A HAPPY BOSS: UConn Athletics Director Warde Manuel was one happy man on the court after the Huskies’60-54 win over Kentucky in the national championship game Monday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“It is going great – it is going great,” Manuel said. “They kept believing in themselves, kept working at it and kept believing in coach (Kevin) Ollie. And sticking together, they grew as a team and that’s what this victory was all about.
“They wanted to show everybody what they were about and they proved UConn Husky basketball is going to stay dominant and keep moving forward.”
Ollie’s first national championship – in just his second year – will likely mean a raise for the 41-year-old UConn coach, but his boss had no problem singing his praises afterwards.
“Unbelievable, unbelievable!” Manuel said. ”Did anyone predict that? Anyone else predict it? I mean, great person, unbelievable coach. We found out tonight he’s one of the best, if not the best coach, in America.
“I have a lot of thanks to give to coach (Jim) Calhoun for his wisdom, his guidance, his suggestion and his prodding. He was right to advise me on who the next coach should be to replace him. It is obvious tonight to everyone in this country and everybody who cares about basketball across the world.”
Manuel won’t have much time to celebrate with the UConn women playing for a national title Tuesday night in Nashville against rival Notre Dame. The men’s and women’s teams are a combined 12-0 in the finals.
“I’d love it, and this is the first step towards that,” Manuel said. “I know the ladies and Geno Auriemma and the coaches were watching the game tonight. I’m sure more than anyone else they want to win it, the women’s basketball championship, because they want to win it to say UConn basketball has both titles again for the second time.”
The Huskies won both national championships in 2004. This is the fourth time the men’s and women’s teams have both made the Final Four. No other school has done it once.
A NEW PERSPECTIVE: Jim Calhoun led UConn to three national championships from 1999 to 2011, but sitting on the sidelines for championship No. 4 was even more grueling for the retired coach.
“I’m soaking wet, soaking wet” Calhoun said. “I don’t have the remote and when you don’t have the remote, it’s a difficult thing. (When they got in foul trouble) I thought they’d put Tyler in, but then went with a small lineup. The small lineup rebounding as well as the big did. I’m just so proud of them, it’s incredible.”
Ollie was part of Calhoun’s staff in 2011 when the Huskies shocked the world with their run through the Big East Tournament and the NCAAs on the way to the coach’s third title in Houston.
“Part of four and Kevin’s been part of two,” Calhoun said. “All of us, Husky Nation, it’s just great. I’m so proud of the kids. I’m happy and it’s hard to say in words really.”
Two of Calhoun’s titles came in Texas – the 2004 title came in San Antonio – and now Ollie adds a third one with the Arlington win making UConn 3-0 in the state. The 1999 team won in St. Petersburg, Fla.
TRADITION CONTINUES: Among the proud former Huskies in attendance were Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin, Charlie Villanueva, Andre Drummond and Nantambu Willingham.
“It’s crazy,” said Hamilton, who led UConn to a title in 1999. “Me and coach (Calhoun) were sitting over there and I was thinking i don’t think there were this many people when we played. I don’t remember. As a player when you play in a big game like this, it only seems like 10, 11 people in the gym. But when you watch it as a fan me and coach were talking about it the whole time, man, this is harder than playing. This is harding than coaching just being over there and watching.
“I’m just so excited for Connecticut, for the guys, the coach staffing for all the hard work they put in.”
As for Most Oustanding Player, senior Shabazz Napier (17 points, 4.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists in Final Four), Hamilton says he’s in some elite company at UConn now.
“It puts him right up there with all the great guards that came through the university,” Hamilton said. “We have a legacy of producing great guards and showing up at the right time. He displayed it again. That’s why I always tell kids ‘how can you not want to come to the University of Connecticut? Why would you chose any other school.’”
NOTES: The Final Four team was comprised of Kentucky’s Julius Randle and James Young along with UConn’s Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels. Boatright and Daniels are both juniors, but said after the game they would take some time to celebrate with family before deciding if they will return for their senior seasons. … The Huskies national title makes the first time a team from a first-year conference (AAC) advanced to the championship game since the NCAA expanded the field to 64 teams in 1985. … UConn is the first team to win the championship without taking its conference regular-season title or tournament title since Arizona in 1997. … UConn is the first No. 7 seed to win the title. The Huskies are the lowest seed to win since Villanova (No. 8) in 1985.