Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun announced his retirement Thursday after winning 873 games with the Huskies and Northwestern. Before Calhoun took over in Storrs, UConn never had produced a first-round NBA draft pick or a consensus All-American. The Huskies had reached the NCAA regional semifinals just three times before Calhoun was hired in 1986.
Calhoun leaves behind a powerhouse program that has won three national championships. He also leaves behind a complicated legacy of NCAA sanctions, a depleted roster and a program in the hands of a first-time head coach, Kevin Ollie.
So what do the next five seasons look like for UConn without Calhoun? Our panel answers.
What’s in store for UConn in the next five seasons?
Kevin Ollie will stick around and succeed.
UConn basketball is in good hands with Kevin Ollie. The 39-year-old starred for the Huskies from 1991-95, despite being under-recruited out of Crenshaw (Calif.) High School. Ollie then worked his way from the CBA to the NBA, where he played 13 seasons — highlighted by a trip to the 2001 NBA Finals as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers. During his NBA career, Ollie was known for his defense and dependability. He learned from championship coaches like Larry Brown and Chuck Daly, and played alongside Hall of Fame talents like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Allen Iverson and Reggie Miller. Calhoun called Ollie back to Storrs in 2010. And after two years on the bench, Ollie is sliding over to the big chair as the heir to a three-time NCAA champion. Although Ollie has no prior head coaching experience and his ability to manage late-game situations is still unknown, all signs point to this being a home run hire for UConn. Ollie is a renowned leader who was rumored to be coveted for the "coaching fast track" by Thunder GM Sam Presti — a guy known for his eye for young talent — after retiring from the NBA. And Ollie's work ethic cannot be questioned; he made millions of dollars as an NBA grinder working on a series of one-year deals. The Huskies' hire is a young, energetic UConn alum who has done nothing but overachieve his entire life. The Huskies' proud basketball tradition will continue under Kevin Ollie.
David Fox (@DavidFox615):
Ollie is a transitional figure, but UConn’s long-term future is safe.
I view Connecticut’s long-term future similar to that of Arizona. Before Lute Olson, the Wildcats never did much of anything on the basketball landscape before Olson turned Arizona into a NBA player factory and the premier program out West after UCLA. Like UConn, Arizona had a handful of off-court issues and an awkward coaching handoff to Kevin O’Neill and Russ Pennell. All Arizona needed to do was hire the right coach, Sean Miller, to bring Arizona back to prominence. UConn should be an attractive enough job to make a home run hire when Ollie’s one-year contract is up. I’m thinking about Brad Stevens or Shaka Smart, maybe Dan Hurley from Wagner, or even a established major-program coach like Matt Painter or Buzz Williams. Bottom line, UConn should be able to weather this storm and in five seasons be back among the Big East elite.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch):
UConn is not guaranteed a spot atop of the college basketball world.
We have learned in recent years that very few college basketball programs are immune to a bad season — or seasons. Kentucky played in the NIT in 2009, one year after sneaking into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed. North Carolina played in the NIT in 2010 after winning only five games in the ACC. UCLA has missed the NCAAs in two of the past three seasons. And Indiana just recently snapped a three-year NCAA Tournament draught. The point? Success is not guaranteed in college basketball — even for the so-called elite programs. UConn can’t afford to get this wrong. If Kevin Ollie struggles in his one guaranteed season as the head coach, the school likely will look to make a big splash and lure Brad Stevens from Butler, Shaka Smart from VCU or another big-name coach. That, however, might be very difficult. UConn is a great program that has enjoyed tremendous success, but it has only been great under one man — Jim Calhoun. It’s difficult to consider a program elite if it hasn’t won championships under more than one regime. Big-time coaches who are in comfortable situations might not perceive UConn to be a destination job. It’s been proven you can win at the school, but it’s a not a given. Any competent coach can win to some degree at places like UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, etc. UConn, however, is a notch below those blue-blood programs. Don’t be surprised if the Huskies slip a few notches down the college basketball food chain in the next decade.
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