GALES FERRY — It’s not like Kevin Ollie has been leading a Howard Hughes-like existence for the past five months.
He’s gone out to Las Vegas to catch some NBA summer league games, done dinner with Niels Giffey, worked on some real-estate ventures and his charity work. Most importatly, he’s spent quality time with his kids — catching his son, Jalen, a senior receiver at Fordham, play in a scrimmage on Saturday and taking his daughter, Cheyenne, a senior at Glastonbury High, around New England to look at colleges.
“That’s the one I don’t want to see leave the house,” Ollie, with a smile, said of his daughter.
But Ollie has largely been out of the public eye since being fired as UConn’s head coach on March 10. He even skipped the Jim Calhoun Charity Game for the first time in recent memory last week, missing the biennial opportunity to catch up with his former players, teammates, coaches and other members of the “UConn family” at Mohegan Sun Arena.
“But the family was there, that’s the most important thing,” Ollie noted. “They know I love everybody that was at that game and participated.”
On Sunday, Ollie was back in the public eye and talking to the media for the first time since the Huskies were unceremoniously bounced from the first round of the AAC tournament back on March 8 in Orlando, Florida. After emphatically stating he expected to be back at the helm after that game, he was fired for “just cause” two days later.
Ollie hosted his annual youth basketball clinic at Gales Ferry Elementary School, and while he wasn’t in the mood to discuss anything UConn-related, he gave an update on how he’s doing and, perhaps, where he’s going.
“It’s been a difficult time, but it’s also been a very great time in my life, if you can have both,” Ollie told reporters. “It’s a passion of mine to continue to coach, to continue to coach my kids to be the best human beings they can possibly be. Having a moment to exhale a little bit has been great.”
Indeed, Ollie noted that his kids have always sacrificed getting to spend time with him over his 13-year NBA career and eight years as a UConn coach, the last six as head coach. Now, he’s making up for lost time.
“I think it’s time for me to really give it all to them,” he said. “That’s what I’m gonna do in the next couple of months.”
Still, Ollie added, “I’m always gonna stay in coaching — that’s my passion.” And that was obvious on Sunday, as he directed the more than 80 kids at the clinic through drills with the same energy he directed UConn practices the past six seasons.
Where will that passion take him? Another college program? The NBA? Somewhere else?
“I’m not sure. I love working with kids,” he said. “I loved being at UConn for eight years. I loved being in the NBA and being coached when I was in the NBA. I’m just being open, staying positive, thinking about the things I need to do in the future. The first and foremost thing is to spend some time with my kids. I think they really need me right now, and that’s what I really focus on. That’s my boss right now. They’re telling me where to go, where to be at, and I’m just paying attention and following directions.”
With college basketball practices starting in about a month and NBA training camps just around the corner, it would seem unlikely Ollie would be coaching in either venue this season.
“Who knows?,” he said, with a smile. “Don’t hold me to that. I’m really just taking one day at a time, concentrating on my kids. Maybe there’ll be some TV commentating down the road. But I’m not really fielding any offers right now.”
“I just want to see what the future holds for me. I have a lot of connections, a lot of people rooting for me. I’m just gonna take it all in stride, see where my heart leads me. I don’t want to get into something I don’t have my whole heart in.”
Ollie said he still feels plenty of love when he’s out and about around Connecticut — “that hasn’t changed; I love this state” — and appreciated his many former teammates and players saying they wished he could have attended Calhoun’s charity game on Aug. 10.
“I love them. I’m always in contact with them, I’m gonna continue to be in contact with them. Our job as coaches isn’t when they’re at school. Our biggest job is when they get out of school, and when they need you, they can call you. I try to make myself available to all of them.”
Steve Emt, Ollie’s former UConn teammate who recently competed in curling at the Paralympics, isn’t worried that Ollie will land on is feet.
“If there’s anybody in the world you don’t have to worry about, it’s Kevin Ollie,” Emt said. “Just the type of person he is. Everything happens for a reason, we’ve learned that. He’s doing fantastic, I have no worries. He’s gonna end up where he wants to end up when the time is right, the position is right, the situation is right. He’s not gonna rush anything. He’s got great kids that he’s spending time with now, so there’s no worry in my mind that he’ll end up in the right position.”
Emt, a Celtics fan who joked that he’d love to see Ollie on their staff, added that seeing some of the negativity surrounding Ollie’s firing and subsequent fight for the more than $10 million left on his contract hasn’t been easy.
“It’s tough to see anybody that I went through UConn with, their name being out there in any negative light whatsoever,” he said. “The word ‘accusations’ — that’s a tough one. It’s a tough business. I’m not privy to what went down, I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But I know he’s a fighter, he’s fought all his life, coming from California to Coach Calhoun’s practices. It does hurt a little bit, but he’s an incredible person, an incredible man, he’s gonna come out on top, no matter what.”
So there was Ollie on Sunday, alongside Emt, coaching kids at basketball while continuing to his considerable work with charity. The annual Kevin Ollie Charity Golf Classic will tee off on Monday morning at Lake of Isles in North Stonington, and all money raised will go toward the Tolland Fun, which has benefited more than 22,000 people with disabilities in Connecticut.
“It means everything to me,” said Ollie. “It helps Connecticut, it helps adaptive athletes still take a shot. That’s our whole mission, to give every kid a shot.”
The fifth edition of Kevin’s Kourts — basketball courts designed for people with disabilities — will soon open at the Channel 3 Kids Camp in Andover. The project resonates with Emt.
“What he’s doing with Kevin’s Kourts, anybody can be out there and be included and feel important. Because a lot of people who are newly injured have so many questions — how am I gonna fit in, who’s gonna take care of me? These courts are a place where everybody can go and feel like they’re part of a group and feel included.”
“He’ll never stop giving back,” Emt added about his “brother” and former UConn teammate, now estranged from his alma mater. “That’s the type of person he is.”