NEW YORK – Even with so many options from a nomadic NBA career that spanned a dozen teams, including the Sonics, Kevin Ollie didn’t hesitate naming the coach with the biggest impact.
Without Larry Brown, Ollie said he might not be where he is today, one victory from coaching Connecticut in the NCAA Final Four. A year removed from a postseason ban for academic underperformance, the seventh-seeded Huskies (29-8) face No. 4 seed Michigan State (29-8) in Sunday’s East Region final at Madison Square Garden.
“If it wasn’t for Larry telling me to take this job,” the 41-year-old Ollie said, “I don’t know if would have.”
Facing the end of his pro playing career in 2010, Ollie was offered a chance to join Jim Calhoun’s staff at his alma mater.
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“I wanted to get an unbiased opinion, and I went to Larry,” Ollie said. “And Larry said, ‘I’m going to hang up the phone on you if you don’t go back to UConn. I thought you were smarter than that.’ That’s his exact words.”
Ollie succeeded Calhoun, who retired before the 2012-13 season.
The association of Brown — who coaches Southern Methodist — and Ollie goes back to the Philadelphia 76ers, who finished as NBA runners-up in 2001 with Brown as the coach and Ollie as the backup point guard.
Ollie remembers Brown working out more with him than with Allen Iverson, who was the NBA’s scoring leader.
“That’s why I always want to be humble, and I always want to treat my players first,” Ollie said. “They make the program. That’s what I learned from him.”
Ollie played in the NBA for 13 seasons and was a Sonic for 29 games in 2003.
Guard Shabazz Napier said he quickly learned how hard UConn would work, especially in the first practice when Ollie “had us running around with no basketballs for, like, 30 minutes.”
Ollie mentioned the things the players lost last season.
“But they weren’t banned from loving and pushing and encouraging each other, and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
• Willie Cauley-Stein, who leads Kentucky in blocks with 106, has an ankle injury and is considered doubtful for Sunday’s Midwest Region final against Michigan in Indianapolis.
• A year after his gruesome leg injury in the NCAA tournament, junior guard Kevin Ware said he is transferring from Louisville.
• Anthony Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward who averaged 13.6 points for Temple this season and is set to graduate in May, is transferring to Ohio State and is expected to play for the Buckeyes next season.
• Central Missouri won the NCAA Division II championship game, beating West Liberty of Wheeling, W.Va., 84-77 in Evansville, Ind. Daylen Robinson scored 21 points for Central Missouri.