Q. What did you learn from guys like George Karl, Larry Brown, even Coach Calhoun, about trying to get guys to buy into a certain way of going about their business?
COACH OLLIE: Just every day having the consistency. We look at it as you can be a pro or you can be a professional. A pro just does it in convenient times. A professional does it in inconvenient times and convenient times. You do it over and over again, and it becomes habit.
That’s what I try to put on my team each and every day, to get better at something. If we can do that, we’ll get better and we’ll win games and we’ll win together. I learned that from George Karl. I learned that from Larry Brown, of course Larry Brown, because he’s a perfectionist. He wants you to do certain things the right way, and especially the things you can control, which is your attitude and the way you show up each and every day. I learned that from him because without him I wouldn’t be here.
Just the toughness that you got to show each and every day. Hopefully it feeds over into my coaching staff.
Q. Each coach coming into this Final Four is a unique story. I’m curious about for you, the expectations that you have dealt with in following a legend and how that compares with the expectation that is John Calipari’s had with this talented historic recruiting class.
COACH OLLIE: Yeah, I can’t speak for John. I can speak for myself.
Having this ability to coach this program has been great. I don’t look at it like a lot of people look at it, that I’m replacing Coach Calhoun. Coach Calhoun is still beside me. He’s in front of me. He’s behind me. I’ve locked arms with coach because what he’s put inside of me and his belief system in me is something I’m going to always have great gratitude about.
Of course this is my program now, and I have to do certain things that’s according to my core values, of course. But just going forward, just marching and believing in the program. I think that’s what gets us through.
But Coach Calhoun has done a great job. My story and filling his shoes, I can never fill Coach Calhoun’s shoes. I can never build a program to a perineal Top‑10 program each and every year. This program has already been built. But I want us to sustain it. I want to get it to another level. That another level is not about winning championships, it’s about creating great young men so they can go out there in their community after they leave the Storrs campus and be ambassadors of their family, of their name and also this great university.
So that’s what I believe in. It’s a special feeling being up here and being in the Final Four. But like I said, I’m not chasing championships. I want championships to chase me. I want to do it the right way, and that’s providing my student‑athletes with a great platform for them to succeed each and every day.
Q. Could you talk about the relationship that you have now with Coach Calhoun and what he might have done, talked to you about going to your first Final Four, what you can expect and getting yourself prepared for this stage.
COACH OLLIE: I had a great opportunity to see him work in 2011, which was not that far away. It was a couple years ago. So, of course, it’s a different venue. It’s a different stage. I’m in that head coaching seat. But I seen him and I worked closely with him. I see the ups and downs. I see how he deals with problems that arises and I learned a lot from him.
In 2011, how he dealt with the team, how he kept it simple, and that’s the main thing. You want to make it simple as possible for our guys to understand the game plan, execute it, and go out there and play unselfish basketball. I seen him do that to a T in 2011.
A lot of people wasn’t expecting us to make that great run and win 11 in a row. A lot of people not expecting us to be here and we are here. A lot of people picked against us, and we’re still here.
That’s the great thing about this program, because it’s not about one person, not about Ray Allen, Donyell. It’s about a collective group of guys that made this program successful. If we keep believing in that, UConn will live longer than any player, because that’s a tradition that we have built over the years. It’s about our program.
Q. I asked you this yesterday about DeAndre. Why is it that he has stepped up and played so well in the NCAA tournament and what is his ceiling going forward?
COACH OLLIE: I have no roofs on my players, so we don’t even look at limitations. I think he’s going to be a great outstanding basketball player. He’s learning how to be more consistent and that’s not only in the basketball.
That’s eating right, sleeping right. It’s a lot of other things that a lot of people don’t see.
What changed his game, we made it simple for him. It’s about touches. A touch is a defensive rebound, an offensive rebound, doesn’t have nothing to do with points. It’s a deflection. It’s a block. When he’s playing with effort and energy, he scores.
You can go look through all our box scores, when he averages over eight rebounds, he averages 19 points. So we want him to get rebounds. We want him to be active. Then his talent just takes over. He’s 6’9″ and can shoot the three. I can put him on the post. I can manipulate the defense with him. But if he don’t play with that activity, it kind of limits him a little bit.
