This is the final part of my in depth conversation with Kevin Ollie.
As one coach said… through the early years, Kevin got his PHD – Poor, Driven and Hungry. Then KO progressed to becoming the NBA leader in assists to turnovers one year. It was a long, hard road.
Playing last year for the Minnesota Timberwolves, former UConn Husky Kevin is raising his family in Glastonbury, CT.
After 12 NBA seasons, Kevin has been sharing his thoughts on his career from UConn to the present. He played with current Celtic Ray Allen at Milwaukee and Seattle. He has also played for a who’s who of top NBA coaches.
“My fondest memories with a coach, was with coach Larry Brown. Because he gave me my first opportunity to really display my talents, and display my skills and (he) played me in the playoffs, played me in the finals, things that I’d never dream of. He gave me opportunity. So I have to give him all the credit but… like you say Nate McMillan, that year was a great year for me.”
At one point, Seattle assistant coach Dwayne Casey said you had your P.H.D.? Do you remember that?
No. Naw. (Laughing)
Casey said, “He’s (Kevin) got what I call his P.H.D. Poor, Driven and Hungry.”
Laughing –“Oh yeah, okay. I like that one.”
“And you know that was on the (cusp) of me signing my long term contract. (emphasis mine) But I just had a great year that year.
And I think I was the assist-to-turnover ratio leader that year (emphasis mine).
So it was just a great opportunity for me to really display my talents, so I can even be a point guard, and they even looked at me as a starting point guard for some teams so….it was a great transition, and Nate McMillan was a just a great coach.
How he paid attention to details was awesome, and I learned so much….(shifting the thought upwards) from every coach. I take every aspect that I have, and I implement them in my own philosophy, if I want to become coach in my latter career here.”
That brings up two different, but significant turning points.
The Long Term Contract
It is the Holy Grail of the NBA.
Kevin was in the league 6 years before he was considered valuable enough to extend him the true security of a multi year contract. The Cavaliers, coached by Paul Silas, signed him to a deal worth approximately $14.8 million over five years. It was one of two years that Kevin played in all 82 games.
A Basketball Home At Last
Traded next season to Philadelphia, Kevin finally was able to settle in with a team. Ollie played four years there, first under Jim O’Brien, then three years under Maurice Cheeks.
It looks like you finally found a place where you belonged.
Props for Eric Snow…..
“That’s correct. Philly was a great stop for me. I actually signed it with Cleveland and then got traded for one of my good friends, and I owe a lot to Eric Snow, because he took me under his wings when I first got my ten day to Philadelphia.
And actually he went down with a thumb injury that allowed me to play actually. Allen Iverson had a thumb injury and that allowed me to play a little bit more minutes and you know, he took me under his wing. He never looked at me as somebody that was coming to take his job or …
He always looked at me as a fellow point guard that he can tutelage and put under his wings and actually we (are) the same age, but you know, he was in the league a little longer than me because I played the two years in the CBA. So it was just a great marriage there. I learned a lot from Eric. And I still speak to him as a great friend of mine today.”
For the uninformed, Eric Snow is considered a highly knowledgeable (retired) point guard, who is expected to make his way as a successful coach one day.
TH: I was going to say that there are similarities between the two of you, in the respect that neither one of you are known as scorers, but you have a LOT of respect around the league that you both know how to run a team.
“And that’s what Larry Brown looks for in his point guards.
I don’t know if his philosophy has changed. I haven’t been under his tutelage since then. But I can just see how demanding on his point guards, Yeah he wants the point guards to score, but you want your point guards to be a facilitator out there on the basketball court.
Get the ball to the right people at the right time so…like I say, I learned a lot from Eric and I learned a lot from coach Brown. He really shaped me and really got my niche in the league, because I wasn’t going to be an Allen Iverson in this league or somebody like that. I had to find my niche and my role and I imagine I did. I’ve been around twelve years now.”
Kevin played this past season for the league veteran minimum of $1.2 million.
Crossroads: Coaching in Kevin’s Future?
But what are your future plans when you leave and how much longer do you expect to play?
“Uhmmm. I don’t know. I’m taking it year by year. My wife wants me to retire….today! (laughing)
But I’m going to keep going. You know, just see where it leads to. I’m on the cusp of….you know, I played well the season before I got hurt. Started a number of games and was putting up some good numbers and I just know that I still can play but you’re in that crossroads where your kids are getting older.
My son is going to the 8th grade next year so…I do want to be around with him a little bit more, because you know, once they go to college they are gone forever pretty much so I want to spend more time with him. So I’m at the crossroads.
I don’t know what is ahead of me. I’d like to play one more year. But if it doesn’t happen, I’m fine. You know, I made my home here in Glastonbury CT. Just want to spend time with the kids and I definitely got some business ventures that are in the works. And I definitely want to go into coaching also. Just trying to figure my way out.
But I know that God is going to give me the ultimate view and I know it’s already in His plans, so I’m going see what’s out there for me. But I definitely want to coach, because of the different things I’ve been through and I know all the things I can, you know, give over to a player, and help him , with the experiences that I’ve been through. That I’d like to do, also.”
Not everybody has that personality and mindset to be a good coach. But it sounds like you would have those tools to do just that.
“ I (have) just learned so much. You know, to go the hard route and to have to work as hard as I did and never take anything for granted, allowed me to learn a lot about myself, and learned a lot about people around me.
I’d try to bring that to a coaching job, and I’d like to bring that to my coaching style – just the different things that I’ve picked up. Like you say, I’ve played for 11 different coaches, you know, I’ve picked up stuff on the way that I liked, that I didn’t like about a coach. I just want to bring all into the philosophy that I want to bring and want to convey over to my players.
You know, one thing I’ve learned over the days, don’t let limitations hold you. You establish limitations only in your mind.
So I want my teams to have no limitations on them. I want them to go out and play hard each and every day. Respect the game and whatever you do for the game. You respect it…that’s what you’re going to get out of it. That is what I believe.”
Cliches? Perhaps. We can’t all achieve what Kevin Ollie has achieved. Both of those are nice goals and wise words from one who has walked the walk. Soon it will be time for him to talk the talk so that others may follow.
Few have traveled the road to NBA success that Kevin Ollie has. Many have tried. And make no mistake, it is a highly successful career. Don’t let the 4.1 points, 2.4 assists, and 1.5 rebounds fool you. Kevin Ollie is a specialist of the highest order.
To someone like me, Kevin Ollie is every bit the role model that the Larry Birds and Michael Jordans are, perhaps more so. In fact, the world could use more Kevin Ollies.
Coaching or playing, some team will be better for having Kevin Ollie as a part of it.