Kevin Ollie called it his two-year plan. After taking over for Jim Calhoun nearly 18 months ago, the Huskies were facing NCAA sanctions for low APR scores, and that meant no postseason play in 2012-13. But the coach -- and through him, his team -- persevered, winning 20 games when little was expected of them.
There were plenty of questions heading into 2013-14, too. But as the season progressed, the team improved, but at no point would an onlooker think that this was an NCAA championship team. That's not a slight against the Huskies, but a realization that there are some high-powered programs out there and Ollie's group hadn't found their way into that conversation. Except, as the 41-year-old coach pointed out minutes after leading UConn to its fourth national title, "I said it in the beginning, 18 months ago when we started this process: The last is going to be the first. We were last. Now we're first. But we always did it together."
And doubters are now believers, although there isn't a soul connected to the program that ever fell into the former category.
"You can't let anything hold you down,'' senior point guard Shabazz Napier said after winning his second title in three years. "You have to find the positive and push through. No matter if you're from a good neighborhood or a bad one, you're going to have obstacles. It's about how you handle them.''
And that includes toughing it out when the program was at its lowest, when other players were bolting for the NBA or transferring. Instead, Napier stayed put, stuck by Ollie, and Monday night, both were rewarded.
"There was no need to leave,'' his mother, Carmen Velasquez, said, via ESPN. "He came to UConn, why would he leave? He loves basketball too much. This is a kid who slept with a basketball since he was 5. He was never leaving.''
And now Napier leaves UConn with an armful of individual honors -- AAC Player of the Year, various first-team All-American awards -- and another NCAA title.
"[These players] believed in a vision before anybody could see it,'' Ollie said. "They stuck with it through down times, when we were losing. When we were winning, they stayed together and they believed it was possible.''