We want him to play with that activity and have that attitude that I’m the best player on the court. I think he’s starting to get that mindset and that moxie that I am the best player on the court every time I step out there.
Q. In your two years as the head coach, how much has it helped to have such a connection to UConn on your staff as well as the older players who come back and impart wisdom on your current guys?
COACH OLLIE: Oh, it’s invaluable. I can’t put a price tag on it. I can go through my coaching staff, two of my coaches coached me. Glen Miller coached me my freshman year, my sophomore year when I didn’t know anything. I’m just walking around as a freshman and trying to find my way, and Coach Calhoun’s screaming at me and I didn’t understand what he was saying, and I’m very glad Glen was there. Now he’s on my staff.
Coach Hobbs came in after Glen left and he coached me my junior and senior year. That’s when I really started taking off as a point guard and really establishing myself as a basketball player and a point guard. I loved those guys to death. To see them on my staff now, and then couple that with the younger coaches that I got on my staff, two of the guys played on our 1999 National Championship team.
So my coaching staff, I tell them they’re the best in America because they young, but they’re all UConn guys. They all graduated. They all got their degrees from UConn. It’s a beautiful synergy that we have because we all have that common denominator that we played for UConn. We know what it takes to put that jersey on and the pride that we are playing for each and every night.
Q. You joining the UConn program was sort of contingent on there being a position open on Jim’s staff. There’s a position open, and so you get it, and then Jim retires and now here we are. Would you be in college coaching if not for a position being open at that particular time right now? Do you have any idea what else you might be doing?
COACH OLLIE: I would have probably been with the Thunder, because I had an opportunity to stay with the Thunder in different capacities. Me and Sam Presti is great friends and he wanted me to come back and be a coach or be in the front office with him.
I could have still played because I’m not a free agent that’s going to get signed July 1st. So I usually get signed probably in September right before training camp. So I didn’t have that luxury to see what was the free agent market.
So I decided to just go back to UConn. They had a spot open even before the season was over with. That spot was open, and I decided to many could back. I wanted to be closer to my family. The last five years of my NBA career, my family stayed in Glastonbury, Connecticut, while I was at Oklahoma City, Minnesota Timberwolves, Philly 76ers, so I wanted to be close to them.
It’s nothing like coming back home and being at University of Connecticut and everybody say, How do you recruit? It’s like recruiting is natural for me because I’m not making nothing up or anything, this is what I believe in. I said I sat in those same seats, I went to the same classes that you’re going to, and it’s just a part of me. I love the university and I want to be here for a long time.
Q. On your second year, and being the only coach to post a 20‑win record in your first year, this year coming into the Final Four being neglected as a team that would have made it here, how does that help you determine and push your players to fight against all odds and actually be here in this situation?
COACH OLLIE: Yeah, they were fighting against all odds when we were banned last year, and they didn’t have anything to do with the ban. They wasn’t there at that time. Then we had a lot of odds against us, and like I said yesterday, we had a lot of problems that other people seen, but we seen possibilities that we can get better from this. We’re going to make sure no other program, no other player in the UConn program will ever have to go through this again.
They just buckled down and they dug their heels in, not only on the basketball court. I’m more proud of them guys with the APR that they had. They had a thousand APR. We have five guys on the dean’s list. With all them distractions we had, that stuff for a student‑athlete, and I’m more proud of that. Forget the 20 wins. I really don’t care about that first one. I don’t really care about that. I care about the way they performed on the classroom, which was remarkable, because they said, We’re not going to have another senior, another freshman, another sophomore, another junior go through what we went through. We’re going to be barrier breakers and that’s what they were.
COACH OLLIE: Kasey, with his speed, his ability to make plays, Scottie does the same thing, but it gives them an opportunity, kind of like us, where we can play 2‑point guards at the same time. They didn’t have that option when they played us last time.
I don’t think I had the option of Terrence Samuel either, because he wasn’t playing a lot. Now I can put three point guards out there.
So it’s a different game. That was four months ago. We’re a different team. I’m a different coach. Billy Donovan’s definitely got better understanding his team and what it takes for his team to win. So it’s going to be a whole different game.
But Kasey Hill is a wonderful player.
