Kevin Ollie making UConn his own

STORRS, Conn. -- Freshman year, first day of practice, Kevin Ollie couldn't escape the wrath of Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun. Ollie repeatedly failed in his attempts to defend Chris Smith, and Calhoun repeatedly ripped him for it.

The Los Angeles native, upon returning to his dorm room after practice, picked up the phone and dialed home.

"I remember crying, like, 'Man, I ain't up to this.' I called my mama, I was like, 'Mom, I'm coming home,'" Ollie said. "The next thing I heard was a click."

Mama wasn't going to save him. She didn't even entertain the thought by offering him words of encouragement. Ollie had to stick it out.

He never told Calhoun about his doubts of being able to play for UConn, which was fine because Calhoun never told Ollie he was a target for yelling because he could take it.

"He probably sometimes -- no, it wasn't sometimes -- he was the brunt of me pushing the team because he was the guy who helped make us go," Calhoun said. "And I knew he could take it. He'd handle it the right way. And he always did that."

Now Ollie, in his second year replacing the Hall of Fame coach at UConn, is sure glad he did. That first day of practice might be the last time Ollie nearly backed down from a challenge.

The herculean task of following legendary Calhoun didn't cause Ollie to flinch. Nor did the prospect of starting last season with a seven-month contract. So, the fact that UConn could not participate in the 2013 postseason didn't seem like much of a hurdle to Ollie, either.

After a season spent out of the national spotlight, Ollie and the program have cleared all those obstacles, and the No. 13 Huskies (7-0) are on the verge of cracking into the top 10. They'll face their biggest test of the season with Monday's game against No. 15 Florida. Some might say the Huskies are back; Ollie would say they never left.

"People thought we fell behind, when they see us coming up," said Ollie, who played at UConn from 1991 to 1995. "We were just lapping everyone."

Ollie has managed to get Calhoun-like results without having any of his players crying and calling for mom wanting to go home.

Guard Ryan Boatright skips the formality of calling Ollie "Coach" and instead refers to him the way he has since his first recruiting visit. "KO," Boatright said, has a way of relating to each player individually.

"It depends on what kind of personality you got, some of us he can curse at and he knows that we're going to respond," Boatright said. "Some people he knows if he does that, they're just going to hang their head, and that's not going to get them going. Coach Calhoun didn't care; he was cursing you out no matter if you could take or you couldn't take it."

That's why Ollie really doesn't take well to getting compliments about the Huskies competing last season. How else were they supposed to play?

Sure, they couldn't compete for a NCAA title, the repercussion for a series of low academic progress rate scores. But Ollie said they were playing for everything.

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