Ollie's message, not words, is what matters

Kevin Ollie's impending contract extension at UConn comes as welcome news, if for no other reason than the significance of his voice. Not his voice, the sound made by the vibration of his vocal cords. His Voice: the inimitable style, amusing Ollieisms and the message that reflects who he is, what he's done and what he stands for.

Ollie's life fortifies his line about how "escalators are for cowards." His deliverance from a rough Los Angeles neighborhood, nomadic professional career and nothing-is-guaranteed first contract at UConn underscores the substance of his road taken: the stairs.

Now Ollie becomes a voice of the flagship state university. We should be proud to have a man whose character was molded in part through a lifetime of resiliency. Actually, being proud isn't enough. We shout channel our inner KISS and shout it, shout it, shout it out loud.

And one more thing: We need Ollie's voice in its rawest form. His oratory skills, mocked in some precincts, reinforce his earnestness. We need Ollie to be Ollie. Not Churchill.

This has been bothersome for a while now, since the NCAA postseason when a column in the New York Post criticized Ollie's grammar:

"It seems to bother a lot of emailing folks - especially Connecticut taxpayers - that UConn's second-season, UConn-educated and graduated basketball coach, Kevin Ollie, as a representative of the State's namesake university and a school that in 2012 was sanctioned for gross academic negligence, is so painfully deficient in fundamental, spoken grammar," wrote Phil Mushnick.

"They wonder if Ollie, who played for UConn might consider, if only for the future sake of his recruits, to work on that."

This much we know: Mushnick will never be confused with Bishop Tutu under the categories of tolerance, race relations or social grace. He often keeps his musings to four topics: killing ESPN, guys who don't run hard to first base, Mike Francesa and John Sterling. His ruminations on Ollie, while not a stunning upset, likely reflect the outlooks of other assorted forward thinkers who aren't ready for the Times Sunday Crossword either.

Me? I'll take Ollie at his words. Because they're real. Sure beats some vacant politician who has mastered noun-verb agreement and still maintains the depth, reflectiveness and moral courage of potato salad.

Here's what else I've learned: It's not what you say. It's not how you say it. It's how the message is received.

How do you think Ollie is doing so far?

I mean, is he going to inspire his players any better by walking up to the podium at the NCAA tournament and pronouncing that the ants in France stay mainly on the plants? (We already have enough do-littles in the NCAA).

There's a difference, as psychologist Dr. Mardy Grothe once suggested, in making people's hearts soar and making people's hearts sore. OK, so Ollie isn't Pericles. But he's no phony either. He connects with his players. He has magnetism. Not to mention a life story worth studying. Ollie is a good coach, husband and father, not just a beacon to other African Americans, but to everyone else, period.

And I've often thought about the people who agree with Mushnick. Just not for long. I wonder if they ever laughed at Yogi Berra, who doesn't exactly sound like a head of state. "It ain't over till it's over" blasts holes in the grammatical dartboard, too.

He's funny.

But Ollie is an embarrassment.

Gee. I wonder what would make them think such a thing?


Ollie has the endorsements of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Larry Brown. His players and assistant coaches. Warde Manuel. And I'm supposed to give a continental damn if he doesn't sound like Lincoln at Gettysburg?

Sorry. Kevin Ollie had me at "first you bring the sugar, then you bring the hot sauce."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.


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