Kevin Jermaine Ollie (Dallas, 1972) returned to his alma mater as a coach after playing for 11 teams during his 13-year NBA career and led the Connecticut Huskies to the NCAA title in 2014 with only one NBA-caliber player (Shabazz Napier). We caught up with Ollie, who recently partnered with Dove Men+Care for the 2016 March Madness.
How’s been the experience with Dove Men+Care?
Kevin Ollie: It’s been a great experience teaming up with Dove Men+Care. Going behind the scenes, me and coach [Jim] Calhoun, a relationship that goes way beyond basketball. We appreciate Dove Men+Care for giving us this opportunity. It’s been very unique, it’s been great, the way they caught it on camera has been wonderful, hope everybody enjoyed the commercials. Being a college coach, being at UConn, to win a national championship in 2014 for my great university and my great state, and now teaming up with coach Calhoun again for this campaign, it’s just been a dream come true.
A bunch of college coaches have made the jump to the NBA lately.
KO: Yeah, a lot of coaches have made the jump: Brad Stevens has made a remarkable job with the Boston Celtics, Fred Hoiberg has made a great job in Chicago, Billy Donovan is doing a great job in OKC right now… All of them are playing for playoff positions. I think they are doing a great job opening doors for others. For me, particularly, I love where I’m at right now. I want to be at UConn for a long, long time. I know it’s not easy, it’s very difficult, but just seeing their success, we’re very proud of those coaches that made that jump.
You’re under contract until 2019. Are you open to making the jump one day?
KO: Like I said, I just love my job. Every year I’m gonna evaluate my situation, but here I’ve got a great president, great people around me, a great recruiting class coming in, great returning players coming in, so I don’t see myself right now making the jump. I feel at home.
What do you think about all these losing seasons in Philly?
KO: They are having a hard time now. But now they are going in the right direction, they got their team playing hard and I credit coach Brett Brown for doing that. But it’s a difficult situation. Now with Jerry Colangelo coming there, bringing Mike D’Antoni there as an assistant coach is really helping out. They’ve got multiple draft picks and some good pieces so they can continue to build around… Hopefully they can improve soon because those fans in Philadelphia deserve it. They are some of the greatest fans ever. I had the chance to play in front of those fans each and every night, and I can tell you this… The love and the pride that they have for that team, they deserve to win. I’m sure that Colangelo will take care of that.
You played for 11 NBA teams, but I guess the Sixers is the one you feel more emotionally attached to.
KO: Probably, yes. I’ve spent over seven years of my career there in three different stints. My most memorable time in the NBA was when the 76ers played the Lakers in the 2001 Finals. So I feel it’s my second home. Also I loved my time in Oklahoma City with the Thunder, my last team in the NBA. I have fond memories playing with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and they are some of my best friends to this day.
Mr. Triple Double Westbrook.
KO: Yeah man, 15 triple-doubles this season. He’s a machine! He’s amazing. I love his evolution as a player, but it’s all about his work ethic, staying humble. Him giving everything he has each and every day. He’s done a wonderful job, Kevin too. A lot of people see Russell Westbrook but they don’t see the work that goes involved. They don’t see the sweat, the pain. He loves what he does. I love his emotion, I love the fierceness that he plays with. He should be right up there mentioned in the MVP voting because he’s definitely a candidate for that this year.
Kevin Durant. How do you feel about the possibility that he could leave OKC this summer?
KO: Well, that’s what free agency is all about. I think he’s going to test the waters but at the end of the day, Oklahoma City is something dear to his heart. So it’s going to take a team to really, really do a good job to get him to leave OKC. You try to put yourself in the best position possible, see all the oportunities out there. I know he’s going to make a decision with his heart. I know he’s gonna do that, choose the best situation for his family, the best position to win a championship. And OKC has a great team, I know he loves Russell Westbrook, I know he loves playing in front of the Thunder fans, so it’s going to take a team to do a great recruiting job to get him away from OKC.
Last question. If you had the first pick this June, would you choose Ben Simmons?
KO: You know, Ben Simmons… I’ll have to take a look at workouts… Brandon Ingram from Duke is also a very good player, so it’s probably going to be out of those two guys. Both are really very talented players, but I don’t really know those guys, what they are all about. But obviously they have the talent to become the No 1 pick.