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March 18, 2016
Des Moines, Iowa
THE MODERATOR: We welcome Coach Kevin Ollie, opening statement?
KEVIN OLLIE: Just good to be here, waking back up in Des Moines, not back in Storrs. We love Storrs, but we love Iowa and hopefully we can come out and play a great game against a great Kansas team on Saturday.
Q. What made it a good move for you to go all the way to Storrs, Connecticut from LA out of high school, and did you share why that was good for you with Daniel when you were recruiting him?
KEVIN OLLIE: Of course, me and Daniel are from the same neighborhood, the Crenshaw district. What was great for me, I just really appreciate my mother, you know, because UCLA, USC was recruiting me, but she always wanted me to think out the box and go where my heart felt was right. When she met Coach Calhoun she fell in love with his personality, fell in love with him being a father figure to me, and it just didn't matter how many miles away it was, she knew I was in good hands.
When I got to campus, it was tough. It was hard, because his practices are legendary, but he pushed us to be great young men and also great basketball players. I owe him a lot. Also it give me the best of both worlds. I grew up in South Central, gangs and drugs and that's everywhere, but Connecticut was so different. It was like a 360, opposite of where I grew up at.
So the freedom of having, you know, not that pressure that we had in LA, walking the streets, was great for me, and then I just wasn't used to the winters. But I got used to that real quick because only thing we did was stay in the gym and stay in the classroom and wanted to get better. Also I came in with seven different freshmen, one from Federal Way, Washington, one from Arizona, one from Pennsylvania, one from Florida, one from Georgia.
So we was from every part of the nation, of the country. So it was not, you know, like everybody was going home. We all stuck together. Them are some of my best friends today, so I'm glad I made that choice to come out east.
Q. Your players were just up here and said you don't really do anything different come tournament time in terms of preparation or how you motivate them. I was wondering if you thought the same thing. Do you do anything different? You have a 7-0 record in the tournament, what's behind that?
KEVIN OLLIE: We don't do anything different, you know. We just do what UConn teams have been doing. We practice very hard, we're very detailed oriented and, you know, we allow the kids to challenge each other.
No, we don't do anything different. Of course it's elimination game and if you lose you go home, but we just don't want to put our prayer on the guys, we want to make sure we win every possession and that's how we go about our business. It's a business trip like we treat any road trip, if we going down to Houston playing in the AAC tournament, we try to do the same thing. We want them to have a routine.
I really think my job as a coach, of course, is to win games, but my job as a coach is to build a routine within my players. I mean, I think that's the heart of life is the routine and we want to make that a positive routine.
We want to fall in love with our routine and our routine is getting up, doing the same thing. We're not going to change it now because it's been working. Yeah, we have ups and downs, but how a guy recovers is because of their routine and how much they challenge each other and how much they love each other.
Q. Kevin, first of all, what do you think when you saw Kansas out there in the bracket on Selection Sunday? What kind of opportunity is it playing the top team in the nation and what most concerns you about what they have?
KEVIN OLLIE: We can go by what concerns me the most, they are just talented and they're deep. They're a great transition team. To beat a No. 1 overall seed you don't have too many weaknesses. They're a solid basketball team. They can do it all. When they come in with their second group, if you call it a second group, they got talent up and down the bench.
But at the end of the day we want to talk about what UConn brings. We are well prepared. We're well able. It's kinda in their backyard, but that's fine. We're going to have to put them in a situation where we can get them uncomfortable. We don't want them just passing the ball around. We want to eliminate all the easy buckets and then we want to, you know, we want to play our game. We gotta bring our A game to beat 'em. We can't come back with our C game, and what we try to do each and every day, we preach bringing your A game each and every game.
You know, it's a great, great team. I got so much respect for Coach Self, I mean, he's amazing, what he's done, you know, with this university, with this program. Being so consistent, you know, that's the thing. It's not no drop-offs. Every year he's right here and he's a wonderful coach and it's going to be great to share those sidelines with him tomorrow.
Q. Kevin, the UConn brand is always going to be strong no matter what conference UConn plays in, but I'm wondering if you've noticed a difference now that UConn is no longer in the Big East in terms of national perception and along the recruiting trail?
KEVIN OLLIE: Not on the recruiting trail. We got some pretty good recruits coming in. You know, I think we preach about this time about tournament time, this is where we made our name at. Of course, Big East is the Big East, the history of the Big East, this is why I went to the University of Connecticut to play in the Big East. With football and the Power 5 it's changed the complexity of universities and conferences and that's fine.
