Kevin Ollie: ‘Shabazz Napier Does Everything In Order To Win’

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(Credit: Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

(Credit: Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

For someone about to coach in his first NCAA Tournament game, Connecticut’s Kevin Ollie is in a pretty good spot. He’s got his predecessor and former coach, Jim Calhoun, on one hand for advice, and he’s got Geno Auriemma, one of the greatest women’s coaches ever, on the other.

“They know when to chime in and give me a gold nugget or just when to stay away (and let me) learn my own way,” Ollie said on The John Feinstein Show. “It’s a great dynamic. Having Coach Calhoun right there by my side (to) answer the questions that need to be answered is a great (luxury) that I have.”

Ollie, who took over the program last year, went 20-10 in his first season, even after several players transferred. This year, he went 26-8.

“The kids have been loyal,” Ollie said. “If it were’t for our kids staying with us, I don’t know where this program would be right now.”

The best player who stayed, without question, is Shabazz Napier, who leads the Huskies in points (17.4), assists (4.9) and, yes, rebounds (5.9).

Napier is listed at 6-1, 180.

“I haven’t seen it before in my college career (or) my NBA career,” said Ollie, who played in the NBA from 1997 to 2010, “but you can’t measure his heart. You know how rebounders are. They go get the ball. They don’t wait for the basketball. He does everything (we need) in order to win. That’s scoring, that’s being a facilitator, that’s getting rebounds – he’s just a winner. That’s what I appreciate about him so much.”

Connecticut will need Napier to be in top form on Thursday, as the No. 7 Huskies take on No. 10 St. Joseph’s, which this past weekend won its first Atlantic-10 title since 1997.

While the 6-foot-1 Napier leads Connecticut in rebounds, St. Joe’s leading assist man is 6-foot-8 forward Halil Kanacevic, who averages 4.4 dimes per game – not to mention 10.7 points and 8.8 rebounds.

“It’s a tale of two tapes,” Ollie said, “but it’s going to be a great battle. I love Phil Martelli. I love what he’s done for that program. I spent a lot of years in Philadelphia, and I got a lot of respect for him.

“They’re coming in playing great basketball, but this is a whole different season, and I think we’re playing great basketball.”

Not only is Ollie excited for his first NCAA Tournament game, but he’s also happy that it’s with his alma mater. A product of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, Ollie played at Connecticut from 1991-1995. In fact, he was one of Jim Calhoun’s first highly touted recruits.

Calhoun often told Ollie he’d wind up staying in Connecticut. Ollie never believed it, but it turned out to be true.

“I fell in love with the place,” Ollie said. “Coach knew what he was talking about.”

Ollie doesn’t expect to feel any jitters before Thursday’s game, which tips off around 6:55 p.m. EST.

“I’m going to go in and prepare the same way,” Ollie said. “I got Coach Calhoun right there always by my side. I love him to death.”

If victorious, Connecticut would likely face No. 2 Villanova in the Round of 32.

“We’re believers,” Ollie said. “We’re not doubters around here. We’re believers.”

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