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Ollie faces old mentor Brown and SMU today
Larry Brown's connection with UConn runs long and deep.
In 1967, Brown, then a young assistant on Dean Smith's staff at North Carolina, was offered the UConn head coaching job but declined because he didn't feel ready to run his own program.
He served on Dave Gavitt's 1980 U.S. Olympic basketball team staff with fellow assistant Dee Rowe, who coached eight seasons at UConn.
During his NBA days, he coached Kevin Ollie, Emeka Okafor and Rip Hamilton.
"I've been a Connecticut fan for a long time," Brown said.
Brown, 73, will coach against Ollie for the first time, as Southern Methodist University hosts No. 17 UConn at 2 p.m. today in an American Athletic Conference game at sold-out Moody Coliseum in Dallas, Texas.
It's a game that Brown, a Hall of Fame coach, has mixed feelings about because of his fond relationship with Ollie.
When Ollie was offered an assistant coaching position on Jim Calhoun's staff, he called Brown for advice. Brown encouraged Ollie to return to his alma mater and learn under a Hall of Fame coach.
"Kevin is special," Brown said. "He's what our game is supposed to be like. His values are what I thought I was taught playing for coach Smith, coach (Frank) McGuire and Mr. (Henry) Iba. I don't look forward to playing against him but I'm proud that he's doing what he's doing."
Brown, the only head coach to win an NCAA (Kansas) and NBA (Detroit) title, grew to appreciate Ollie during their two seasons (1999-2001) together in Philadelphia. That 76ers franchise was one of 11 stops in Ollie's 13-year professional career.
Even then, Brown saw signs that Ollie would be a good head coach someday.
"I remember being in the locker room with him and seeing the respect people had for him," Brown said. "Generally guys get respect because they're great and play a lot. Kevin got respect for who he was and what he was about. You could see that early on.
"… So many of the guys I coached taught me how to coach, and he was one of them. He always did it in a respectful way. But I valued things he said. I always thought he was a great example for young kids.
"I always admired him. I think I was the first coach to ever give him a guaranteed contract. What did he play 13 or 14 years? For a guy who each year had to prove himself it's pretty incredible what he did."
UConn (11-2) and SMU (10-3), both coming off losses in AAC openers, have something to prove today.
The Huskies exhibited some troubling signs in their 75-71 loss at Houston on New Year's Eve. They played uninspired basketball until the second half, lacking focus and intensity. They need more consistent production from players other than Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.
With UConn experiencing losses in two of its last four games and a tough non-conference game against Harvard on Wednesday in Storrs, today's game takes on added importance.
The Huskies will deal with an improved SMU and a hostile crowd at a refurbished Moody Coliseum. The Mustangs already have won 10 games after going 15-17 overall last season.
Brown stresses a balanced offense, tenacious defense and team rebounding. No one averages more than 13.4 points per game while the Mustangs rank second in the nation in field goal percentage defense at 31.7 and lead the AAC in rebounding margin at 9.6.
In his second year at SMU, Brown also has scored recruiting victories, bringing in a talented mixture of transfers, junior college and high school recruits. His top three scorers - Nic Moore (Illinois State), Markus Kennedy (Villanova) and Yanick Moreira (South Plains JC) - represent that range.
SMU is headed in a winning direction with Brown in charge.
"It's going to be exciting for SMU to be in a conference with the quality of programs here…," Brown said during media day. "I like our team. If I don't mess them up, we're going to get a lot better."
Location: Moody Coliseum, Dallas
Tip-off time: 2 p.m. (ESPNU)
Records: UConn 11-2, 0-1; SMU 10-3, 0-1
Last game: UConn lost at Houston, 75-71, Tuesday; SMU lost at Cincinnati, 65-57, Wednesday
Probable starters: UConn, 6-0 jr. guard Ryan Boatright (12.6 pts, 3.9 assists), 6-1 sr. guard Shabazz Napier (16.3 pts, 5.9 assists, 6.5 rebs), 6-8 jr. forward DeAndre Daniels (13.0 pts, 4.5 rebs), 6-7 sr. forward Niels Giffey (9.0 pts, 3.3 rebs), 7-0 fr. center Amida Brimah (2.5 pts, 1.8 rebs)
SMU, 5-9 so. guard Nic Moore (13.4 pts), 6-4 sr. guard Nick Russell (8.1 pts, 3.3 rebs), 6-6 fr. guard Sterling Brown (3.4 pts, 3.1 rebs), 6-7 sr. Shawn Williams (4.3 pts, 2.9 rebs), 6-11 jr. center Yanick Moreira (9.4 pts, 5.7 rebs)
Noteworthy, Huskies lost two of last four games. … Mustangs won five of six. … First game this season at renovated Moody Coliseum. Game sold-out (7,000). … SMU returned five starters from team that went 15-17. Picked to finish sixth in AAC. … Three losses to Virginia, Arkansas, Cincinnati. … Series: UConn lost only previous meeting, 80-68, in 1965. … SMU out-rebounded all but one foe and ranked second in nation in FG percentage defense. … Top reserve: 6-9 so. forward Markus Kennedy (10.4 pts, 5.6 rebs), a Villanova transfer. …. Kevin Ollie played for SMU coach Larry Brown in NBA for 76ers (1999-2001). … Huskies 1-1 in true road games. … Hot: Fr. Phil Nolan converted 11 straight free throws. Cold: SMU opponents shooting 31.7 percent. …. UConn 4-2 in games decided by four points or less. … Up next: UConn hosts Harvard Wednesday in Storrs.
- Gavin Keefe