By: Kels Dayton
He’s said nothing could sway him from coming back to UConn for another season, but will Huskies head coach Kevin Ollie be able to resist the L.A. Lakers?
Multiple reports say the Lakers are interested in Ollie, who has become a trendy candidate for NBA openings after leading the Huskies to a most unlikely national title and tying Jim Boeheim in national championships in 36 fewer years on the job (sorry, felt the need for a Syracuse troll there).
When asked by CBS This Morning’s Gayle King whether he would answer if the NBA called, Ollie said: “No, not now in my life.” He’s got plenty of reasons to stay, but the Lakers could offer him a whole lot more money plus the chance to coach arguably the greatest franchise in NBA history.
Ollie is incredibly well-respected in the NBA after spending 13 years with 11 different teams and making a career on his professionalism, diligence and dedication to his craft. He’s been credited with helping to change the culture in Oklahoma City, where he played with Kevin Durant in 2010. He’s also had an impact on LeBron James, who said that Ollie, “has the coaching gene.”
“Kevin Ollie taught us the mindset of a professional. All of us wanted to be like him,” James said.
Many NBA execs have said that Ollie would be a perfect fit for the league. His name was mentioned when the Detroit Pistons opening came up, and L.A. Times writer Eric Pincus made him a candidate for the Lakers job before it was even open.
Ollie’s got L.A. connections, having spent his youth there and played high school ball at Crenshaw in South Central Los Angeles.
But as he’ll tell you himself, he grew up at UConn.
Storrs is where he became a man, launched his basketball career, and learned how to be a professional. Instead of taking a job in the Thunder front office after he retired in 2010, Ollie decided to come back to Connecticut as an assistant coach.
Jim Calhoun hand-picked him as his replacement when he retired in 2012, and it couldn’t have worked out any better. He guided the Huskies through an impossibly tough 2013 season wrought with APR sanctions, earned the gig full-time and got himself a contract extension. Then he went out and won the most incredible, stunning national title in the history of the school.
Some might say there’s nothing left for Ollie to accomplish at UConn, that he hit the pinnacle in his first NCAA-eligible season, and that he should jump while his legend will never be greater.
But that sentiment would fade with time; Ollie would be seen as a benefactor of Shabazz Napier’s tournament wizardry, a coach who lucked into the perfect situation at the perfect time.
He would be a legend if he could continue the success of the 2014 tournament run, and keep the Huskies in the national conversation year after year despite playing in a conference better fit for Central Connecticut State than UConn.
He could build his own legacy, giving back to the place that gave him so much, graduating his players and winning championships for the school that now thinks of him as a folk hero.
Or, he could leave.
He could take on the challenge of coaching in the best basketball league in the world, preparing players for NBA life the way he did when he was a player, and taking the reigns of a franchise with more history than the Roman Colosseum.
The Lakers haven’t offered him the job–in fact, they’ve reached out to several candidates, including Duke’s Mike Kryzyzewski and Kentucky’s John Calipari. But if they did, it’d be an incredible opportunity for Ollie.
He’d have money, resources, and only a few more years of Kobe Bryant. He could have Kevin Love, Jabari Parker, Carmelo Anthony–or any combination of free agents and in-demand rookies, as the Lakers will own a high draft pick and plenty of cap space.
It’d be the perfect place to break into the NBA. And if you’re going to rebuild–you want to do it with the Lakers. They’re like the Chrissy Teigen of available NBA franchises. But could he bear to leave UConn?
Kevin Ollie has always been a man of his word.
He’s also never backed down from a challenge.
This decision is going to be tough.