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March 31, 2014

Kevin Ollie


DAVE WORLOCK:  Coach Ollie has joined us.
At this point we'll take questions from the media for Coach Ollie.

Q.  You have such a unique support system with Coach Calhoun and Geno Auriemma helping you.  Can you talk about what you ask them in preparation for the Final Four?
COACH OLLIE:  Both of them are different people, but they both have the same winning mindset, championship‑level mindset.  They both built great programs in one school, the women's program and the men's program with what Coach Calhoun has done.  I can learn from both of those coaches.  I also have D‑Ro who is upstairs also who was a coach they University of Connecticut.
I try to use every one of them in a different way, asking them different poignant questions that can help me get prepared for this ride and get me prepared for coaching this team.
It's a great relationship I have with Geno.  I have a very special relationship with Coach because he recruited me from Los Angeles as a point guard.  I was able to get my degree.  He allowed me to come back and start my coaching career.  I use him as a sound board for a lot of things.  It's great to have that at my fingertips.

Q.  I wanted to ask you about the experience of being on a campus with both programs doing what they're doing, just how that adds to the joy of the experience.
COACH OLLIE:  It adds to the joy.  I root for the women's team.  I try to go to some of the games.  My daughter loves every girl on their team.  It's just a joy to sit back and watch games with her.  Last year we went to the Baylor game.  What an experience for her to beat Maya Moore that was there in the audience.  It's great to have those girls doing a great job, being great student‑athletes, being role models to my kids.  But also have the men's team doing what they're doing is a great synergy.  It's great to see both programs, to see UConn on ESPN, any TV outlet each and every night.  It's just a great experience.

Q.  You obviously stepped into some big shoes when you took over the program from Coach Calhoun.  He's been around the program a lot.  Some people might think it would be a distraction, but for you it seems like you're happy to have him close and he's helped you along the way.
COACH OLLIE:  Oh, he's helped me tremendously.  I embrace Coach.  He embraced the change.  He wanted the change to take place.  He wanted to keep the coaching tree in the family there at the University of Connecticut.  He vouched for me.
I'm glad the AD and the president believed in me also.  But he was the first one to believe in me.  I owe him a lot, not only in my basketball coaching career, my basketball life, but also what it takes to be a dad.  He always had family first.  He always had his family with him sharing in those experiences.
It's not just in basketball.  He helps me in a lot of areas.  Balance that I have to have with my wife, also my family, while I'm concentrating during the year trying to take this team on a long journey.
It's not only about basketball.  Me and coach sit around and talk about a lot of different things.  He's a great man.  He's probably one of the smartest persons I've ever met.  His memory is outstanding.  He can remember things that I can't even remember from my '91 to '95 years at the University of Connecticut.  He's a great resource to have.  I'd be a fool if I didn't use it.

Q.  You're only the fourth coach in the modern era of basketball to take a team to the Final Four in his first tournament appearance.  You did not have a lot of coaching experience before you got the head job.  Can you tell me how all those years of playing in the NBA, which very few coaches have done, helps to offset not having 10, 15 years as an assistant coach?
COACH OLLIE:  Actually I've always been a coach on the floor.  Being around Larry Brown...
Also what helped me, I played with 11 different teams in my 13‑year career.  I've seen different offenses, defenses, different ways a coach can communicate with his players.  So, of course, I wanted to have a great organization.  I wanted to have a great career.  Fortunate for me it didn't happen like that for me because now it's really helping me out.  I used to keep all the scouting reports.  My teammates used to get on me a little bit, What you doing, why you keeping them scouting reports?  I wanted to see what other teams was doing.
I wasn't the most talented guy.  I had some talent.  I had to watch tape, watch film, scout my opponent to get the best advantage.  I was getting thrown in there ten minutes, five minutes, so I needed to know exactly what was going to happen to make those five minutes meaningful, for another team to see me and bring me in and giving me a contract.  I think I did a pretty good job with that.
My NBA experience with the multiple timeouts helped me, too.  See how the coaches draw up a play two for one, 24 seconds where it's more quick hitters, where you have to manipulate the defense quickly, you don't have a 35‑second shot clock.  All those things definitely helped me.
I always prided myself as being a coach on the court.  I didn't really pride myself to looking over at the coach for the play.  I wanted to be the extension of the coach so he didn't have to call the play.  I knew exactly what he wanted on the court every minute of the game.

Q.  When your run to the Final Four and SMU's run to the NIT, what does that mean about the strength of your conference?  Do you think it was a little bit under‑valued by the Selection Committee in terms of seeding or bids coming into the tournament?
COACH OLLIE:  You could say that.  At the end of the day, once the seeds go out, it's all about matchups.  The best matchups usually win.  The seeds go out the window.  You just go out there and try to play.
I'm glad we got in the NCAA tournament.  I'm glad we had an opportunity to play.  You can look at Dayton, a lot of teams, didn't have the highest seed, but they made it far.  That's what we want to do.  We want to keep dancing, playing at a high level, playing for our great university.  The seeds go out the window.
I'm glad our American flag is being raised, I'm talking about the American conference, that we have a team represented in the Final Four.  You can look at it, we lost six games in our conference.  We was 12‑6, we're going to the Final Four.  That just shows you how tough our conference is.  It's going to be a great conference going forward.  We're so proud to be a part of it.