Now they got Chris Walker back in the rotation, which they didn’t have before. It’s going to be a challenge for us. We have to play our A‑game. I’ve been telling the guys we don’t have a B‑ or C‑game. We just got an A‑game and that’s what we got to bring each and every night when you step out on the floor and play in the NCAA tournament.
Q. What’s your relationship like with Billy Donovan?
COACH OLLIE: Just cordial. We haven’t had an opportunity to spend a lot of time together, but just on a recruiting trail. Especially when I first got into the business and seeing all the coaches, they were very cordial to he me saying, Welcome. Saying all the bad things about coaching, but also the good things. We stay in the gyms for 15 hours and all that stuff. But it was great just to see all the coaches.
I admire Billy Donovan from afar even when I was playing. To do the different things that he’s done at the age of 48, he’s definitely a Hall of Famer where he’s built the program, predominantly football school, and he took it and made it a basketball school also. I have so much respect for him, and getting his teams to win each and every year is tough. To build a program that’s tough, but to sustain it is even tougher. He’s sustained it over a lot of years there at Florida.
I respect him so much. I just look at how hard his teams play each and every play. It’s not each and every game, each and every play, and that’s what I respect.
Q. Talk about Shabazz and his experience here and how that’s going to help him. Then also how he can impart some wisdom on some of the younger guys, since he’s been here before?
COACH OLLIE: Yeah, he’s doing that. We call it, ‘under the waterline,’ a lot of things that a lot of people don’t see. He gets those guys together. The big word that we use in our program is ownership. He’s taken ownership of his team, and every player that puts that UConn jersey on has taken ownership.
I can coach, but them guys coach me. They own the court. I listen to their advice a lot of times and we can make adjustments, and that’s the ownership that we have. Where a guy can challenge his teammates and no one takes it personal. We’re trying to get better as a group.
I’ve seen them grow in that area of ownership throughout the year, and it’s at the peak right now. Where I can come in, and Shabazz is already doing drills, already out there with the fellows. I’m like, Man!
I call him my unpaid coach, and that’s for a reason, because he has a coaching mentality. Me and him think the same. He knows when to get on guys, but then he knows when to back off of guys, too. I think that’s the evolution of him as a leader. He’s getting better and better each and every day. I couldn’t think of another point guard that I really give the keys to and let drive the bus, because he does it wonderfully for me and my program.
Q. You were talking a lot about coaches and one that’s here in Dallas, Larry Brown for SMU. Talk about him. I know you go back with him a little bit. Talk about him and the influence he had over you.
COACH OLLIE: He means the world to me. I don’t think I would have took this job if it wasn’t for his advice. I wanted an unbiased opinion, and I called Larry and he is like, I’m going to hang the phone up on you, you better go back to the school that you played for and you believe in and the NBA will always be here.
I took that advice and I’m glad I did it. But he’s been giving me advice my whole life. He really gave me an opportunity to play in the NBA. I played before I got to Philadelphia, but he really supplanted me in the NBA as the guy that can play in the playoffs, that can be a point guard here and run a team. He gave me that opportunity. I thank him. I thank him.
I can’t even thank him more, and it’s priceless the relationship we have. I can still pick up the phone and call somebody that’s in the Hall of Fame. Just a great person. I really thank him. I’m glad that he’s doing so well. He beat me twice this year, so I got a little payback for him next year. Hopefully I can get a win against him.
Q. Transfers have changed college basketball. Billy Donovan has four. I think you have two. Wisconsin has one. They’re more predominant today. How does that affect you guys from a recruiting standpoint? It’s almost like a little bit of a free agency situation.
COACH OLLIE: Yeah, you definitely got to look at the transferring, transfer market, the five‑year graduate students also. We have been doing a real good job with that having assigned Kromah here this year from GW, and last we had R.J. Evans from Holy Cross. They played a great role a leadership role on our team.
We have Rodney Purvis that’s sitting out right now, he’s like a Ferrari sitting in the garage that I can’t drive. But he’s practicing and getting better. He’s just a wonderful person. It’s tough for guys to sit out like that. They think that they can be better changing venues and I want to just make sure they understand that they’re a part of this team, too, while they sit out.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH OLLIE: I mean, it is different. It’s a different situations. I know it’s probably good for Rodney because he wanted to change. He’s a good kid. He had to be penalized by sitting out and he can’t be here with us in the Final Four, but he’s here in spirit.
