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STORRS, CONN. (AP) - Kevin Ollie can win as many games, even as many national championships, as his predecessor and former coach did at Connecticut. But he can’t transform the program. Jim Calhoun did that already.
During his 26 seasons in Storrs, Calhoun turned a regional New England program into a powerhouse, becoming one of just five coaches to win three national titles or more. Add to that seven Big East tournament crowns and 10 regular-season championships. No wonder the 10,000 seats were usually filled at Gampel Pavilion, the arena Calhoun gets credit for building.
All those accomplishments are history now. What’s left are high expectations for a rookie coach.
“Simply put, he epitomizes what we want our students to be about,” Calhoun said. “When I started here we felt we could do anything and I feel that way now, everything’s in place. This is an exciting time as we go forward.”
And a difficult one. He takes over a team that is banned from the Big East and NCAA tournaments because of poor academic performances.
With a one-year contract, Ollie won’t have much time to show what he can do on the bench and on the recruiting trail. And his depleted roster isn’t likely to add to Calhoun’s stellar numbers _ 27 players selected in the NBA draft, including 13 lottery picks.
“We’re going to attack this thing head on,” Ollie said at a news conference at Gampel, where he once thrilled UConn crowds with his hustle and defense. “We have enough to do it. Coach will be there right beside me as he has always been. He’s been a second father to me from the day I arrived here as a recruit and believe me, that won’t change.”
Ollie’s contract will pay him a prorated $384,615 and ends on April 4, the last day of the 2012-13 basketball season.
Athletic director Warde Manuel said there’s a reason it’s a single-year deal.
“I like to win and Kevin does, too. We’re not here just to participate in games,” Manuel said. “I’m looking to see how he is on the sideline. How he handles decision-making, substitutions, things that are normal in a game. How does he handle losses with the team and motivate them the next day to come back and play?
“It truly is a long-term plan, but I want to see where Kevin is before we extend that contract. The commitment is there. He knows it.”
Ollie refused to get caught up in the discussion.
“Everything I’ve done has prepared me for sliding over into that chair,” he said. “I’m going to coach this team like I’ve got a 10-, 15-year contract. I hope it’s for a lifetime. I want to retire one day from the University of Connecticut like Jim Calhoun did.”
Ollie will have some familiar faces on the bench since all four assistants are staying.
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