Can Kevin Ollie survive whatever’s going on at UConn?

kevin ollie 41 Can Kevin Ollie survive whatevers going on at UConn?
As if losing 17 games this season wasn’t enough, Ollie has now lost three scholarship players and a top recruit. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

(WTNH)–What’s going on at UConn?

It’s the question all Huskies fans are asking right now, and after a season of injuries, turmoil and underperformance, it’s the last thing head coach Kevin Ollie needed.

In the last couple of weeks, UConn has lost more players than a Pop Warner football league.

First sophomore Steven Enoch, a Norwalk native and a big man with some potential, peaced out. Then freshman Vance Jackson, an All-AAC Rookie team performer and one of the guys who had Huskies fans still optimistic about the future, bolted.

Then top incoming recruit Makai Ashton-Langford, ranked as one of the best high school point guards in the country, decided he didn’t want to play in Storrs anymore.

And then finally Juwan Durham, a promising 6-11 forward who was a Top-50 recruit, announced he was out, too.

At least Jalen Adams is coming back, though the fact that he needed a tweet to announce that is a little bit disconcerting:

Ashton-Langford mentioned the departure of associate head coach Glen Miller as one of the main reasons he decided to re-open his recruitment. Miller had spent the previous five seasons as Ollie’s top assistant, and had spent 14 years at UConn. He had a big role in recruiting and, obviously, players respected him.

Washington assistant Raphael Chillious, a guy with a solid reputation as a recruiter himself, has taken his place. Chillious may be able to help convince more future high school talent to come to Storrs. It may take a year or two though, now.

Enoch’s father said the chiseled 6-11 center felt that his game wasn’t being developed enough under Ollie, a complaint that fans have been making for years now.

amida brimah 2 Can Kevin Ollie survive whatevers going on at UConn?
Amida Brimah never really got much better after a promising finish to his freshman year in 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Amida Brimah, who helped the Huskies win a national championship as a freshman, didn’t improve much after his first year in Storrs, never developing a reliable back-to-the-basket game to go along with his shot-blocking skills and ability to throw down when someone gives him a perfect lob.

You can make the argument that Brimah regressed, going from averaging 9.1 points and 3.5 blocks in 26 minutes per game in his sophomore season in 2014-15 to 7.6 points and 2.6 blocks in 24.7 minutes per in 2016-17. He never developed into the rebounder that his 7-0 frame should have allowed him to, averaging a paltry 4.5 boards per for his career.

The same can be said for Kentan Facey, a 6-10 forward from Jamaica who seemed to have the raw potential to become a difference-maker in the frontcourt. He averaged 8.5 points and 7.1 rebounds as a senior this past year, but probably envisioned more than that for himself when he signed on to play at Connecticut.

Rodney Purvis, once referred to by Ollie as the “ferrari in the garage,” was more like a Ford Focus, sometimes exciting but often unreliable. He came to UConn as a highly-sought-after transfer, having been a McDonald’s All-American in high school and part of a much-ballyhooed freshman class at NC State.

rodney purvis 2 Can Kevin Ollie survive whatevers going on at UConn?
Rodney Purvis didn’t quite live up to the “Ferrari in the Garage” nickname Kevin Ollie gave him back in 2014-15. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)

He left not much better off than he came in.

Purvis’ field goal percentage declined from 43.4% to 37.2 from his junior to senior year. His three-point percentage went from 38.5% as a freshman at NC State to 36.0% as a sophomore at UConn, back to 38.5% as a junior and 34.1% as a senior. The only area in his game that got significantly better was his free-throw shooting, which topped off at 81% as a senior, up from 65% as a junior.

In all honesty, you can’t really make the argument that anyone on the Huskies roster, save for Adams and freshman guard Christian Vital, played up to their potential last season.

Vital averaged 9.1 points and 3.5 boards in 28.5 minutes per game. Adams was one of the AAC’s best players, putting up 14.4 points, 6.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.

But even Vital was reportedly considering transferring, as he was concerned about his future playing time with Ashton-Langford and Alterique Gilbert joining he and Adams in the backcourt next season.

Going back further than last year, there have been several other players—Omar Calhoun, Sam Cassell Jr., even Daniel Hamilton come to mind—who didn’t quite live up to (fair or unfair) expectations.

For all of those Huskies fans who wanted to blame injuries and inexperience for the team’s struggles this season (UConn suffered its first losing campaign in 30 years), the numbers (and Enoch’s dad) don’t lie.

Ollie has done a terrific job of selling himself and his program to top high school recruits, who wanted to play for a guy who has been in their shoes and has plenty of connections in the NBA. He’s done a great job getting these guys to perform in the classroom, and has represented UConn about as well as you could ask any school representative to.

He’s also done a great job of teaching team defense and free throw shooting, a category in which the Huskies led the nation in 2015-16.

He hasn’t done a great job of developing players, utilizing his big men, or running a college-style offense that plays to everyone’s strengths. Instead, Ollie has opted for NBA-style sets that rely on one-on-one playmaking and spot-up shooting, something the Huskies don’t have a qualitative abundance of.

Up until this season, the coach’s positivity, charisma, and love for his players had been able to overcome all of their collective shortcomings. The guys in the locker room still believed in him, even if some fans on the outside were impatiently losing faith.

Now, it’s clear that’s beginning to change.

What happens from here will define Kevin Ollie’s career at UConn.

Can he adapt, change, and lead this program back where it belongs?

We’ll find out soon enough.

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