But I think he’s going to be a better person for it because he made a decision, and that’s what you want young kids to be committed, by making a decision. He decided to leave NC State and come here. We want to make this the best situation for him.
For us, we don’t lack for all transfers, but we do look for certain situations that we evaluate basketball players on their character. We think that’s a good fit for our team and transfer fifth year seniors. If it’s a good fit for our team, we’re going to look at it and explore that option.
Q. You’ve experienced this world as an athlete. You’ve experienced this world as an assistant coach, now as a head coach. If there was just one common sense change that you would say to the NCAA, I would like to make, what would that be and why?
COACH OLLIE: Yeah, I mean, that’s so hard. You have to get in the room and you have to sacrifice a little bit. Everybody got to come to a compromising position. I think that me playing, we never played in venues like this. The venues got bigger, the ticket prices got more.
We have to find out a way that we can involve the student‑athletes a little bit more, give them more benefits and help them out even more. I would like to see, you know, when they graduate, medical benefits or something like that, a 401K. Something when they get out of playing that they have something to fall back on.
I don’t know the right way to go. I don’t know the wrong way to go. But I want to see us getting in a room and start changing a little bit because I’ve seen all this change. My last game was in the Oakland Coliseum in 1995. This is definitely a bigger venue than that.
So I would like to see things change. Hopefully we can come to a situation where we can get better as student‑athletes and it’s a business. Hopefully we can get better at that.
Q. When you were an athlete, was there ever a moment where you looked at what was going on around you and you saw the contradictions in what was going on?
COACH OLLIE: Of course you seen it. We wasn’t getting paid and you see our jerseys getting sold. So you seen it. But at the end of the day, I was living the dream. I was at University of Connecticut. I was playing basketball. The relationships I have now with my friends back in 1995, through 1991 and 1995, I still have today. They’re here at the Final Four with me and they’re celebrating this achievement of our teal.
So I can never put a price tag on the relationships I have. I got my degree in communications, so I can never put a price tag on that. But definitely things got to change. You’re aware of it. At the end of the day, I’m getting a great education and I embrace that. I want our kids to embrace that because it’s a great time in their lives and they should be celebrating that instead of looking at all the negative things.
COACH OLLIE: Yeah, he’s his own man. He’s been through a lot. None of those guys been through a ban and had the options of leaving, and probably nobody in this room right here would have blinked their eyes and said, Yeah, okay, I’m transferring because we’re banned. They can’t play in the NCAA tournament. He had to deal with that.
Kemba didn’t have to deal with that, Jeremy didn’t have to deal with that. On the basketball court, he’s just a great leader. He wants the ball in the, I call them, the gaps. The game altering plays, he makes those. He wants the ball. He’s done something in our history that nobody has ever done, score over 1700 points and get over 600 assists. Nobody’s ever done that.
All the great players we put on the UConn jersey, nobody’s never done that. It just shows testament of hard work and where that can get you if you really believe in yourself and you believe in your team. The biggest thing for me is just his maturation, his maturing as a young man. I say that a lot. That’s why I’m in this business. I mean, they can have the trophies. They can have all this stuff. But the maturity that I see from his growth and all my other players growing up as young men, it makes me happy. It makes me feel like I have done a small thing to impact their lives.
But they have done so much to impact my life that I can’t even put in words. So I love the character that he shows each and every day. And he’s getting better, he’s going to be a great pro, but most importantly, he’s going to be a great person once he leaves Storrs campus.
Q. Could you contrast for me Billy’s got a team that’s considered one of the more balanced teams in the country. You’ve got a great team as well, but you heavily reliant on a star. I’m just wondering from your own comfort level, do you prefer having a team that’s maybe a little bit more dependent on one guy to carry the load or would you prefer the balanced situation? Could you contrast those two situations?
COACH OLLIE: I just want to be at the Final Four. Okay. I don’t care how I get here. It could be Ryan playing good, Bazz playing good. I think we have a complete team, too. I think you can’t get here by one player. If you seen our games, you had DeAndre Daniels stepping up in one game. If Amida Brimah didn’t make the three‑point play against St. Joseph’s, we wouldn’t be here. That wasn’t Shabazz.
