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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Sunday / April 21.
  • Kevin Ollie, UConn ready to rebound after rough season

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    MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Last season was not easy for Kevin Ollie and the UConn Huskies.

    They lost their first two games of the 2016-17 season — to Wagner and Northeastern. They then suffered through a slew of injuries before finishing 16-17, 9-9 in the American Athletic Conference. After the season, a slew of players transferred or asked out of their Letters of Intent.

    “We went through some adversities, in life you have adversities,” Ollie told me on Friday at the Garden State Basketball Clinic at Immaculate Conception High School.

    “It’s how you respond and hopefully…I’m not even going to say hopefully, we will respond like champions because we always face adversity.”

    Ollie added that the 2017-18 incarnation of the Huskies has more than a chip on their shoulders.

    “Eveything happens, it’s how you respond, how you fight, how you fight together, are you able to take challenges?” Ollie said. “And like I told you it’s a symbol of growth. I know I grew as a man, my team grew, the guys that stayed there, and I think they got a huge boulder on their shoulder, not a chip.”

    In November, UConn lost two key players — Alterique Gilbert and Terry Larrier — to season-ending injuries. Mamadou Diarra also sat out the season with knee pain. But Ollie says they’re ready to roll.

    “Terry’s looking very good, he’s 100 percent cleared, fully,” Ollie said. “Al’s cleared fully. Mamadou is cleared fully, so we’re still taking our time with those guys because we want them to be fully cleared and injury-free once the season starts but they got the right to go as hard as they want to and they’re pushing themselves which is a great thing. I don’t need to push them.

    “They’re pulled my a little something different because they didn’t get a chance to play, they had to sit on the sideline and see our struggles last year, and I think through struggles shows a sign of growth and I think all those guys grew through the adversity.”

    Three players from last year’s team — sophomore forward Steven Enoch (Norwalk, Conn.), freshman forward Vance Jackson (Los Angeles, Calif.) and freshman forward Juwan Durham (Tampa, Fla.) — transferred. But UConn went out and replaced them with some junior college and graduate transfers.

    The Huskies added Eric Cobb, a 6-foot-9, 285-pound junior college big man, as well as 6-7 junior college forward Kwintin Williams, who  averaged 18 points and 8.3 rebounds per game at Pima Community College in Alaska. The Huskies also brought in two fifth-year transfers in Fordham guard Antwoine Anderson (11.1 ppg, 3.2 apg) and Cornell forward David Onuorah (4.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg).

    UConn also added three freshmen frontcourt players between 6-9 and 6-10 in Josh Carlton, Tyler Polley and Isaiah Whaley.

    “The culture’s the same, we’re not going to change the culture,” Ollie said. “We won four national championships in the last 20 years, nobody can say that but us. So the culture’s there.

    “We gotta understand, whatever’s best for them, is best for us. So if those players thought it was best for them to leave the program, that’s best for us because at the end of the day it starts with them, it starts with their interpretation. We want guys that love the program, we want guys that fight through adversity and play tough and play together.

    “And not saying those guys didn’t but they thought it was better for them to go somewhere else.”

    UConn has also made strong recruiting strides of late. In the last few weeks, they added St. John’s transfer Sid Wilson, for whom the school will file a waiver seeking immediate eligibility, and California point guard James Akinjo.

    UConn is one of three finalists for Class of 2018 point guard Jalen Carey of Immaculate Conception, with whom Ollie and assistant Dwayne Killings met on Friday. Carey, who is also considering Miami and Syracuse, is poised to announce Oct. 11, his birthday. Nate Roberts, a 6-11 forward from Brewster (N.H.) Academy, will announce Oct. 17 between UConn, Nebraska, Syracuse, Wake Forest, and Washington.

    Ollie cannot address specific recruits but in terms of his philosophy on recruiting multiple guards in the same class like Carey and Akinjo, he said he actively tries to do that.

    “Our theory is the more ball-handlers you have, the better facilitators you have, the better coach I’m going to become,” Ollie said. “And I like multiple ball-handlers. We don’t really look at positions, we look at ball-handlers, wings and bigs and we won like that since my day, when I played with Doron Sheffer. We won our first national championship with Ricky Moore, Khalid El-Amin and Richard Hamilton. I mean all of them played, all of them were ball-handlers.

    “That’s what I play, that’s what I coach and we want to get these guys NBA future ready so if they want to become pros you want to come in and play with a pro style.”

    In terms of the non-conference schedule, the Huskies have a loaded one this year, with games against Oregon, Michigan State/DePaul, Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, at Arizona, at Auburn and home to Villanova.

    “It’s a great schedule,” Ollie said. “We have to be prepared and go through wars. To say we’re the best we have to play the best.”

    In 2018-19, Ollie added, the Huskies have three games at the Garden, which could be particularly attractive to Carey, a New York native.

    “What we tell our recruits, they’re going to be on the biggest stage,” Ollie said. “We play at Madison Square Garden three times next season. All our New York fanbase they’re going to get to see us and that’s what we want to do, we want to keep that mystique in New York because it’s a wonderful place. We’re the sixth borough we call it, and we wanna continue that history.”


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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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