SMU coach Larry Brown is responsible for Kevin Ollie being the coach at Connecticut. At least that’s how Ollie explains it.
Ollie, whose Huskies are one win away from the Final Four in his second season at his alma mater, was wavering slightly on taking the job when he phoned Brown, his former NBA coach and mentor, for advice.
“I wanted to get an unbiased opinion and I went to Larry,” Ollie said.
Brown, who has led the Mustangs to the National Invitation Tournament semifinals after being snubbed, some say, by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, thought Ollie’s decision was obvious.
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“I’m going to hang up the phone on you if you don’t go back to UConn,” Brown told Ollie. “I thought you were smarter than that. It’s a great dream to come back and coach your alma mater. You would be a fool not to take it.”
That’s about all Ollie needed to hear.
Brown ranks at the top of Ollie’s many coaching mentors, and he had many to choose from during an NBA career that spanned 13 seasons. He played for 12 teams, including three different stints with the 76ers, the first two under Brown.
“He’s still my great friend today,” Ollie said. “If it wasn’t for Larry telling me to take this job, I don’t know if I would have taken it. He’s so personable. He treated me like I was Allen Iverson, and that always stuck with me. That’s why I try to treat every one of my guys the same.”
Ollie said Brown’s way of treating all his players with the same respect made an impact.
“I always remember that. That’s why I always want to be humble, and I always want to treat my players first. They make the program. That’s what I learned from him.”
The last time Michigan State and Connecticut met was in the season opener a year ago. The Huskies won 66-62 in Hangar 5 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. UConn leads the all-time series 3-2. In 2009, the Spartans defeated the Huskies 82-73 in the NCAA national semifinals to advance to the title game.
“The biggest thing I think that is different from that first game [in Germany] is the experience,” UConn All-America guard Shabazz Napier said. “We have been through a lot; we understand that this is going to be another dogfight. We don’t expect them to back down, and I hope they don’t expect us to back down.”
“I think it’s a shame that we put so much pressure on these freshmen and sophomores instead of letting them just enjoy their time. Our whole society is trying to speed it up, trying to put 16-year-olds into Harvard, and I don’t understand it. I liked being a snot-nosed kid. That was the most fun I ever had. And we’re trying to take it away. So I struggle with that a little bit.” — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, commenting on the preseason media coverage of incoming freshmen
“We have actually played better on the road than we have at home. We lost four home games this year, which is un-American and illegal.” — Izzo, joking about losing four times at home, including three Big Ten games