Like I say, as long as I got UConn on my chest, we can play in the backyard where there's dirt at, I really don't care. I love my university, and our players love our university. Of course the difference between -- the RPI, those different things, the metric system they call it, I don't know what the NCAA, you know, they value which metric system. But that changes. The Big East is the Big East. You had a lot of formidable teams there from top to bottom, but our AAC teams, we got four teams in the tournament. The teams that kind of like at the bottom of our league are getting stronger and stronger and our league is getting better and better and better.
Michael Arisco, our great commissioner, is doing a great job promoting us and we're fine. American Conference is fine and we're doing a great job and I can't wait to get back in that conference next year. I just want to do a little bit better in conference play. We've been to every Championship but we want to win the regular season so that's kinda one of my goals, too.
Q. Yesterday when you were speaking about free throws after the game, you joked one of the guys "don't give away our secrets." Is it a secret or is it just drills and repetition?
KEVIN OLLIE: There's no secrets.
Q. Can you describe a drill you do?
KEVIN OLLIE: Like I said, we do drills just like out here today. We have frantic practices and I just blow the whistle, randomly and they have to sprint to the free throw line. So they huffing and puffing and then we give them a minute on the clock and they gotta make a certain amount of free throws and there is a winner and a loser.
You don't want to be in that loser position. There is a lot of running in that. I think they feel the fracture, they feel the frantic of practice and then stopping and they run to the free throw line and at the end of the practices sometimes I make the guys make 11 in a row, 12 in a row. And if they do it on the first time the coaches run. We never ran this whole season, so they didn't make it on the first one. But that's kinda their goal, and they get real, real mad when they don't make 11 in a row. But it spurs them on and they like it and get a kick out of it.
Q. Kevin, going back to the beginning of your coaching career you always seemed like a confident guy on the sidelines. Where does the confidence come from?
KEVIN OLLIE: I'm just prepared. You know, I've been in the battles before with a lot of great coaches. My NBA career I wasn't the guy that was getting, you know, 48 minutes. I was the guy getting 10 minutes and I used to save all my scouting reports, everything, every timeouts. I was around Coach Brown and Chuck Daly, some of the best coaches that ever, ever walked the sidelines.
So I learned a lot from them and of course I had my Hall of Fame coach. I don't even call him Coach. I call him my second dad, Coach Calhoun, and he instilled a lot of things in me and one thing he did instill in me is never have no fear, respect your opponents past and present. But you can't have no fear of them and you have to love our core values and the core values was to outlast you and outwill you.
That's what I preach to my players and that's what I preach to myself, and then once again, you know, over everything is my spirit and what God has placed in my heart. I always going back to my spirituality giving me this opportunity and I'm never looking at myself as a grasshopper. I always look at myself as a giant because He gives me a lot of power to do a lot of great things, and I give Him all the glory.
Q. When you get into tournament play, do you find there is a big sense of pride between all the teams in the cavernitis about want to go see each other represent well and do well at this event?
KEVIN OLLIE: Oh, yeah, I was in my room cheering like crazy for Tulsa. I love Michigan and what Jim Beilein is doing, but of course you want Fred to win and of course I want Cincinnati to win because that's pride and looking at the overall picture it helps recruiting.
A lot of people talk about our conference but we got four teams in here so we're right up there with the big 5 conferences, you call us the big 6 we right there, we got four times in. That's a big thing of pride that you say because our conference is very, very strong. I was so glad the NCAA Tournament recognized us.
Q. Rodney was just out here talk about the guard match-up. I'm wondering what you've seen from the Kansas guards that makes them so good?
KEVIN OLLIE: Yeah, I mean, first of all it starts with transition. We can't have no live turnovers with them, live ball turnovers with them because they convert it and it starts with those guards, starts with Graham, starts with Mason, they just terrific. They both shoot the ball very, very well. Graham is an exceptional shooter. Wayne Selden is an exceptional shooter, so we're going to have to get up and play them. They can also get up and drive. There is not nothing they can't do. We're going to force them with our prayer, we're going to play them very aggressive, we want them to pluck another basketball play and we are going to rely on our defensive pressure to try to get them out of their offense. But they're going to score. They're going to play very, very well.
But we gotta make sure we go out and play UConn basketball and that's throwing punches each and every possession. We want to fight and we want to be the first one throwing punches and if it's not good enough, it's not good enough but we want to give them our A basketball game and we want to show up and really play Connecticut style. Hopefully that carries us over to the Sweet 16.
