Kevin Ollie turned to leave the on-court television interview after his UConn team advanced to the Elite Eight the other night and realized he was surrounded by his players. They were goofing off and clowning around and feeling as good as their coach.
And he smacked one of them right across the face.
Now, in some situations, that’d be cause for concern, but the oh-no-he-didn’t looks and man-we-love-our-coach smiles from the rest of the players told you it was all in good fun.
Ollie has clearly left a mark on the Huskies.
No pun intended.
But that team, a seven seed that is one win from the Final Four, isn’t the only place you can see Ollie’s impact. Even though he spent only one season with the Thunder, he influenced what we see today. He provided Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and others an example of how to lead. He showed how to approach each day and every situation. He left fingerprints that are still visible.
“Huge,” Westbrook said of Ollie’s influence. “Kevin’s one of the greatest guys I know in this league.”
The Thunder has always been intentional about bringing in influential veterans, solid citizens with good character who will rub off on younger guys. Malik Rose. Desmond Mason. Joe Smith. Royal Ivey. Derek Fisher now.
But during an interview with Bill Simmons during All-Star Weekend, Durant talked glowingly about Ollie. The Thunder superstar had actually been asked about Fisher, but instead, he brought up and singled out Ollie.
“Kevin Ollie, he was a game-changer for us,” Durant said. “He changed the whole culture, I think. He might not say it, but I think he changed the whole culture in Oklahoma City.”
“His mindset, his professionalism every single day,” Durant said. “And we all watched that. We all wanted to be like that.”
And in that 2009-10 season, the Thunder was a young and impressionable bunch. I mean, it’s still a relative young squad, but then, it was extremely young. Durant and Jeff Green were in their third years, Westbrook was in his second, and Serge Ibaka and James Harden were in their first. NBA infants all.
We’ve come to know that those guys are special players who are mature (mostly) beyond their years. But back then, all of them were still learning how to be pros. How to approach the grind. How to handle the highs and lows. How to be leaders.
Ollie didn’t try to teach them those lessons.