Shabazz is a great player, don’t get me wrong. But I think we got more balance than a lot of people give us credit for. Ryan Boatright is playing unselfish basketball and that’s really allowing us to flourish on the offensive end. We have Niels Giffey that’s a deadeye three‑point shooter that’s playing a bigger role than he played last year.
So I give a lot of credit to my team. A lot of people don’t talk about our front court because they don’t score all the points, but they are tough. We showed that against Michigan State shutting down Dawson and shutting down Adreian Payne, and Shabazz didn’t really have a hand in that. Our bigs had to do that job and control the paint and limit them to six points and in the paint.
So we have a more complete team than a lot of people give us credit for.
Q. I wanted to ask you what Ryan Boatright’s greatest value or contribution is to the team?
COACH OLLIE: Just his pressure that he can put on the offense and defensive end. I think he really turned the Michigan State game around. We got down by nine, we called a timeout. Out of that timeout, Shabazz hit a three, and then he just harassed Trice all the way down the court, got a turnover. Then we went down and scored again.
He really puts great pressure on the basketball. I think that’s one of his greatest attributes. Of course, he’s an explosive player. We are trying to teach him now that it’s not all about scoring and he’s starting to be more coachable, which is great. I think that’s allowing him to be a better basketball player. The way he can get in the middle of the lane and start kicking out to our shooters has been impactful to our run in the Final Four.
He’s just been doing a wonderful job. And it’s not only that, his leadership has been getting great. It’s been getting better. That’s what we want the evolution of him as a player has been great and he’s really allowing us to really play at a high level now.
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by the UCONN players. So questions can be asked of anyone on the podium.
Q. You’re talking about benefits for the student‑athletes. I was curious, along those lines, do you favor the Northwestern players decision to try to unionize as employees? Do you think that’s practical?
COACH OLLIE: You know, whatever they decide to do is on them. I’m not in their skin. I do think the players need to have a voice out there talking in their behalf. Of course, they can talk about their benefits and their non‑benefits, but to have a voice out there would be great.
Also, we have to decide on what we’re going to do with the NCAA and these student‑athletes to make it better, to start evolving more. I think we’re doing that. I think that’s the first step.
But the second step we have to understand that we don’t get today back. Whatever today brings, let’s be great people out of it. If that’s giving more benefits, that’s not giving more benefits, you can control your attitude. That’s what I want our student‑athletes to understand, that we can always control our attitudes. You can’t control what’s going on out there. You can’t control an event. But you can control your attitude. Hopefully our student‑athletes exemplify that each and every day.
Q. Coach and Ryan, just to follow‑up on the question about Ryan and his defense, when a guy comes into the school offering 31 points a game, what’s the process like to get a guy to become a defensive player and a stopper? For Ryan, coach was talking about you having an evolution as a player and becoming more coachable. Just wondering how you develop that, how you have become more coachable and how you have evolved since being at UConn.
COACH OLLIE: I just think when you come from high school, you are All‑American, but you’re not always surrounded by All‑Americans also in your high school team. So you’re going to have to understand it’s a part of a team and you’re going to have to find your way.
When I came in the school I had Ray Allen and Donyell Marshall and I scored a lot. But I found out that them guys can score more. I had to I understand a way to get in the rotation. For me it was playing defense.
Ryan is an explosive scorer. He does some great things. But I think for him to get to that next level, he has to make his teammates better. That’s what he’s starting to do. That’s what he’s starting to embrace, and it’s great to see.
That’s how he’s going to get to the next level and continue to play, is to embrace his teammates and make everyone better. That might be scoring, some nights that he scores 20 points. Some nights he scores 10. But you can always be a great teammate.
I think all of our student‑athletes are understanding that it’s not all about being great players, but every day, every time we step out on the court, every time you put that UConn jersey on, you can be a great teammate. I think that’s what we’re starting to get on a more consistent basis. I think that’s allowing us to get to this venue and play in a Final Four and have 80 minutes from cutting down the nets.
RYAN BOATRIGHT: Like he said, when you in high school and you’re scoring 50, 60 points, averaging 33, you think you know it all. When I got to this level I was coachable, but I always had something to say back. So I learned right away playing for Coach Calhoun that that ain’t a good thing to do. I just started listening more and knowing that I didn’t know it all. I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.
