Not to pile on, but UConn's effort, or lack thereof, is on Ollie
None of us should be naive enough to accept a television analyst’s word as gospel, perhaps with the notable exception of ESPN’s Jay Bilas, a man of habitual insight.
And so was anyone else similarly alarmed at reading Bilas’ comments the other night concerning the UConn Huskies?
Sayeth he to the media, including The Day’s Gavin Keefe: “They’ve got some good pieces. Part of the solution lies in playing hard together more consistently. A lot of their players play really hard. I'm not sure they all play really hard consistently at the same time. As they get better throughout the season, that should improve.”
Shall we discuss?
Maybe we begin here: This was never an issue plaguing UConn in the days of Jim Calhoun. The Huskies were the national yardstick for effort. Anyone whose effort was substandard wasn’t merely removed from the game, but growled at on the way to the bench. The Huskies of Calhoun were the Patriots of Belichick: Skip the amenities; bring on the meat.
And now one of the game’s oracles tells the media that the Huskies of Kevin Ollie don’t play as consistently hard as they need to?
Not that we needed Bilas to verify its truth. We all have eyes. But when a smart, objective voice reinforces what we’ve seen for a while now, we are left to draw conclusions based more on fact than presumption.
Here is fact, not presumption: UConn’s effort, or lack thereof, is completely, totally and absolutely Kevin Ollie’s responsibility. And we’re left to wonder the ways he’ll fix it that somehow don't involve a reference to Ollie’s resolve to last 13 years in the NBA.
Seems that’s all we ever get.
Seriously. Does anyone ever discuss Ollie’s coaching acumen before regurgitating his bio, as Jay Williams, Bilas’ colleague at ESPN, did the other night?
Played 13 years in the NBA because his gumption exceeded his talent. Check.
Mentor to young players. Check.
He preferred stairs over escalators. Check.
Loves the grind. Check.
And not that the story isn’t legitimate or noteworthy.
But is it relevant to the task of coaching college kids?
Can he relate to college kids?
Has he, especially lately?
In fairness, it appears he did his first two years here, in spite of how Ollie had to hear he “won with Calhoun’s players.” Key words: He won. He won 20 games his first year at UConn, despite the stain of NCAA banishment. He won the national championship his second season. And deserves every morsel of credit. Because he was the head coach. He won. Nobody else.
But now? The program’s malaise belongs on the stairs — not the escalator — at Ollie’s feet. This is on him. Period. The program has no juice right now, evidenced by tepid attendance figures, Ollie’s admittance that his players somehow “weren’t ready” for Syracuse at the Garden the other night and Bilas’ reinforcement of what we’ve all seen for a while now.
Then there’s this: Why would UConn fans want to rally around Kevin Ollie at the moment? For a guy who played here and won his first press conference with some pithy Ollie-isms, he seems to have retreated into a bunker.
Calhoun might have been ornery most of the time, but he was a brilliant salesman every minute. Note to Ollie: Your program needs to be sold now more than ever. Being dismissive and standoffish doesn’t help anybody or anything.
I get the idea that many of us could be flagged 15 yards for piling on. UConn basketball hasn’t been this much of a punching bag — particularly to its own fans — in years. Maybe ever. And there’s plenty of time left in the season for Bilas’ prediction to come true: As they get better throughout the season, playing hard consistently should improve.
But does even the most ardent Huskymaniac truly believe that?
They don’t score enough, play hard enough or play together enough. That’s on the head coach.
Lest he remember this is not the NBA.
This is Storrs, Conn.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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