For a short time, Kevin Ollie was back on a basketball court Sunday, shouting himself hoarse, clapping vigorously as players dribbled past him.
The controversies of the last five months seemed far from his mind.
“It’s been a difficult time,” he said, during a break, “but it’s been a great time in my life, too, if you can have both.”
Ollie’s work on behalf of athletes with disabilities, through the 21st Century Tolland Fund and the Kevin’s Kourts he is helping to build – there are five now – goes on. His charity golf tournament is Monday at Foxwoods’ Lake of Isles, and a free clinic for about 80 kids at Gales Ferry School is part of the weekend events.
In his first interview with state reporters since March 8, the day the UConn men’s basketball season ended in the AAC Tournament, Ollie declined comment on the drawn-out contract dispute with the university, which began disciplinary proceedings to terminate his employment for “just cause” on March 10, or the NCAA’s investigation into the program. The haggling over the more than $10 million he is owed on his contract goes on, arbitration the next step. Last week, he missed Jim Calhoun’s Charity All-Star Game, which reunited former Huskies, his teammates and members of the 2014 NCAA championship team he coached.
“I don’t want to talk about UConn, Coach Calhoun or any of that,” Ollie said. “The family was there, and that’s the most important thing. They know I love everybody who was at the game. I love ’em. I’m still in contact with them. Our biggest job as coaches is not just when they’re in school. The bigger job is when they get out of school, and when they need you, they can call upon you. I make myself available to all of them.”
Eventually, the dispute with UConn will be over, and perhaps wounds will heal. In the meantime, Ollie, 45, is devoting time to his children as he figures out what comes next in his career.
“I love working with kids,” Ollie said. “I loved being at UConn [as assistant and head coach] for eight years. I loved being in the NBA and being coached. I’m just really open, staying positive. The first and foremost thing is to spend some time with my kids. I think they really need me right now. That’s my boss right now. They’re telling me where to go, where to be at.”
His son Jalen is playing football at Fordham, shifting to wide receiver, and Ollie was able to get to a recent scrimmage. His daughter Cheyenne is looking at colleges.
“Both being seniors, one in college, one in high school, I think it’s a vital time for me,” Ollie said. “I’ve always sacrificed my time pursing my career. It’s time for me to just give it all to them. That’s what I’m going to do the next couple of months.”
Ollie said he has some real estate ventures on the table and is interested in working on TV. He went to Las Vegas to watch NBA Summer League games in July, perhaps renewing some of his old contacts in the NBA, in which he played 13 years. His name was often connected to NBA jobs when he was at the height of his success at UConn, and he didn’t rule out returning to basketball somewhere during the upcoming season.
“I’m always going to stay in coaching. That’s my passion,” Ollie said. “I’m going to see what the future holds for me. I have a lot of connections, people that are rooting for me. I’m going to take it all in stride and see where my heart leads me. I do not want to get into something that I don’t have my whole heart in.”
Steve Emt, Ollie’s former Huskies teammate and longtime friend, who competed in curling at the Paralympic Games last year, was with him on the court Sunday, his booming voice filling the gym as the kids went through drills.
“This is very near and dear to his heart,” Emt said. “… If there’s anybody in the world you don’t have to worry about, it’s Kevin Ollie. He’s doing fantastic. He’s going to end up where he wants to end up when the time is right.”
Ollie said nothing has changed about his relationship with Connecticut, where he has made a home since coming to UConn as a student and player from Los Angeles in 1991. He’s not moving away, not slowing down on his non-basketball activities, such as building the Kevin’s Kourts or raising money — roughly $1.3 million to date — to provide opportunities for athletes with disabilities. The newest Kevin’s Kourt is at the Channel 3 Kids Camp in Eastern Connecticut.
In these five months, though, since what he had called his “dream job” ended badly, he has done some soul searching.
“Just patience,” Ollie said. “Keep pushing for my goals, understanding patience, understanding it’s about self-love. Everybody’s not going to be there by your side, but you have to be by your side and understand who the true friends are in your circle. That’s what I’ve been really learning about myself.”
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