Kevin Ollie (Getty Images)Not even halfway through his first season as a head coach at any level, Kevin Ollie has apparently impressed UConn administrators enough for them to put the longterm future of the school's basketball program in his hands.
UConn has called a press conference for before Saturday night's game against Washington to address the future of its program. According to multiple reports, athletic director Warde Manuel will announce he has rewarded Ollie for an impressive 9-2 start by giving him a five-year contract extension.
The new contract will surely ease some of the pressure on Ollie created by the unusual circumstances surrounding his hiring.
Since the legendary Jim Calhoun didn't announce his retirement until September and the start of practice was mere weeks away, Manuel didn't have time to conduct a national search for a successor. At Calhoun's advice, Manuel promoted Ollie to head coach, but he gave the former UConn guard a seven-month contract, opting to take his time evaluating Ollie rather than hitching the program to a man just two years removed from his playing days in the NBA.
That decision put Ollie in a difficult spot, needing to prove himself in a season in which UConn is ineligible for the postseason and lacks its usual talent. The Huskies have a strong backcourt, but the transfer of Roscoe Smith and Alex Oriakhi left Ollie with a depleted frontcourt.
Ollie gradually won over the UConn fan base and apparently Manuel by leading the Huskies to a 9-2 start that includes a season-opening win over Michigan State in Germany. He also has received glowing reviews from former UConn and NBA players and coaches as a result of the work ethic and leadership he showed throughout his playing career.
Some have been critical of Manuel for waiting so long to commit to Ollie because the uncertainty atop the program has hamstrung the coaching staff's efforts to recruit, especially with UConn's conference future up in the air. That viewpoint is fair, but I believe Manuel deserves credit for how he handled this.
He took a few extra months, he made certain Ollie was the right choice and he rewarded him for a job well done.