Jeff Borzello, ESPN (http://espn.go.com/blog/ncbrecruiting/on-the-trail/insider/post?id=14666)
Most college basketball coaches get better as their career progresses but in Kevin Ollie’s case, that would be pretty difficult. Of course, Ollie won a national championship in the first season the Connecticut Huskies were eligible for the NCAA tournament during his tenure, so it was hard to go up from there.
But despite constant rumors linking him to NBA jobs, Ollie has certainly picked up the pace in one area: recruiting.
His first recruiting class, the class of 2013 — which was only partially his, as Jim Calhoun stepped down in September of 2012 — featured one ESPN 100 prospect (Kentan Facey) and a couple of three-star players. The 2014 group had ESPN 100 wing Daniel Hamilton, a three-star prospect and a junior college transfer. Ollie really came through with his 2015 class, nabbing ESPN 100 guard Jalen Adams, four-star Steven Enoch, and three impact transfers: Sterling Gibbs (Seton Hall), Shonn Miller (Cornell) and Terry Larrier (VCU). The Huskies had the No. 34 recruiting class — and arguably had the biggest offseason in the transfer market.
Clearly, Ollie has steadily improved his recruiting classes, and based on early returns, the 2016 class will be his best since taking over in Storrs.
ESPN 100 forward Vance Jackson (No. 49) committed to Connecticut on Friday, which was enough to push the Huskies to the No. 3 spot nationally in the 2016 class rankings. Jackson joins five-star point guard Alterique Gilbert(No. 28) and four-star power forwards Juwan Durham (No. 37) and Mamadou Diarra (No. 88). UConn is one of only two schools so far with four ESPN 100 prospects.
“Coach Ollie is different from other coaches,” Gilbert told ESPN.com. “He genuinely cares about you and your family’s best interest. He wants to truly maximize not only your on-court talents and abilities, but he also wants to help build men that’ll someday have a family, wife and kids. We all know he’s a great coach, but I know he’s a better individual before anything.”
What’s most impressive — aside from filling all the roster holes moving forward — is that Ollie is looking throughout the country for future Huskies. Jackson is from California, Gilbert hails from Georgia, Durham is a Florida native, and they went local for Diarra, who plays his high school ball in Connecticut.
“He’s universal in his presentation as a coach,” said Sharman White, who coaches Gilbert at Miller Grove (Georgia). “His character speaks volumes to the players he recruits, along with those he has to recruit with the players, such as parents and coaches. You feel as if you are getting truth and at the level he has competed and coached, it is hard not to be sold on that.”
Ollie and his staff can point to the past as proof that players from anywhere can have success in Storrs. The 2015-16 roster, for example, has players from three countries and nine states.
Specifically, the West Coast has had a nice pipeline to UConn over the past few years — and with Ollie growing up in Los Angeles, that connection has only deepened. DeAndre Daniels played under Ollie for two seasons before moving on to the NBA, and Hamilton will be a sophomore this upcoming season.
Jackson is yet another California prospect making the move across the country.
“He feels like family to me and I know that he has that competitive fire and I like that because I hate losing as well,” Jackson told ESPN.com. “Also, I know how hard he’s going to push me.”
It also doesn’t hurt that UConn is one of the best programs in the sport; the Huskies have won four titles in the past 16 years and produced an impressive list of NBA players.
When all else fails, Ollie can lean on those facts to close the deal.
“UConn has always done a great job of spanning the nation for top-notch talent,” White said. “Great program and great tradition.”