ABC News’ Byron Pitts reports:
On Monday night, Kevin Ollie became only the second coach to ever win college basketball’s biggest prize on his first try.
“It’s all God,” he told ABC News. “It’s my family being there, giving me confidence to go through the down times, picking me up.”
The UConn Huskies — with Ollie as head coach — beat the Kentucky Wildcats, 60-54, and took home the NCAA title, its fourth since 1999.
For Ollie, it was a fast rise by almost any measure — and he took the long way.
Ollie grew up in South Central Los Angeles, in one of the nation’s toughest neighborhoods, and attended Crenshaw High School.
He went on to receive a full basketball scholarship at the University of Connecticut, one of the nation’s top college programs.
For several years afterward, though, it had seemed Ollie’s best years in basketball were behind him. He played on 15 different teams during a 13-year NBA career. It seemed no one really wanted him.
People who knew him, though, described him as humble yet bold. Superstars and former teammates of Ollie’s like Lebron James and Kevin Durant credited him with teaching them how to act like professionals and live lives as honorable men.
After a particularly horrid loss in Houston during the season, Ollie reportedly had his team bussed to Dallas, the site of Monday night’s game, and told them: “Take a look. … We’re gonna win this thing.”
And they did Monday night. James and Durant were some of the first to tweet him congratulations after the Huskies’ victory.
It was a huge win for Connecticut, which just two years ago was on NCAA probation and banned from the tournament, and also for Ollie.
“When all the circumstances, [you] think they’re going against you. … God is going to shift the wind in your favor,” he said.