Ex-UConn coach Kevin Ollie returning to coaching in paid youth league

Kevin Ollie will be coaching basketball again.

Ollie will serve as head coach and director of player development for the Overtime Elite program, a group of about 30 top players ages 16-18 who will compete in a league and also play against international competition. The league is slated to begin in September and run until May, and is in the process of reaching out to top high school-aged players around the world.

“I’m ready to get back to what I was born to do — empowering and encouraging and supporting young people, and helping them grow,” Ollie said in a press release. “There’s no better place for me to do that than OTE, an extraordinary league for extraordinary young men. I consider it my mission to help these elite athletes realize their dreams.”

Ollie coached UConn for six seasons, leading UConn to 20 wins in his first season at the helm despite a postseason ban, and winning the program’s fourth national championship in his second season in 2014. However, he’s been out of the coaching game since being fired by the program on March 10, 2018, after a second straight losing season and amid allegations of NCAA violations. Ollie has been in a contentious legal battle with UConn ever since in an effort to recoup the nearly $11 million left on his contract at the time of his dismissal.

Players in the Overtime Elite league will be paid minimum $100,000 salaries and will be provided educational tutoring, as well as mentoring and other programs to prepare them for life as professionals: financial literacy, social-media etiquette, public speaking, community advocacy. A group of academic advisers and tutors will allow them to earn a diploma while also improving on the basketball court in pro-ready facilities and, hopefully, preparing for life after basketball.

The athletes would likely be ineligible to play in college since they’re being paid, unless the NCAA changes some of its rules regarding amateurism. Athletes who don’t choose a pro career and want to go to college will be provided $100,000 toward their education by OTE.

“This is the time for something like this,” said Aaron Ryan, commissioner and president of Overtime Elite, “because the platforms these young athletes are creating really do deserve to be elevated and amplified by a program like ours.”

Ryan first met Ollie at the White House as part of a contingent for USA Basketball in 2014. He and Overtime Elite head of basketball operations Brandon Williams met with Ollie several times recently at Ollie’s Miami home, talking to him about where he’s at in his life and at this stage of his career.

“He’s genuine and passionate about the game, and wants to share that with young men who are trying to forge a path in a very similar way as him,” Ryan said. “Recognizing that basketball will certainly be a part of their lives and hopefully have as long a career as he has, but also preparing them for life after basketball, which he’s demonstrated not only as a family man, but as a contributor to the game.”

Ollie played at UConn from 1992-96 before embarking on a 13-year NBA career with 11 different teams. He was hired as one of Jim Calhoun’s assistant coaches in 2010 and took over the head coaching reins after Calhoun’s abrupt retirement in September 2012.

With UConn barred from the 2013 postseason and with ostensibly “nothing to play for,” Ollie guided the Huskies to a 20-10 overall mark. The following season, led by Ollie and the heroics of Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels, UConn went 32-8 overall and stormed to its fourth national championship, beating Kentucky in the title game.

Ollie, who became just the fourth African American head coach to win a national title, defeated some of the game’s best coaches in the tournament en route to that title: Phil Martelli, Jay Wright, Fred Hoiberg, Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and John Calipari.

Things were never quite the same after that, however. After losing in the first round of the NIT the following season, UConn made a surprise run to the AAC Tournament title in 2016, earning an NCAA berth as a No. 9 seed and beating Colorado before getting clobbered by Kansas in the round of 32.

The following two seasons, UConn stumbled to 16-17 and 14-18 overall records, missing the postseason both years and hastening Ollie’s firing.

UConn fired Ollie with cause and contends that it doesn’t owe Ollie anything since he was found by the NCAA to have failed to monitor his program and not promoted an atmosphere of compliance, leading to a three-year NCAA show-cause penalty.

Ollie’s attempt to recoup the money left on his contract has gone to arbitration but is currently on hold after the original arbitrator, Marcia Greenbaum, died in January. A new arbitrator is being sought, and it could be several months before any further hearings.

He has also filed a racial discrimination suit against UConn, alleging that he was fired for things that weren’t as severe as transgressions white coaches at UConn have committed in recent years.

Ollie’s show-cause penalty with the NCAA expires in July 2022, but sources close to the coach indicate he likely wouldn’t consider coaching in college again.

For now, Ollie’s focus will be on coaching and developing some of the top young players in the world so they’ll be ready for potential future professional stardom — and beyond.

“If you followed his career, both as a player and a coach, he’s a glue guy, a culture guy,” Ryan said. “He’s played with some of the best players in the world, from Allen Iverson to Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook on that great Oklahoma City team. He was being groomed as a future coach from the early days of his playing career. Going back to a historic program, being mentored under a Hall of Famer (Calhoun), and to see him have such amazing success at the collegiate level in such a short amount of time, coaching for USA Basketball alongside Shaka Smart — he has the pedigree to work with young people and develop their game.”

david.borges@hearstmediact.com