Q. You had some playing experience against Kansas a little while ago?
KEVIN OLLIE: Now you remember! I knew that was coming.
Q. Obviously you remember it, does anything in your head stick from that game in?
KEVIN OLLIE: That was a tough game right there. I think we came in No. 2 in the nation and they had a freight team and Jacque Vaughn is one of my close friends to this take and he got the best of me. We never got to that rematch. I remember playing down there and it was a great atmosphere and they played us pretty good but at the end of the day we recovered and we had a great season following that.
But it was great to play those teams and get ready for the postseason and get ready for it you were amounts like this. It was a great game. They had a lot of great players and it was just a great program. You look at programs that have sustained over time, over time, like ours and what Coach Calhoun has done and what Bill Self has done here and all the great coaches that coached at Kansas.
I'm a great friend of Larry Brown's and what he did at Kansas, it's just a lot of tradition and it's a lot of tradition on our side, too, we've won four National Championships since 1999 and a lot of programs can't say that.
Q. Perry Ellis had 20 points in 5 of the last 6 games for Kansas. What makes him so dangerous and what have you seen on film that gives you nightmares?
KEVIN OLLIE: Nothing gives me nightmares, as long as I can pay my bills, that's the only thing. But, you know, Ellis is just so versatile. They do a lot of pick and pops with him, where you try to help and you get back. If you give him any angle he's like a guard rippin' through. His first step is very quick, very explosive. He gets to the lane. He gets to the free throw line. I mean, he can pick and pop and shoot the 3. He can roll a smaller defender on a slow roll in the post. He's very comfortable in that spot, too. So every area of the basketball court he's dangerous.
So every three levels he can score at. And he's coached very, very well and the coach that knows his strengths and really puts him in his strength areas. We just going to have to do a great job on him. It's not going to be one player it's going to be our whole unit trying to guard him and that's how we look at him. He is definitely one of their ace of spades and we're going to make it difficult for him all night.
Q. Coach, what was your approach in recruiting Sterling as a guy who had been through the recruiting process already a couple times and was probably pretty cautious about it?
KEVIN OLLIE: That's a great question. I think that's the one reason he went to the University of Connecticut and we pride ourselves on our recruiting. We got two fifth-year seniors, and like you said, they went through the process. They seen the videos. They seen the pictures. There is nothing you can tell them or do.
But they seen the pride in our university and how we treat our student-athletes on a day-to-take basis and we appreciate giving us the opportunity to coach those two guys. They've been wonderful. It takes a while for a fifth-year senior to get his voice in the locker room. He's laid back for a minute, reserved, because he doesn't want to step on anybody's toes.
But what Sterling has been to us is a very consistent basketball player. He is a man of few words, but when he really talks he talks with his action. He never sat out of practice and we practice very, very hard, shooting rounds are -- shoot-around are very, very hard and he never sat out of practice and he now understands our practices and he doesn't run away from the big moments. He had a big shot in the AAC tournament. He had a big shot the other day and I know he's willing and able to step up when the time is needed and relax and knock that shot down and if it don't go in he's never having those defeated thoughts. It's two kind of thoughts. It's the defeated thought it's the victory thought. He's always got that positive mind-set thought and that's why I try to put them in in those situations and he's been there a lot. He's hit a lot of clutch shots in his career and he's done that for us this season.
Q. Your team has been slow to get into the games even during this win streak here and they talked about it a few minutes ago. What has clicked at half times or what have you had to do to get them to jump-start? Secondly, is it a different approach or does it change the way you attack when the other team plays two point guards?
KEVIN OLLIE: We don't attack anything different. We just gotta play two point guards we play a lot of two point guards over the years and the more facilitators you can have on the court the better. I would rather play with 5 point guards. The more the facilitators the better. I want our bigs to be point guards. That's how I want to play. They do a great job of moving the basketball from side-to-side and we don't do anything different.
You can't start off slow. We've been preaching that. Hopefully our guys take a heed to that and we can't start off slow on Saturday. We gotta come out throwing punches and that's not literally throwing punches that's being solid, making good plays, not allowing them to take us out of our offense, it's getting to the free throw line.
