Oklahoma City Thunder: How Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie helped build the Thunder culture

The Thunder has always been intentional about bringing in influential veterans. But during an interview with Bill Simmons during All-Star Weekend, Kevin Durant talked glowingly about Kevin Ollie, who he said helped change the team’s culture.
by Jenni Carlson Published: March 29, 2014

He showed them.

“He’s a great role model,” Westbrook said. “He did a great job of coming in here and helping us become leaders, myself and Kevin. Just taught us a lot of things.”

Consistency was one of the biggest lessons.

“Regardless of what was going on,” Westbrook said, “he kept a positive attitude and taught us to do the same.”

Remember, those were tough times. The Thunder was coming off a 23-win campaign in its first season in Oklahoma City. P.J. Carlesmo had been fired. Scott Brooks had been hired. The franchise was trying to find its footing in the league and in a new city.

But Ollie never wavered. He bought into the the Thunder Way. He embraced the process.

A couple years back, our man Darnell Mayberry caught up with a bunch of the veterans who’d come through Thunder U. Ollie, who was then an assistant to Jim Calhoun at UConn, said, “What I always really tried to push to them is just believing in one another and fighting and always taking the stairs and not the escalator. Our world is so built on immediate gratification. You want everything immediately. But for us to be a great team, we got to take our time and we got to put the hard work in because that’s what successful people do. They do what unsuccessful people don’t want to do.”

Take the stairs, not the escalator.

Sage words.

Ollie ingrained those types of things in the Thunder then, and Durant and Westbrook are among those who believe Ollie changed the culture that we see now.

That might be a tad too generous. I mean, Nick Collison, Durant and Westbrook are the longest-tenured members of this team, and all three of them are relentless workers. Driven. Focused. You have to think that through their influence, they would’ve created a successful culture for this franchise.

But still, they had lessons to learn, and Ollie was a great teacher.

“Everybody that comes through now, there’s a standard you’ve got to live up to as a Thunder player,” Durant said back on All-Star Weekend. “And that started with Kevin Ollie.”

The boys in blue are better because of him.

And we don’t just mean the ones in UConn uniforms.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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