ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 07: Head coach Kevin Ollie of the Connecticut Huskies holds the trophy after defeating the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 in the NCAA Men's Final Four Championship at AT&T Stadium on April 7, 2014 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Jim Calhoun built the program at UConn. Over a quarter-century he took the Huskies out of the basketball backwaters and brought them into the national conversation. And from 1999-2011, that meant three NCAA titles. Then, before the 2012-2013 season, Calhoun retired, replaced by his protege and former Huskies point guard Kevin Ollie, and three days ago, he won an NCAA title, UConn's fourth.
In the moments after Monday's 60-54 victory over Kentucky, Calhoun was sitting quietly in the locker room, taking it all in and reflecting on what it took to get there.
“No matter who you are and what you are, you always want an affirmation of things,” Calhoun, 71, said via ESPN.com. “We have had a great last 25 years. We’re probably one of the top five winningest programs, and that’s important. But teams like North Carolina, Indiana and Kentucky have been incredible for 50 years. We want to keep that thing going. I never wanted our program to be about one player, one team or one coach.
“That’s what Dean Smith taught me when I was young coach at Northeastern.”
Names like Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon and Kemba Walker (and now Shabazz Napier) all helped set the program on its path to prominence and Ollie plans to sustain what Calhoun and his players built.
“Somebody told me we were Cinderellas, and I was like, 'No, we're UConn,'" Ollie said. “I mean this is what we do. We are born for this. We’re bred to cut down nets. We’re not chasing championships, championships are chasing us.
“We’ve got four now and Coach Calhoun started a tradition and my whole coaching staff is from UConn. We’ve all been through the same things. We love this university. It’s always family first with us and they kept believing.”
Some young coaches might bristle at having a Hall of Famer like Calhoun always around. Not Ollie.
“He’s right there beside me,” the coach said. “I told you, I’m not filling his shoes. I can’t fill his shoes. He just a great resource for me -- to have a person that loves me and believed in me when a lot of people didn’t. A lot of people questioned me about getting this job; he never did.”