I first heard rumors of Kevin Ollie to the NBA during a team breakfast at the Big East Tournament in 2011. In only his first year as an assistant coach, it was evident Ollie had the coaching gene and could not be kept a secret much longer. Earlier today, ESPN.com reported the Los Angeles Lakers were interested in Kevin Ollie to fill their newly vacant head coaching job. This poses a haunting question to UCONN fans- Olliewood or Hollywood?
Why do the Los Angeles Lakers want Kevin Ollie?
First, lets take a look at why the Lakers (or any NBA team) want Kevin Ollie:
The most attractive quality surrounding Kevin Ollie is not his 2014 National Championship ring, no Ollie was on the NBA radar far before his magical postseason. Kevin Ollie is attractive to NBA teams because of the respect he garners from his peers- peers who just so happen to be 4x NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant and 4x MVP Lebron James. James, alluded to the aforementioned “coaching gene” in an interview after the Huskies win while Durant had this to say in 2013. “Kevin Ollie changed the culture with the Thunder,” Durant commented, “Just like he’s doing now with UConn. He was a big part of what we do, and still is, because of what he instilled in us. He’s always going to be a brother of mine.”Durant continued to say he had no doubt in his mind Ollie could coach at the NBA level.
The Lakers, coming off a 27-55 season that left them with more questions than answers, have one definitive answer. With an aging Kobe Bryant returning from knee surgery, the team will undoubtedly make a push for super-star caliber free agents Lebron (2014) or KD (2016). If the Lakers were to allow James or Durant their choice of coach, Los Angeles becomes a much more attractive destination with Kevin Ollie the main beneficiary.
According to an ESPN NBA attendance report, the Clippers have drawn more fans than the Lakers for each of the past three seasons. In other words, “Lob City” has replaced “Showtime” in the city of angels. Recent Lakers teams conjure images of aging, injury-prone stars whereas the Clippers are associated with high-flying, energetic excitement (think Pau Gasol hook shot vs Blake Griffin alley-oop). What better way to reverse that perception than to hire a youthful, energetic coach such as Kevin Ollie?
Also, the aftermath of the Donald Sterling saga has forced Clippers sponsors and fans alike to question their loyalties. What better way to attract the in-between/undecided/disgusted than to bring in a coach whose highest values are that of family and brotherhood. As we have seen in Connecticut, Kevin Ollie is not just a basketball coach but a community activist. Given recent events, it is not surprising the Lakers see value in hiring not only a community man, but also a local success story all Angelenos can rally around.
Why he will go
- Money. The NBA can offer a higher salary, plain and simple. Ollie is slated to make roughly $1.25 million this year at UCONN. Former Lakers coach D’Antoni? $4 million.
- The Job. UCLA. North Carolina. Duke. Kentucky. Historic jobs that represent the pinnacle of college basketball. Knicks. Lakers. Celtics. Historic jobs that represent the pinnacle of NBA basketball. Two of the three NBA jobs are currently open, who knows when they will be available again (although recent history suggests soon). Does KO find the pull of these historic jobs too hard to resist?
- Location. Ollie grew up in Los Angeles yet has called Connecticut home since his college days. LA poses a return to childhood stomping grounds while the Knicks job allows him to remain in Connecticut. Hmmmm…
- The Challenge. Kevin Ollie promised a National Championship and he delivered… in just his second season. How can he possibly top that? An NBA Championship. In his first season.
Why he will stay
- Money. Unlike many college coaches, Kevin Ollie is coming off a 13 year NBA career that saw him collect roughly $20 million according to basketballreference.com. When you have that much in the piggy bank (probably multiple piggy banks at this point) it becomes less about the money and more about the right fit. UCONN is the right fit.
- The Job. I mentioned dream jobs such as UNC, Duke and Kentucky above. What’s better than those dream jobs? Leading your alma mater to a National Championship. What’s better than leading your alma mater to a National Championship? Leading your alma mater to multiple National Championships.
- Location. KO lives with his family in Glastonbury on a hill overlooking the town, a fitting setting for a man charged with overlooking our state’s main interest. Plus, you can’t beat the short 45 minute commute. In other news, UCONN’s new state-of-the-art $35 million practice facility should be ready next year, offering a bit of an upgrade from the dungeon that is Gampel’s basement.
- The Challenge. Jim Calhoun has three. Kevin Ollie has one. Three more and Jim Calhoun Way becomes Kevin Ollie Boulevard.
Breathe easy Husky fans, Kevin Ollie isn’t going anywhere…yet. While it is certain Ollie will end up on the sidelines of a NBA franchise one day, his mission is not complete. The collegiate level allows for the development of not only basketball skills, but life skills, a part of the process you can tell Ollie takes great pride in. His efforts have been recognized by our incoming recruits- Daniel Hamilton a 6’7 wing from Los Angeles- spoke to the “brotherhood” at UCONN as the deciding factor in his recruitment. Sam Cassell Jr, son of former NBA player Sam Cassell (a longtime friend of Ollie’s), echoed Hamilton’s sentiments and added KO was the type of coach he could play for. Ollie is not the type to lure recruits under the false pretense of “family” just to bolt to greener (literally) pastures. Don’t forget, Kevin Ollie could have remained with the OKC Thunder in a front office position upon retirement. Something drew him back to Connecticut, and that something is more than just a paycheck.
Another point to consider is the relationship between Ollie and Jim Calhoun. Ollie has said in the past Calhoun was a role model/mentor to him and credits the Hall of Fame coach for much of his success. Upon his departure, Calhoun hand-picked Ollie as his successor and gave KO the reigns to a program he started from scratch. I don’t see Ollie leaving UCONN on a whim, especially after all that was entrusted to him by his mentor. Down the road? Absolutely. And you cannot blame him. Ollie is a competitor and to win at the highest level is undeniably a goal he hopes to one day achieve. When KO does leave UCONN, he will leave the program stable and hopefully with a few more pieces of hardware. As for now, it’s Olliewood over Hollywood.