Q.  DeAndre Daniels, what has been the biggest difference for him over the past month or so?  Are there times that you have to remind him of the impact he's capable of having?
COACH OLLIE:  You know, one word that we always talk to him about is touches.  His touches comes from his activity.  Offensive rebound, defensive offensive rebound, taking charge, getting a deflection, getting a block.  When he has over eight rebounds, he averages 19 points.  That just goes right into the touches.
When he's active, when he's on the floor, when he's on the court, blocking shots, he's going to get his points because he's that talented.  He's 6'9", can play inside, can play out.  He stretches the defense as a hybrid four to put it down on the floor in isolate situations.  The biggest thing for him is to bring that energy.  When he does that, he plays at another level.  Hopefully he can continue to do that in our run in the Final Four.  We're playing one game in Texas Stadium, and hopefully we have two.

Q.  This year is an anniversary year for the championships of John Thompson, Nolan Richardson.  It's been 16 years since an African American coach won a national title.  You could argue there's not a black coach at an established power program.  Do you have a concern about established black coaches to get the best jobs in the sport?
COACH OLLIE:  It's definitely a concern.  We don't want to look at ourselves as African American coaches, we want to look at ourselves as a coach.  Hopefully our coaching ability don't have to do with the color of our skin and we'll be judged on what we do on the court, getting our guys prepared, what we do off the court getting them prepared for life.
I just admire John Thompson, Nolan Richardson.  They paved the way for me that I can have a job and do it successfully.  But it's definitely something we need to take a long look at and hopefully we can get more African Americans in these jobs, in these positions, that they can run a program.
I feel it's my duty to continue to be a role model, to continue to do the things I do, really handle myself as a great person, so a young African American that's eight or nine years old can aspire to be a head coach one day.  Hopefully I can provide that pathway like John Thompson did for me, and Nolan Richardson.

Q.  You mentioned yesterday you said to Coach when you hugged him, Thank you for believing in me.  What did he say to you?
COACH OLLIE:  He just said, I'm proud of you.  I'm very proud of you.  Just keep doing what you're doing.  Keep battling.  Just keep focusing on team.
Only thing I told him is, I was trying to hold back tears because I always want to be tough in front of Coach, but, Thank you for believing in me because a lot of people didn't.  There were a lot of doubters.  Coach was retiring at this time, so I could just get the job.  A lot of people doubting.
But Coach always believed in me.  He believed in me coming from LosAngeles, coming way out to Connecticut.  I know he had a lot of options on the East Coast to find guards.  He believed in me then.
He's a special person in my life.  When all those people doubted Connecticut, the direction it was going, I know he never wavered, we never wavered.  We never blinked.  We knew this program was still alive and this program wasn't going anywhere.  We were going to hurt this year, last year, but we were still going to be there and be relevant and we were going to play for what was on the front of our chests.
He's a fighter and I get that fight from him.  I thank him to death for allowing me to be a student‑athlete at the University of Connecticut and now be the head coach.

Q.  Is there one thing, one piece of advice, a specific thing that Coach Calhoun has given you that's helped you in terms of being a successful head coach?
COACH OLLIE:  One thing, and it's simple, have your players' back no matter what.  Have their best interests in mind.  I'm going to always be humble because I know I can't do it without my players.  I guess I get that from my NBA mentality, but it is what it is.
Players play this game.  I can draw up the best plays, but if Shabazz don't make that play or shot, I look like the worst coach in the nation.  I just want my players to know that I always have their back in good situations, bad situations, that they can always count on me to have an open‑door policy that they can talk about their issues, and we'll try to work them out.
I want them to be better people than basketball players once they leave the campus.

Q.  Coach Calhoun talks about the UConn thread that runs through this team.  All your assistants are UConn people.  What is that UConn way that goes into your coaching and how are you different from Coach Calhoun?
COACH OLLIE:  It's just the toughness.  We don't back down.  We try to win each and very day.  My coaching staff understands what it means to put this jersey on.  Two of my coaches coached me, Coach Miller coached me my sophomore year, he left and got a head coaching job.  Then Coach Hobbs took his place on Coach Calhoun's staff my junior and senior year.  It's full circle for me.
I look at my coaches, my assistant coaches, like they head coaches also.  They've been my assistants when I was a 17‑ 18‑year‑old trying to find my way at the University of Connecticut.  They know how I matured as a man.
We all have that common strength that's bred in our heart, the toughness, the tradition, but always the respect for putting that jersey on.
It was hard.  It was difficult dealing with Coach some days in practice.  But once you got in the game, you put that jersey on, it was all worth it.  All the winning we was able to do, all the different places we was able to go from the University of Connecticut was an awesome time for me.  That's that thread, that's that toughness, that's that value and respect we have for this great university.

