(WTNH)–It’s now been more than three years since Jim Calhoun handed the keys to the office at the most unlikely blueblood in college basketball over to Kevin Ollie.
Entrusted with very little confidence from the athletic department, a postseason ban that could have severely sapped his squad of motivation, and a changing college sports atmosphere that if it were a weather event would have caused one to batten down the windows, turn off the power and hide in the basement, the stouthearted Ollie paid off Calhoun’s intuitive gamble immediately.
He won an improbable 20 games in that 2013 season, followed that up with an even more improbable national championship, and despite a subpar 2014 season that ended at the hands of Arizona State in the NIT, has the program buzzing on the recruiting trail.
Ollie proved he could motivate in 2013 and ’14.
“We’re a second half team, too.
No Escalators–we take the stairs.
We ain’t no Cinderella. We’re UConn.”
Now, he’s proving he can recruit like his predecessor, too.
After signing 6-8, 215-pound forward Vance Jackson to an already stacked 2016 recruiting class on Friday, the Huskies now boast the 3rd-best recruiting class in the country for 2016, according to ESPN.com. Jackson will join 6-1 point guard Alterique Gilbert (ranked No. 28 on ESPN Top 100), 6-9 power forward Juwan Durham (No. 37), and 6-8 power forward Mamadou Diarra (No. 88, from Woodstock Academy) in the class.
Only Michigan State and Duke boast better classes, according to ESPN. (Also noteworthy is the fact that Harvard is ranked 10th).
Scout.com currently ranks the Huskies fourth, behind Michigan State, Duke, and Kentucky.
UConn hasn’t been in such rarefied air in the recruiting game since in the aftermath of the 2004 season, when it dominated the sport behind Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Josh Boone and Charlie Villanueva. That team’s success helped land guys like Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams, A.J. Price, Kemba Walker, and Hasheem Thabeet.
Now, the credibility that comes with the 2014 national title is paying off on the recruiting trail.
It’s clear that Ollie has charisma—and a connection with today’s players that most coaches–including Calhoun–simply don’t have. He’s walked miles in their sneakers—been through the recruiting process as a player, starred at a major program, and most importantly, made a name for himself in the NBA. Kids today know that Ollie is tight with Kevin Durant. They know he can help them get to the league just as well as John Calipari, Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski can.
Ollie’s charisma may have been the major reason the Huskies landed 2014 AAC Freshman of the Year Daniel Hamilton, who like his coach, attended Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles.
Vance Jackson is also from California, as were former Huskies Marcus Williams and DeAndre Daniels. Like Texas or Florida in football, recruiting success in the state leads to success on the court. It’s that simple.
But it’s not just the west coast pipeline that Ollie has cultivated. He’s proven he can land kids from all over the country. Alterique Gilbert is from Georgia. Rakim Lubin, who was a top recruit last year but has since transferred to Cal-State Northridge, is from Alabama.
Transfer Shonn Miller played at Cornell, and transfer Sterling Gibbs played at Seton Hall.
We’re three years, one national title and a top-3 recruiting class into the post-Jim Calhoun era.
Like the Huskies themselves, Kevin Ollie is only getting better.