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I was wrong on this one

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published December 30. 2012 4:00AM


There is nothing more disconcerting for those of us who play the role of know-it-all when The Moment hits. The moment when you know you're wrong. Just wrong. And I've been known to adhere to the theory, "if you don't like what I say, I'll just say it louder."

But this was the day Jim Calhoun retired and they'd just introduced Kevin Ollie as UConn's interim coach. Howie Dickenman approached yours truly and took issue with the premise of a rant from a week earlier, questioning whether Ollie is the right man for the job.

"Just wait and see," Howie said, wearing that treacherous facial expression of a guy who knows something you don't.

And then we heard Ollie speak to the crowd at Gampel for the first time.

He won the press conference.

He's been winning ever since.

And that's what made Saturday such an inspiring day.

Inspiring because a good man was rewarded.

Inspiring because the news conference that introduced him was peppered with talk about academics.

Inspiring because the flagship athletic program at the flagship university in our state has a leader who has lived his message: take the stairs, not the escalator.

Now Ollie has a five-year contract and can go get the players he wants and needs. All we need to wish for is this: Kevin Ollie recruits about 12 Kevin Ollies.

"He's shown that he can coach. He can lead this team on court and academically," athletic director Warde Manuel said. "He's a great person. For those of you who know him well, he's one of the best people you'll ever meet. A great husband, a great father. The epitome of a UConn Husky."

That's what this day was about: Ollie the person. That means the whole person. What he believes in and what he stands for. It goes well beyond the 9-2 record entering Saturday night's game. They signed Kevin Ollie for five years here because they believe in him. The whole person.

Now let's be clear: He's proven he can lead his team. Ollie was auditioning as a basketball coach, not a statesman. But his commitment to his players, seen mostly through the prism of academics, was convincing.

Let's remember: academic failure is what got them banned from the postseason.

"I think the timing of today for me was about what the student-athletes did under his leadership," Manuel said. "It was time. (I always said that) Kevin would be the first to know that the day I felt he'd be the right fit for the long term. At the moment I felt it, there was no need to wait. The academic (achievement thus far) was a big hurdle for me."

Ollie even has a stipulation in his contract that calls for penalties, perhaps even termination, if the Academic Progress Rate drops to insufficient standards.

What a refreshing day and a refreshing message. Rejoice today, Connecticut. Your kids playing for you and warming your winter nights are going to be in class while you go about your winter days.

Academics may be lip service at other outposts. Maybe they were here for a while.

No longer.


"The APR is not Kevin's and Kevin's alone," Manuel said. "I feel a great deal of responsibility for how our students do academically. That's my first priority. It's important for us given where we are, for me to have included in the contract language that this is so important to us."

So now we get Kevin Ollie for the next five years. We get "10 toes in" and "the stairs, not the escalator." We get a man who crawled over broken glass to stay in the NBA for 13 years. We get a man who is not all that much older than his players who has a UConn diploma and an NBA pedigree.

"It's not a 'should.' It's a 'must,'" Ollie said. "That's what I tell my players every day. It's not a 'should.' It's a 'must.' We're going to get this done."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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