DES MOINES, IOWA — One day after his team won an exhaustingly amazing four-overtime game and hours before he orchestrated another win in his own conference tournament, Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie still found room in his heart and mind to be thrilled for Stony Brook last Saturday. A win for coach Steve Pikiell was a win for Ollie and all of their fellow alumni.
“I think we all cheer each other on,” Ollie said before conducting practice for his team’s first-round NCAA Tournament game against Colorado Thursday. “You know, we all know what we’ve been through, through coach [Jim] Calhoun’s practices. All of us got an understanding of brotherhood through those practices.”
Ollie could not watch Stony Brook’s victory over Vermont live because he was preparing to get the Huskies ready to face Temple in the American Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals after their four-overtime win against Cincinnati the day before. But he knew that Calhoun was in the stands at Island FCU Arena and he knew what was at stake for Pikiell, the first of Calhoun’s captains at UConn. Stony Brook had lost the America East final four of the previous five years.
“Steve has been so close and to see him break through was a wonderful thing,” Ollie said. “I was so happy for him. His team is playing unbelievably hard and, you know, they’re doing a great job. And I know Steve is going to get those guys ready to play Stony Brook basketball.”
Stony Brook will play Kentucky here in the last of four games Thursday, about eight hours after Connecticut’s game.
Ollie said it is no accident that some of Calhoun’s former players (Donyell Marshall is an assistant at Buffalo, another NCAA Tournament team) become conscientious coaches.
“You know, when we won that championship in 2011 I was celebrating, I had my ticket to go on vacation. And he was like, ‘There is no vacation. On Monday, we are coming back to work,’ ” said Ollie, an assistant coach under Calhoun at the time. “He was like, ‘This is the best time, we do our work when everybody else is on vacation.’ I always kept that motto in mind.
“I just never met anybody that’s tougher than Coach, in my life. Never met them. So he breeds toughness in us,” Ollie said, “and we try to breed toughness into our players.”