It's not, you know, bagging down any. I don't want to see that from us. I want us to understand that we gotta go and play and we gotta play UConn-tough basketball. We always talk about tough 30, that means tough for the whole 30 second shot clock and a full 40 and that's our goal. We want to do that tough 30, for 40, throughout the game. It's been working. Of course we don't want to go down by 9 or 10 at halftime but if that's where we at that's where we at and we gotta make adjustments as coaching staff and we don't do anything different. It was a very short halftime speech. I was very clear what I wanted, and let's go out there and do it. Pretty much that was it. Just a couple things. You don't want to give student-athletes five or ten things. You want to make it precise, three things that he can concentrate on. They followed the game plan.
Like I say, they just executed beautifully in the second half, I just joked, I was like they forgot their wake up call and the bus we want to go pick them up but I'm glad the bus found them and knocked on each one of their hotel rooms and got 'em out of bed and they played UConn basketball, but as you go through the tournament you're going to be playing better and better and better teams. Nothing to take away from Colorado, but that's how it is, especially being the ninth seed. You're going to face those teams a little bit earlier.
Kansas is the No. 1 overall team and they're a great team, but like I had, we have some things in mind that we gone play with and we want to go out there and play UConn basketball and 2014 our run, we had to play all the best teams and we came out victorious.
Q. Coach, I was curious, given your undefeated record in this tournament, does that give you extra confidence when it does come time to make tough decisions or take chances in this event?
KEVIN OLLIE: No, I just really prepared. I trust my student-athletes to make the decisions. Only reason I'm 7-0 is because of those student-athletes. I can't go out there and play. I'm just trying to make substitution patterns and read the game. I do my best coaching in practice. That's when I coach my best. In the games it's just fun. I'm just sitting back reading the game, adjusting my point guard and trying to make the right decisions.
Sometimes it don't work out. Sometimes it does, and I just think our guys are well prepared for different adjustments and we try to do that in practice. That's when I coach and I try to coach my best.
The other thing is that we really preach recovery through games. How you recover and how you respond to adversity. How you make, you know, the ashes of the game, let that become beauty and that's what we really try to preach throughout the game because there is a lot of things that can deter you, you can start splitting off and going your separate ways.
But we really want our guys to stay connected and that's by communicating, that's by huddling, by touching each other's hand we call it dabbing each other. We want to get 1500 dabs during practice and during the game and that's just touching each other and staying connected. We really try to reach that throughout the game so they understand that they need each other and you can't do it alone.
Q. Kevin, it was announced this morning that Butler made a gift to help the finish the Worth Family Center. I don't know if you could speak about the importance of former players staying involved?
KEVIN OLLIE: I think it goes back to Coach Calhoun and it will always go back to him because he's everything to UConn. It always started with him, with family giving back whenever you can in the community. It's just great to see Caron do that. He's been a model of what we want our student-athletes to be on the basketball court, because he was just the toughest and the most fearless player. You've seen him throughout the years how he gave his heart out to this program and then off court what he does in the community. His book is just wonderful. His life is just wonderful. How adversity could have killed him. How it could have harmed him, but it made him better and for him to give a gift out to the Worth Facility is awesome and hopefully it spurs other student-athletes to do the same and it's just great for him to do that.
It's not just him. It's his beautiful wife Andrea, too, make sure we say that because behind every great man is a great woman and for her to really extend that to the family, also, is just wonderful and we appreciate Caron stepping up in a huge way to help finish our facility.
Q. You were around Larry Brown, Bill Self was around Larry Brown in the beginning of his coaching career. How did that benefit you and why do you think you were fortunate being around him?
KEVIN OLLIE: I mean it was the world to me, coming in from the CBA. He really gave me opportunity to really play and really submit myself as an NBA basketball player. Before I was going back and forth. He gave me the opportunity to say you are a point guard in this league and I value the things you bring to the basketball court and off court. Just learning from him each and every day how he dealt with problems.
We had a lot of problems with that team, good problems and bad problems, but how he managed everybody. He treated everybody the same. But he dealt with us different ways because we all had our different personalities and just the way he came and did his job each and every day. I imagine he will tell you this, he loves spending time with the guys that was on the bench more than he loved spending time with the starters.
So days off he would come in there and we would play three-on-three and he coaching us as hard as -- and Mutombo and George Lynch and he coached us the same and I thought that allowed us to become better basketball players and better men. Just what he does off court, he's just a relationship-type of coach. He loves his players, and he will do anything for his players. To this day, I love him to death because he taught me how to be a great man, first and foremost.
He treated me like a man and I wasn't just a basketball player that could shoot and defend. He treated me like a man, and I always respect him to this day.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Coach.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports