Men's Basketball Notebook: Ollie's immediate success vital to UConn as Huskies reach Final Four
NEW YORK - One step at time, Kevin Ollie climbed up the ladder under the rim of Madison Square Garden with a scissor in hand.
Once at the top, he urged the UConn fans in attendance to cheer louder as he cut off a piece of nylon hanging from the basket.
That's what happens when you take your team to the Final Four in your first NCAA Tournament appearance as a head coach.
"It's a great time when you can get on that ladder, but I was really taking my time," said Ollie after his Huskies topped Michigan State 60-54 Sunday afternoon in the Elite Eight. "One step at a time. And that's what you got to do to get up top of the ladder. You can't skip no steps. And the last two years we didn't skip no steps. We took one step at a time."
The last two years were also some of the most dark and troubling periods for UConn basketball.
After a postseason ban by the NCAA in 2013 and Hall-of-Fame head coach Jim Calhoun stepping down to retire, UConn looked fragile and on the verge of falling from the grace of a three-time national champion.
Instead, Ollie took over the team and managed to hold this national powerhouse together by doing something not even Calhoun was able to do: reach the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournament appearance as the head coach of the Huskies.
Ollie though, remained grateful - as he has always been - despite the immediate success.
"You can't take it for granted," he said. "I thank Coach [Calhoun] for giving me this opportunity. I knew what I had, though. I had faith in my players. I had a great coaching staff... I knew God was going to give me a way out of no way. And I thank Him for this opportunity.
"I thank Coach [Calhoun] for always being there. I thank my AD and my president, that gave me an opportunity and signed me for that one‑year deal and then extended me during the season and their faith in me."
These people weren't the only ones who had faith in Ollie, Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander - three members of the 2011 title-winning squad - stuck around for Ollie too after the rest departed for either the NBA or other schools.
Now they are headed for their second Final Four with a chance to make history.
"Hopefully we can be the first class to win two national championships and get Coach Ollie his first," Olander said. "I don't think there's a more deserving coach and a more deserving program than this team that we have. It's what we preach every day and I think we deserve it."
Ollie, meanwhile, said he "just wants to make these kids better people."
"If we can do that and win a national championship on the way, that's good," he added.
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