The Lakers job opened when Mike D'Antoni resigned Wednesday night. By Thursday morning, ESPN reported the Lakers planned to take time with their search, but will "gauge Ollie's interest" in the job. NBC Sports reported the Lakers planned to reach out to Ollie, though the Lakers themselves said they would not reveal their list of candidates or comment on any. Neither Ollie nor UConn would comment.
Ollie was by far the lowest salaried coach at the Final Four, because it was his second year on the job, but he has now proven himself with a national title and holds negotiating leverage.
Since Ollie and the Huskies reached the Final Four and won the national championship on April 7, speculation of Ollie coaching in the NBA has increased. The Knicks are looking for a coach but it appears most efforts have focused on hiring Steve Kerr. Still, Ollie is thought to be among the names they would consider should Kerr not work out. The Oklahoma City Thunder, the last team for whom Ollie played, are behind in their playoff series with Memphis, so there has been rumors about that job opening.
Though Ollie, 41, has made clear his desire to stay at UConn, those are three glamorous jobs — the Knicks and Lakers because of their history, market sizes and salary they could offer, and the Thunder because Kevin Durant, one of the NBA's biggest stars, is in his prime and considers Ollie a close friend and mentor.
Mindful that Ollie would be in demand, UConn athletic director Warde Manuel said repeatedly during the NCAA Tournament that he planned to offer Ollie a new, more lucrative contract. Ollie took the UConn job in September 2012 with a seven-month contract, an "audition" of sorts. After three months he signed a five-year deal worth $7.5 million with numerous incentive clauses.
Manuel, through a school spokesman, told The Courant on Thursday there was "no update to give" regarding negotiations with Ollie. Since the Final Four, Ollie has spent much of his time on the road recruiting. Now that he is back on campus — and the NBA talk is heating up — substantive negotiations with UConn figure to begin. Meanwhile, if Ollie were to break his current contract and leave UConn during 2014, he is contractually obliged to compensate the school $2.55 million.
Ollie, born in Dallas, grew up in Los Angeles and came to UConn in 1991 after graduating from Crenshaw High. After four years playing under Jim Calhoun, he embarked on a long road to make it in the NBA, playing for several minor league teams, some in Connecticut.
He eventually made the NBA and played for 12 different franchises over 13 years. Though he was bench player, he was sought as a locker room leader and mentor. In that role, he helped LeBron James as well as Durant and others through their formative years.
In 2010 he had the opportunity to continue playing with the Thunder or move into the team's front office as an assistant GM to Sam Presti, but he decided instead to return to UConn as an assistant to Calhoun. He took over as head coach when Calhoun retired.
This career path represents an attractive resume for an NBA team to consider. Ollie has up-to-date knowledge of the league, has played for some of the top coaches in NBA history and has proved he can win as a head coach. He outmaneuvered some of the best in the profession to win the NCAA title.
So it's no surprise his name has surfaced. Names mentioned in connection with the Lakers include veteran NBA coaches George Karl and former Lakers Byron Scott and Kurt Rambis, as well as top-flight college coaches like Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and John Calipari of Kentucky, beaten by UConn in the final. Calipari moved to squelch rumors about the Lakers on Twitter: "Before it starts … I couldn't and wouldn't leave this group!" Calipari tweeted.
Since the season ended Ollie has twice said he has no intention of leaving UConn now. At the parade in Hartford on April 13, he said, "Nothing will shake me, I love this place. Like everything else, I evaluate it each and every year. I want the conditions right around my student athletes and you just never know where the NCAA is going in years to come. I want to make sure the university is doing everything possible for our student athletes to succeed. If I don't see that, maybe there's an opportunity for me to leave. It's perfect right now. I don't plan to leave."
Three days later he appeared with Gayle King on CBS's morning show and said much the same. When asked if would answer if the NBA called, he told King, "No .. not now in my life."
Ollie's wife, Stephanie, is from Connecticut. His son Jalen, a senior, played football and basketball at Glastonbury High and his daughter, Cheyenne, is in junior high school. Though the UConn job required travel, he is able to spend more time with them than he would as an NBA coach.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun