A few notebook items from Wednesday’s trip to the New York Athletic Club:
MAKING THE GRADE: The Huskies found out Wednesday that they scored a 1,000 when the NCAA released its Academic Progress Rate, which covered the 2012-13 academic year – Kevin Ollie’s first as head coach.
Ollie said the score was nice, but he already knew how hard his players have been working on and off the court.
“It’s going to feel great, but the bottom line is I know what my kids are doing behind the scenes,” he said. “So yes it’s great to go out and be in a public light, but I find satisfaction every day I see them studying hard and see them passing tests. Even gone for a month like we were for the NCAA Tournament with all the traveling, they are still going and getting their things done, having study hall on the road, and giving me pride. It allowed me to sleep better as a coach at nighttime.”
Ollie said last fall that the Huskies scored 1,000, but the NCAA release confirmed it. UConn was forced to miss the 2013 postseason after it failed to make the grade in two years under previous coach Jim Calhoun.
In addition to scoring high marks in the classroom, Ollie also witnessed four of his players – Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey, Tyler Olander and walk-on Torr Watts – graduate over the weekend.
“I saw four graduate and it’s a great opportunity for me and their families to share in a momentum that they’ll never be able to get back.” He said. “To see Shabazz get called back up at the end and get the standing ovation, I’m kind of an emotional guy when it comes to those things, and I even shed a tear a little bit over that.”
PRICE OF SUCCESS: UConn’s national championship certainly helped several Huskies, including Napier and junior DeAndre Daniels, who decided to leave early after a strong postseason performance. It also caused Ollie’s name to start surfacing for NBA coaching vacancies.
“I imagine if we got put out the first round against Saint Joe’s my name wouldn’t be coming up,” he said. “It just comes with the territory when your successful and a program is successful everybody gets in a different spotlight.
“That’s with our players, too. Opportunities with Shabazz, hopefully he goes in the first round now. If we had lost in the first round or he had a subpar season, I don’t know if that would be fact.
“And DeAndre with the opportunity for him to go to the NBA and Ryan (Boatright) getting the positive accolades he got during the season,” Ollie added. “All our players, that’s what comes with the territory. People want to be associated with winners and I think our program embodies that on and off the basketball court.”
One negative aspect to Ollie’s name surfacing for NBA jobs is that some other college coaches could try to use it against him when it comes to recruiting players.
“It’s a positive and it’s a negative, too,” Ollie said. “Anybody can use that as negative ‘oh, he’s going to the NBA.’ It’s just how you look at a situation and how other people look at it. At the end of the day we are going to keep doing the different things that got us here.”
A POPULAR MAN: Ollie’s postseason schedule has been filled with appearance requests, including Wednesday’s trip to the New York Athletic Clun with women’s coach Geno Auriemma to receive the Winged Foot Awards, which are presented to the national championship coaches.
“It’s very prestigious,” Ollie said. “I came here and spoke with coach Calhoun in 2004, that was 10 years ago, and it was a great time. I never imagined receiving this prestigious award.”
Last week Ollie had another thrill when he was called to the Pentagon with Auriemma to take part in a leadership panel for about about 400 military personnel. They also popped in to see President Barack Obama.
“That was one of the best days of my life,” Ollie said. “It was great to spend time with President Obama, see the situation room. I was making sure I didn’t say too many things … they have speakers everywhere. It was just a great time.
“To spend time with Geno and spend time with my other (college coaches) on the leadership board. The leadership seminar and just to go to the Pentagon and see all the military and what they do for us each and every day. For us to give something back to them is great, and hopefully, we can formulate a partnership going forward and we can have a day to recognize them and their accomplishments and work hand and hand with them in our community.”
The UConn men and women’s teams are expected to head to D.C. on June 9 to visit President Obama at the White House. At that visit, the President can once again remind Ollie about the NCAA Tournament bracket he busted, which came up last week.
“Yes he did,” Ollie said, laughing. “He said it was my fault and I’ll take that blame any day.”
NOTE: The new practice facility for the men’s and women’s team being built next door to Gampel Pavilion now has a “soft” open date of mid-July.