The Detroit Pistons are two weeks into the their head coach search, and strong candidates have emerged.
Milwaukee Bucks assistant coach Charles Lee, New Orleans Pelicans assistant Jarron Collins and former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie have stood out and are expected to make the team’s second round of interviews, league sources confirmed to the Free Press this week. They interviewed with the Pistons via Zoom last week and should visit for an in-person interview round.
The Pistons are angling toward hiring a younger, unproven coach compared to their previous two — Dwane Casey, who was 61 at the time of his hire, and Stan Van Gundy, who was 54. Both had held multiple NBA head coaching jobs prior. Lee, Collins and Ollie would all be first-time NBA head coaches. Ollie, 50, is the oldest; Collins is 44 and Lee 38.
Ollie has a unique resume, as he hasn’t held a head coaching position since UConn fired him with just cause in 2018. He was most recently Overtime Elite’s head of coaching and basketball development. We broke down Lee and Collins earlier this week. Now, let’s take a look at Ollie.
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Culture-changer during lone season in OKC
After a standout playing career at UConn from 1991-95, Ollie played two seasons for the Connecticut Pride — a member of the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association — before signing with the Dallas Mavericks in 1997. His NBA career lasted 13 seasons and played for 12 different franchises.
Ollie’s final stop was with the Thunder, where Pistons general manager Troy Weaver was an assistant GM. While Ollie didn’t play much, his veteran leadership was integral for a young team that, in its second season in Oklahoma City after moving from Seattle, jumped from 23 wins to 50 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. In 2014, Kevin Durant credited Ollie for changing their culture.
“Kevin Ollie, he was a game-changer for us,” Durant told Bill Simmons. “He changed the whole culture, I think. He might not say it, but I think he changed the whole culture in Oklahoma City.
“(Ollie’s) mindset, his professionalism, every single day. And we all watched that, we all wanted to be like that, and it rubbed off on Russell (Westbrook), myself, Jeff Green, James Harden. And you know, everybody that comes through now, there’s a standard you’ve got to live up to as a Thunder player. And that started with Kevin Ollie.”
In 2015, a year after Ollie led UConn to a national title, he was a frontrunner for the Thunder’s head coaching vacancy before removing his name from the search.
Highs and lows at UConn
Ollie succeeded his former coach, Jim Calhoun, as head coach of UConn in 2012 after two seasons as an assistant. Two of his first big wins were against Michigan State — he defeated the 14th ranked Spartans, 66–62 in Germany in his first game, and then again the next season to advance to the 2014 Final Four.
The Huskies defeated Kentucky to become the first No. 7 seed to win the tournament. Ollie signed a new five-year contract a month later. But UConn was unable to sustain success, qualifying for the tournament once over the next four seasons. Ollie was fired March 10, 2018 after an NCAA investigation revealed multiple rules violations.
But Ollie filed a grievance and later successfully sued UConn for wrongful termination. In January 2022, an arbitrator ruled the school owed him the remaining $11 million left on his contract. That September, UConn agreed to pay him an additional $3.9 million.
According to ESPN, the most severe rule Ollie broke was setting up phone calls between UConn alums Ray Allen, Rudy Gay and a top recruit. He was also accused of misleading NCAA officials about the calls.
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Overtime Elite gave him his foray back to coaching
Ollie joined Overtime Elite — a professional basketball league and academy for players between the ages of 16 and 20 — in 2021. He departed in March.
In a New York Times story published in November, Ollie said he was “exactly where he needed to be.” Overtime Elite has given up-and-coming prospects an alternate path to the NBA outside of college basketball. Two prospects out of the program, Amen and Ausar Thompson, are expected to be lottery picks in this upcoming draft.
“I always was a facilitator,” Ollie said in the story. “That was always just my nature. When I played, I wanted to get the assist instead of the basket. I wanted to give more than I wanted to receive.”
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Contact Omari Sankofa II at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.