Kevin Ollie’s case is looking bleak
STORRS — Toward the end of his first practice as coach of the UConn basketball team, Dan Hurley was barking encouragement at his perspiration-drenched players. They were doing wind sprints. Side court to side court, again and again.
Suddenly, Hurley turned toward one end of Werth Family Champions Center and hoisted a basketball from behind midcourt.
About 60 feet later, swish. Really. Swish.
Is that Hurley practice routine?
“It is,” Hurley said. “Like Jalen Adams from a couple years ago, right? I’ll do that occasionally just to remind them I scored 1,000 points in the real Big East.”
There was a profound sense of transition Saturday. We’re not only talking about the fruits of the new coach’s penchant for hellfire defense. Nor are we only talking about a coach with a biting sense of humor vs. one who spoke in parables and escalators.
We’re talking about an end and a beginning for UConn basketball.
The beginning, hardcore, no-nonsense was easy to see. Hurley, who uses no whistle, extended a practice intended for two hours by 20 minutes. He wanted them to get matters right. Evidently, Jim Calhoun had stopped by earlier and liked what he saw.
The feeling of the end — oh, that hit even harder Friday night. There was news first reported by ESPN that Kevin Ollie and UConn have received a notice of
allegations of recruiting and various other violations. Most importantly, there is a Level I charge against Ollie for violating the NCAA principles of ethical conduct for providing false or misleading information to the school and NCAA enforcement staff. In short, liar, liar, 10 toes on fire.
The NCAA didn’t believe Ollie when he denied to its investigators that he had not planned or arranged FaceTime calls with Ray Allen and Rudy Gay. Look, this was not the end of the world. Ray didn’t give recruit Hamidou Diallo — whom sources confirm as being on the other end of the call — $50,000. Still, Allen and Gay are considered representatives of the school’s athletic interest and it’s definite a no-no.
Getting caught lying about it, however, would be classified as fabulously stupid. After the national basketball scandal of September 2017, the NCAA made it clear it would come down hard on violators and was in no mood to accommodate truth-benders. It never has been a good year to lie, but good grief, this is the wrong year to be Pinocchio.
The NCAA also alleged Ollie falsely denied he knew that Derek Hamilton, a trainer and a friend Ollie allowed into his inner circle, had arranged improper workouts in Atlanta with players. While more serious than Ray talking to Diallo on FaceTime at Ollie’s house during a team meal, it certainly was not stop-the-presses horrible.
But the NCAA, like the feds, hates if it feels it isn’t getting the truth. Hates it. So it’s Level I. That’s bad, folks. Let’s put it this way: Forget Hurley’s 60-foot shot Saturday. Unless he hits a full-court shot with the arbitrator or the NCAA hearing panel, Kevin Ollie is screwed.
The arbitrator in this dispute with UConn must choose between more than $10 million remaining on Ollie’s contract or nothing. Today, I’m betting on the goose egg.
ESPN has been Radio Free Ollie since the day he was fired by UConn with cause in March. Ollie’s camp didn’t bother giving a statement to the state media that day, going exclusively to ESPN. Since then it has spoken first to ESPN repeatedly. And why not?
The effective result had been a pro-Ollie spin from Bristol for months. Outside the state, the narrative is that Ollie got a couple of parking tickets and UConn concocted a vicious smear campaign. In the end, however, Ollie may have won the national PR battle and lost $10 million.
Would UConn have fired Ollie for just cause if he was coming off the 2014 national championship instead of two dismal seasons and no real signs of improvement? Of course not.
Yet who beyond Ollie and his fervent supporters would read the clause in Ollie’s contract and deny UConn could end his employment for virtually any violations it saw fit?
It was that wide gap between the spirit of the deal and the absolute letter of the contract that led me to call for a negotiated settlement. But now? Why would UConn negotiate? If you’re a state taxpayer, you’re probably applauding UConn for patiently, quietly waiting for the NCAA notice of allegations. That’s $10 million worth of cold calculation, folks.
Ollie’s bud Boo Willingham hanging around too close, Hamilton and his training shenanigans, Danny Griffin and his LA connections — KO appeared to pull his trusted circle tight and get sloppy in the process. UConn took all the little pinpricks and a few gouges and did a good job of convincing the NCAA that Ollie had failed to promote compliance. Level III complaints became a number of Level IIs.
Ollie’s guys already had all the rebuttals lined up for ESPN nearly as soon as the NCAA released its notice. UConn evidently was still looking at redactions when the report broke. Hamilton said Ollie was on vacation with his family overseas and didn’t even know he housed Terry Larrier and Jalen Adams in Atlanta, fed them, given them local transportation and free basketball training sessions.
The NCAA alleged that Griffin, former director of student-athlete development, had some impermissible contact with a few recruits, including one at a high school. Griffin told ESPN he wasn’t at a game in question, because his sister was dying of cancer at the time. He told ESPN that Glen Miller had a vendetta against Ollie.
The question is why would Miller, fired by Ollie and granted limited immunity by the NCAA, lie? Griffin told ESPN he has text messages from Miller looking for phone numbers and information that he’s ready to spill. That’s threatening ugliness, but phone numbers and information aren’t the same as using him to recruit.
Desperate times may bring desperate actions.
Is UConn totally in the clear? Maybe. Maybe not. I wouldn’t be shocked if the school got hit by some limited recruiting for a year or even a loss of one recruit. Yet with lawyers’ fees, PR fees, divorce settlement, if I humbly could give KO a piece of career advice: Get a job on an NBA coaching staff or front office ASAP. Put this behind you.
Asked whether his players had been caught up in all this, Hurley answered, “I haven’t heard a whisper … These guys are completely oblivious. They care for Kevin and the staff they played for, but they are focused on the season.”
Hurley said the staff was more engaged because it was busy recruiting and wanted to keep people calm. Akok Akok, publicly down to five schools, is believed to be learning toward Syracuse or UConn.
ESPN cited sources close to the investigation that said multiple witnesses refute the NCAA claims that there was any sort of prepared call between Allen and Diallo. The NCAA interviewed all sorts of people. Hundreds of hours of interviews. So unless Ray Allen and Rudy Gay are ready to step forward and say they were just calling Ollie to wish him a Merry Christmas and Diallo happened to be there, wow, KO is going to need a magic full-court shot to avoid $0 from the arbitrator.
UConn coach Dan Hurley addresses the media after his team’s first practice Saturday in Storrs.