For Ollie, it all began with a milkshake

Retired UConn coach Jim Calhoun talks to his replacement Kevin Ollie, right, after Thursday's news conference at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs.
Retired UConn coach Jim Calhoun talks to his replacement Kevin Ollie, right, after Thursday's news conference at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. Jessica Hill/AP Photo

Storrs - Kevin Ollie still vividly recalls his recruiting trip to UConn.

A native of Los Angeles, he sipped on a milkshake while watching practice with Donny Marshall, who became his teammate at UConn.

"Coach was yelling and doing what he had to do and coaching his brains out," Ollie said, "and a fight broke out between Rod Sellers and Marc Suhr. I said this is the place for me. It's just like L.A. I was sold then."

Ollie, a former point guard and two-year captain at UConn (1991-95), embarked on a new journey Thursday, being introduced as the 18th head coach in the program's history. He signed a one-year contract at annualized rate of $625,000.

There was a passing of the torch as Calhoun, a legendary Hall of Fame coach, officially retired after 26 seasons in Storrs and Ollie, an assistant the last two years, took over. It is Ollie's first head coaching job.

Former UConn players, current and former assistant coaches all believe that Ollie, 39, is the right man for the job. He's known for his tireless work ethic, positive approach and enthusiasm as well as basketball IQ.

"Kevin has got a great basketball mind," assistant coach Glen Miller said. "He's got as much energy as anybody I've ever seen. He played 13 years in the NBA playing for different coaches. He's a student of game. He's a star in the making. We have a lot of confidence that he's going to be a great leader here."

Ollie will be surrounded by experienced UConn family members in Miller and assistant coaches Karl Hobbs and George Blaney who also will remain on staff.

And if Ollie needs some advice, he also can call Central Connecticut State University coach Howie Dickenman who, as a UConn assistant, recruited Ollie out of Crenshaw High School.

Ollie inherits an inexperienced team that is dealing with a postseason ban.

"Kevin Ollie has the toughest job in the United States right now, following a legend," said Dickenman, a Norwich native. "That only just makes him work hard. I love the kid."

In his new role a special assistant to athletic director Warde Manuel, Calhoun plans to offer advice and support to Ollie.

Family time

Calhoun's entire family turned out on Thursday. His two sons, Jim Jr. and Jeff and their families along with Calhoun's wife Pat and six grandchildren sat in the front row.

"He's leaving happy," Pat said. "He has no regrets. He's comfortable."

Jim Jr. remembered when his father decided to leave Northeastern for the UConn job in 1986. He hand-delivered his father's application to UConn athletic director John Toner's office.

He expressed mixed emotions about his father retiring.

"I feel like I want to write a card to my dad," Jim Jr. said. "Not having experienced a parent retiring, I want to express to him just how proud I've been of him and just to thank him. His job took us all on a journey and what a ride it's been."

Jim Jr. added: "I kind of get my Dad back in many ways. I don't have one ounce of complaint. He's been the greatest dad that I could ever imagine."

One final meeting

Calhoun met with his team for the last time as head coach prior to the press conference.

"It's kind of bittersweet," junior Tyler Olander said. "He's still going to be around, as I kind of assumed that he would be. He had to do what was right for him."

About 10 former players, including Kemba Walker who plays for the Charlotte Bobcats, showed up.

"He doesn't have anything to prove," Walker said "He's done so much for this state, for this school, for college basketball, period. I'm happy for him. There's no way he'll stay away from this program."

g.keefe@theday.com

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