Q.  Florida, the game on December 2nd, the take‑away from it.  You were able to use that later in the year to tell your players, This is how good you can be.  What do you take from that game?
COACH OLLIE:  We took a lot from that game.  The resiliency that we had, we got down in that game and came back.  We played hard.  We played scrappy.  They are a tough team to face.  Their experience in being in Elite 8s three straight years, now finally making it to the Final Four.  How hard they play, the respect I have for Coach Donovan is out of this roof, the way he's built that program, took it over, took it to another level.
They just play so hard.  They don't give an inch on the defensive end and offensive end.  They play fast‑break ball, but then they play fast‑break at halfcourt, too.  What I mean by that, playing fast‑break in the full court and halfcourt, every cut they make is hard.  Every screen they set is hard.  Just teaching our guys that you can't take a play off, you can't relax.  For us to beat a team like that, we couldn't relax not one minute.
Fortunately we came out with a great victory, great shot by Shabazz at the end.  It was a lot of things that we came back and fought from.  Wasn't a particularly good shooting night from both teams, but the defense was stellar.  It was a great game, a great game to be a part of.  I think our fans really truly loved that victory, really celebrated that.
How I used it later on in the season, when we came with difficulties, wasn't playing up to our capabilities, you put that tape in.  They hadn't lost since December 2nd.  They've been No.1 pretty much the whole year, haven't lost.  You can say, You played with those guys.  Don't lose sight in the dark times when you fall down and say, We're going to be here, camp out here.  No, we're going to move on.
You know what level we can play at.  We'll get back to that.  I think you see our guys rally around that and get back to that championship mentality in this tournament.  It's been great to see.

Q.  Can you tell me what Ryan has meant to the team.
COACH OLLIE:  He's meant a lot.  Ryan is growing up.  You know I'm very passionate especially about my point guards, my guard play.  Been around the block, kind of know what a guard needs to do to be successful.
Ryan is allowing us to coach him now.  He's opening up.  He's trusting us more.  That's always difficult for young kids sometimes, the trust issue.  Does coach got my back?  Maybe I should not take this shot.  Maybe I should pass this good shot up for Amida to have a great shot.  He started to do that.
The biggest play for me in, not only the Michigan State game, but the Iowa State game, they cut the lead down, we had a 17‑point lead, they cut it down to four, Ryan took two dribbles left hand, boom, kicked it to Niels in the corner for a three that really stemmed that tide.
He's growing, maturing.  He's meant a lot to us.  Not only in the games when you see it on CBS or on ESPN, TNT, but what he's done in practice, being more vocal, being a leader.  It's really helping our team.  It's really getting Niels and DeAndre more better shots.

Q.  How much have you actually borrowed from Jim Calhoun in your own coaching style?  How do you balance between leaning too much on him because he's so close, such a visible presence, and being your own man as a coach?
COACH OLLIE:  Anybody know me, I don't know if you've been around our program, I'm my own man.  I don't know if you've been around our practices or seen us, but I'm my own man.
I definitely use Coach, I definitely use Larry Brown, a lot of coaches.  At the end of the day, it goes with what my decision is.
I can take a lot of suggestions from people, but at the end of the day it's my decision.  I got to do what's best for this program.  That's what I do.
Coach has been a great resource for us, not only on the basketball court, in practices, him coming and watching practices, giving us evaluations on different players, but also helping us recruit still.  He's an ambassador.  He built this program.  He's a Hall of Fame coach.  I'd be a fool not to use him.
At the end of the day, I have to make my decisions on what I think is best.  That's Kevin Ollie.  What I think, what my coaching staff thinks.  That's Coach Miller, that's Glen Miller, that's Kevin Freeman, and that's Ricky Moore.  The tradition lives on.
He's a great man and I use him.  But at the end of the day I have to build this program on what I believe in, my structure.  Most of the things I believe in Coach believe in, so it makes it a lot easier.

Q.  Going back a couple years now.  I think people need to know about the character of this team.  The team was banned from post‑season play last year.  The three guys that decided to come back, just talk about their character a little bit after some guys left this team.
COACH OLLIE:  Your question is great.
It takes a lot of character to keep believing when nobody else believes in you.  When people on the outside are saying, you know, you should leave the school, and they stay for the right reasons.  They not leaving for what's the new style, they're leaving for what substance they can get from the University of Connecticut.
These kid are loyal.  I believe in them.  They believe in us.  They also believe in what UConn is all about, what they can be successful in if they do go through this program.
I thought they did a remarkable job last year, people saying they wasn't playing for nothing, but they was playing for everything.  People saying we was banned, but we weren't banned from caring for each other, loving each other, making each other better, challenging each other.  That's what they did.
They learned a life lesson.  There's going to be some other life lessons that come up long after they leave campus where they can fall back on and say, Man, remember when I got through that difficult time, but not only did I get through it, but that time promoted me.  They're going to be great student‑athletes and then be great men and great fathers and great husbands because of the experiences they got through college.
DAVE WORLOCK:  Thank you so much for your time today.  We congratulate you on advancing to the Final Four and look forward to seeing you.
COACH OLLIE:  Thank you.  See you down in Dallas.
DAVE WORLOCK:  We'd like to thank everyone for their time today.

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