So Coach Ollie said, Open your heart and open your ears so you can get better, and I just started doing that.
Q. Coach, when kids were deciding whether to go or not, and can you specifically speak to Roscoe, when they go through that decision, what is your advice, if anything? How do you take kids through the process of, Will they stay, will they go? Can you speak about, he would be a senior on this team, so he started as a freshman, what role would he have? Through that process, we talked to Shabazz about did you re‑recruit him or did they just have to make up their minds on their own?
COACH OLLIE: You tell them about the value of coming back and what role you expect them to play when they comeback. But at the end of the day, I can’t make anybody want to come back. I can’t make their decision. It wouldn’t be right for me to have them come back against their will. They got to make their own decision.
At the end of the day, I told Roscoe to think about it, and I want to be your coach, I want you to stay here at this program because I believe it’s the greatest program in the nation. But at the end of the day, he has to make his own decision. I can give him suggestions, but at the end of the day, he got to make his own decision. He decided to go to UNLV, and it worked out great for him, you know.
These guys decided to stay. It worked out great for them. So that’s how life is. You ask for wisdom from your family and they thought that was the best choice for him. He thought in his heart that was the best choice for him. So I wish him all the luck. I love Roscoe still to this day, and I think he had a great run this year rebounding the basketball, doing all the different things that we wanted him to do while he was at the University of Connecticut.
I’m glad I got this team here. I’m glad these guys believed in the program, believed in me, but most importantly believed in each other to stay, to fight through the tough times, and now they’re reaping the benefits.
Q. Kevin and DeAndre and Phillip, you were talking about how you don’t feel your front court gets enough props because it’s so much focused on the back court in shutting down Dawson and Payne that was a great example. Can you compare the challenges that they have compared to Florida’s bigs, specifically, and maybe how your guys are equipped to handle that?
COACH OLLIE: First of all, it starts with activity for our bigs. They did a great job widening, they did a great job boxing out. We call it, ‘commit to hit.’ Every available hit, make sure you take it and that’s what they did.
DeAndre was doing a great job finding his niche in our offense. He’s a dynamic scorer. He’s a hybrid four, hybrid three, whatever you want to call him. He’s just a great player inside out. I can manipulate the defense with him.
Phillip is doing all the things that it takes for us to win. He got a dunk at the end of the game last game. He didn’t pass it to Niels Giffey, but he said Niels don’t never pass it to him, so he was going to dunk that one. So it was great for him to have that. Him playing 27 minutes, 29 minutes, it really gave us that point where we can go and have a big be a stopper, and I appreciate that.
A lot of people don’t see it, but I go back and watch tape after tape after tape, and I see what these guys bring to our team each and every day. We are a complete team. It’s just not our guards, it’s our bigs, it’s our coaching staff. It’s just not me, it’s everybody involved in winning and making this program the best. It’s just a great feeling when we can all get here together and we have been through our ups and downs and we never gave in. We kept providing that energy each and every day and we taking ownership.
RYAN BOATRIGHT: Talked about that earlier, these guys taking ownership of the team now. This is, I’m in the back. They’re taking ownership. They’re driving the bus right now. That’s the only way we are here at the Final Four.
Q. (No microphone.)
COACH OLLIE: They present a big challenge. We played those guys. They pick‑and‑roll guys, they dive hard, Young is a great player, Yeguete brings his challenge, Finney‑Smith shooting the three‑ball, going inside. They present a big challenge for us, and we got to be ready to play.
We got to play at a level five. We got to rebound. We got to limit their touches. We got to do our work early. Phil and DeAndre know that because they hear me screaming it each and every day.
PHILLIP NOLAN: Pretty much everything coach said. Just I have to do whatever I need to do to help this team win, whether it’s running, fronting the post, getting an extra rebound, it’s just me. I have to do what I have to do.
DeANDRE DANIELS: It starts with the little things. Just playing the details and always following the game plan that we have. We work on it every day in practice, of fronting the post and boxing out. We have been doing a great job lately of that. But most important thing is the front court. We lack size all year, but one thing we don’t lack is heart. And we’re just out there having fun and playing hard.
Here are Florida’s Final Four Pregame Quotes.
quotes courtesy of asap sports
photo credit: stephen dunn – hartford courant