MIAMI (AP) LeBron James remembers just about every detail from his days playing alongside Kevin Ollie in Cleveland, including that the newly crowned coach of the NCAA champions wore No. 12.
And James is thrilled that now Ollie is No. 1.
Even though he’s professed to rooting for Kentucky at times in the past and has a close relationship with Wildcats coach John Calipari, James raved on Tuesday about the job Ollie did while leading Connecticut to the national title. UConn topped Kentucky 60-54 on Monday night for the title, one that came in Ollie’s second season on the sideline.
”I’ve got a lot of respect and I’m very, extremely happy,” James said before he and the Miami Heat played the Brooklyn Nets. ”Even though I have a lot of Kentucky connections, with Coach Cal a very good friend of mine, I was in a win-win situation and I was extremely happy for K.O. I think it was big time.”
James and Ollie were teammates in 2003-04, James’ first season in the NBA. Ollie signed with the Cavaliers as a free agent just a couple weeks after James inked his rookie deal after being taken No. 1 overall in that year’s draft.
”You could tell he had that coaching gene in him,” James said. ”Obviously, he helped us out on the floor but I think more than anything in the locker room and off the floor is where I benefited most from being around him. He just had that professionalism that you cannot get from first-, second- or third-year guys. He still looks the same in a suit on the sideline coaching for the Huskies as he did for us wearing No. 12.”
James has followed Ollie’s time at UConn closely, shaking his head at the notion that the Huskies originally gave him only a one-year contract and essentially told him to prove himself in a season where his team was banned from the postseason because of academic-related sanctions.
A year later, Ollie is no longer doubted and the Huskies are the national champs. To get there, Ollie led his team past ones coached by not only Calipari – who James thinks will remain at Kentucky despite speculation otherwise – but also Saint Joseph’s Phil Martelli, Villanova’s Jay Wright, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Florida’s Billy Donovan, a veritable who’s-who of sideline bosses in the college game.
Ollie has 52 wins in his coaching career. Those six coaches he topped in this NCAA tournament have 2,369 combined.
”When you’re doubted, that can be very powerful,” James said. ”Obviously, K.O. was doubted and their team was doubted and once they got the confidence which was instilled by K.O., giving them that confidence. … When you combine talent with confidence, it can do some spectacular things, which resulted in a national championship for the Huskies.”