just want to make sure people know, some people, not them, they had grade issues. They didn’t. We had some unfortunate events. A couple of players left our school early in the spring and didn’t finish their schoolwork and hindered us. It really impacted the group there this year.
But it made them better people, I think. It taught them life lessons. And we’re not just talking about basketball lessons, we’re talking life lessons. And that’s what I mean, you can’t control that event, because they wasn’t there in 2009, Tom. But you can control your attitude from it. It was about the purest team I’ve ever been around because the only thing they played for was the love of the university and love and support of each other.
Sybil Wilkes: And the love of their coach.
Tom Joyner: And you can see why. You see how motivating he is. Now your All-Star guard, Shabazz Napier, right after the season was over, said that he went to bed hungry sometimes because of the NCAA rules that won’t allow players to get more to eat. Now yesterday they came out and said – ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to let the players eat. We were going to do that anyway.’ So let me ask you, Coach, how do you – I know you have to take the company line – but how do you feel about players being rewarded in some kind of way? Because, after all, I don’t know how much money the school has made from that championship. And here’s a player going to be hungry, but that’s going to change.
Kevin Ollie: I don’t know the right or wrong answer, but I do think, you know, when you sign a letter of intent, they can use your likeness for a lifetime. When I finished playing my last game in a UConn jersey, we were playing in the Oakland Coliseum. O Coliseum is not there anymore. It was probably 18,000. You know, last week, 9 days ago, we played in front of 79,000. So the game is evolving.
I think the NCAA is starting now to evolve a little bit more. I’m from Los Angeles, I come 3,000 miles away, I should be able to fly home, or at least have my mother fly to watch me play. Some people can’t afford to fly across country to watch their son play, and they’d given their son four years – of course, we’re getting a great education – but I just think there needs to be some kind of changes and we evolve, come to a compromise. I think it would be great to have some kind of medical insurance plan. If you graduate the first five years before, if you’re not able to get a job or get medical benefits, that you have a leeway for five years that the NCAA will pay for medical bills if something occurred. I think if you get your degree, there should be some extenders on that backend too.
Sybil Wilkes: Do you see that happening?
Kevin Ollie: I hope it does, Sybil. You know, I see progression with the NCAA. And Shabazz, I mean people took it way out of proportion. He told me he doesn’t go to bed hungry all the time because we feed him a lot. We go to hotels, we eat too much. I already put on ten pounds. We eat all the time. But it’s the point where we can’t make them a peanut and jelly sandwich or anything like that, or a protein shake. They have to do it. Certain things like that have to be changed.
Tom Joyner: How proud are your parents?
Kevin Ollie: Oh, they’re very proud. You know my dad is from Desoto [CA]. He’s out there probably cutting yards right now. I used to cut yards with him and slave out there and he wasn’t paying me a lot of money either, so. I grew up in Oakcliff and born and raised in Los Angeles, but every summer I come back to Oakcliff and cut grass with him and it really made me the man I am. And my mother lives in Plano. [TX]. So it’s great.
Sybil Wilkes: They’re proud everywhere around the world, Coach, with the great job you’ve done.
Kevin Ollie: I appreciate it.
Tom Joyner; Coach, I’d like to invite you and your family to come to Family Reunion, and bring your mom and dad.
Kevin Ollie: Oh, I’m going to do that. I would love to do that.
Sybil Wilkes: And see what the NCAA has to say about that.
Kevin Ollie: Oh, they can’t take me down. (Laughter)
Congratulations, Coach Kevin Ollie. I’ll see you at the Family Reunion.
REGISTER NOW for the 2014 Allstate Tom Joyner Family Reunion taking place August 28- September 1, 2014 in Orlando, Florida! For booking information visit here.