As the year progressed, Kevin Ollie spoke of “the story” that UConn was in the process of writing.
Like any great story, this season had it all: drama, adversity, new characters (Ollie himself in the lead role) and the perfect narrative.
It all started when Ryan Boatright stripped Michigan State’s Keith Appling 20 seconds into the season and took the ball the other way for UConn’s first field goal. Its final basket of the year, at least from the field, came from Boatright again, this one a circus fallaway that arched 20 feet in the air and dropped — somehow — to sink Providence in the season finale.
Here’s a look at everything in between.
THE GAME — UConn’s 79-78 double-overtime loss to Georgetown was hands down the best game in this wild season. Up seven with 2:03 remaining in the second OT, the Huskies surrendered a pair of 3-pointers and, eventually, an Otto Porter transition layup with 9.5 ticks on the Gampel clock. It was an epic finish, and a true showcase for Porter and UConn’s DeAndre Daniels.
Runner-ups — The double-overtime win versus Quinnipiac at the Paradise Jam was a classic, as well. Shabazz Napier scored 23 points in the final 3:24 of regulation and both overtimes to save the Huskies’ from an early in-state loss…Of course, the series finale versus Syracuse — a 66-58 UConn victory — deserves mention. With Jim Calhoun watching from the baseline, Ollie recorded his first victory over a top 10 opponent.
TEAM AWARDS – Napier was among the valuable leaders in the nation. If it weren’t for Porter, he’d be the pick for Big East Player of the Year. Three other players showed marked improvement: Daniels, Omar Calhoun and Phil Nolan. Daniels gets the nod for most improved, though. He looked the part of a top 10 recruit in the final weeks of the season. If he comes back next year — there are rumors of an early entry to the NBA Draft — he could be one of the top stretch-fours in America.
Tyler Olander, meanwhile, was the lone Husky who had a disappointing individual season. Outside of a career-high 16 points against Notre Dame, Olander was hardly effective on offense or on the boards, where UConn most needed him.
SHOULD THEY STAY OR SHOULD THEY GO? – I won’t pretend to understand the financial/academic situations of Boatright, Napier and Daniels. But from a basketball standpoint, it does not make sense for either Boatright or Daniels to bolt for the NBA Draft. I highly doubt Boatright would be drafted. Daniels would, but he could greatly elevate his stock — and become more prepared to contribute at the NBA level — with another year at UConn. I’ve felt Napier’s stock is near its peak, so I can’t blame him for leaving (if that’s the route he chooses).
“THE ROCK” — R.J. Evans, the lone scholarship senior, was once called “the rock” of the team by Ollie. From everything I saw and heard, Evans is a high-character leader, someone worth retaining on the coaching staff — perhaps in a grad assistant position — if both sides are interested.
OLLIE’S RECOGNITION– Injuries probably cost the Huskies a few wins, but Kevin Ollie still deserves Big East Coach of the Year. No coach has succeeded in the face of such unique obstacles: a seven-month contract, filling the shoes of a Hall of Famer, motivating a team with no postseason, etc. The award will be announced Tuesday, and it looks like John Thompson III of Georgetown is the favorite.
OLLIE’S ISMS – Who doesn’t love a good Ollie-ism? Here are my top five from the year:
1. “As I embark on this journey, I want to say we’re going to take the stairs and not the escalator. The escalator’s for cowards. We’re going to take the stairs, and it’s going to be one….step…at a time.” — Sept. 13
2. “I always talk about time, seed and harvest. The seed goes first. Then you have the time. Then you have a harvest. (Tyler Olander) is not finished yet, but I really enjoyed his harvest today.” — Jan. 12
3. “I tell the kids – ‘Go the second mile. There’s less traffic on the second mile than the first.’ — Jan. 31
4. “Ten toes in, not five” — Nov. 9
5. “They can ban us from the postseason, they can ban us from the Big East tournament. But they can’t ban us from loving each other.” — Feb. 13