The basketball season is officially a week old, and Kevin Ollie has the daunting task of taking a young and inexperienced Huskies team and fashioning them into something better than a middling Big East outfit. Complicating matters: his contract expires in the spring, which means that if UConn struggles, athletic director Warde Manuel could choose to open up a national search for Jim Calhoun's permanent replacement.
But Ollie has an ally in the unlikeliest of places. Rick Pitino, coach of inference rival Louisville, has been wholly impressed with the Huskies' 39-year-old coach.
"I don't know the new athletic director, but I can say this: There's not a coach in the country Connecticut can hire that's better than Kevin Ollie," Pitino said on Wednesday at Big East Media Day (via the Hartford Courant). "He's extremely bright. The players are going to love him. Technically, he's very sound at the game of basketball. Overachiever as a player, college and pro. He attended UConn.
"This is a no-brainer," Pitino continued. "I don't blame the AD. He wants to see. You got to see. I also think he's going to be around Connecticut for a long, long time."
Ollie's reaction? "He still cut me. I wasn't that smart."
Ollie's referring to 1999, when Pitino coached the Celtics and the former Huskies guard was trying to make Boston's roster. Pitino, who returned to the NBA after a stint coaching Kentucky, instead kept one of his former players, Wayne Turner, and sent Ollie on his way.
"He took Turner, last cut, it was politically incorrect," Ollie said while laughing. "Wayne Turner was with him at Kentucky. That's when I found out it's politically driven in the NBA. I thought I outplayed him."
Villanova coach Jay Wright might be best positioned to comment on what Ollie can expect.
"I've been in two places where I've replaced legends," he said via the Courant. "Once was at Hofstra, replacing Butch van Breda Kolff, and once as an assistant replacing Jerry Tarkanian [under Rollie Massimino at UNLV]. It's a great challenge. I think having Coach Calhoun around will be an advantage for him. But you also constantly get compared. You don't get to be a first-year head coach. You're a first-year head coach who is compared to a legend."
The quickest way to change that? Win, of course. Whether that happens immediately or down the road is another issue, however.