Now comes the hard part. The Huskies' season ended abruptly with their 63-59 overtime victory over Providence at Gampel Pavilion on Saturday, and with the end of the season, no Big East or NCAA Tournament to play, the cloud that has been hanging over the program the past couple of years is lifted.
The Huskies aren't looking at an off-season of coaching uncertainty, or anticipating any wave of transfers. The program awaits decisions from Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatrght and DeAndre Daniels regarding the NBA draft, but unlike a year ago when Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb were deciding, none of this year's group is a lock to leave.
"Hopefully this group will stay together," Ollie said, "because the future is so bright."
The NCAA sanctions and academic penalties are in the rearview mirror, and with the cloud, any rationale for losing also disappears. Ollie and his coaching staff will be hitting the recruiting trail, perhaps looking for one more player to come in next year. But they certainly have an eye toward loading up for 2014 and beyond, with higher hopes, but also higher expectations. Though UConn's future conference affiliation is uncertain, stability will be the theme of Ollie's future pitches, along with the new training facility that will be slowly rising from the vacant ground next to Gampel Pavilion over the next 15 months.
"We're going to take a negative and make it a positive," Ollie said. "Our approach is going to have to change. Our recipe is going to be the same, the recipe for success that we've had is not going to change, but our approach is going to have to change."
Time was, Jim Calhoun was able to attract players from all over the country – including Ollie, from Los Angeles in 1991 – to UConn's rural campus by selling the chance to play in the Big East Conference, against the teams they were seeing deep in the tournament every year. Eventually, he attracted enough of them for UConn to pass all those teams, and win seven league titles and three national titles.
Now, it will be the opposite. Assuming UConn is to remain in the yet-to-be-named conference that will include Cincinnati, South Florida, Central Florida, Tulane, Memphis, SMU, Houston, Temple, et al, Ollie will be selling the UConn brand and the tradition it represents whatever conference it is in. Ollie envisions fast-but-tough teams, "like a Ferrari and a Mack truck," donning UConn jerseys in the coming years.
"Keep counting us out," Ollie said, after UConn's 20th win, "and we're going to keep coming back because that's what we're about, that toughness that Coach Calhoun started. We're standing on something that's solid, and we are going to build this brick by brick, and we're not going to skip any steps."
This sense of stability would not be there if Ollie had not done what he has done since taking over for the retiring Calhoun on Sept. 13. He accepted a seven month contract, an audition, and he held together a team decimated by transfers. The Huskies won nearly all the games they were "supposed" to, and a few they weren't; they played interesting, exciting basketball that kept them relevant and always presented an attractive picture, for recruits and potential nonconference opponents, when the nation was paying attention - at Ramstein Air Base with the win over Michigan State on Nov. 9, and with the win over Syracuse, when players surrounded Ollie during his postgame interview. Ollie got his five-year extension on Dec. 29.
"UConn really instills a lot of heart and pride in the program," said Boatright, who, Ollie noted with pride, didn't miss a practice all year. "You know nobody expected anything from us this year and we could've easily rolled over and died plenty of times."
If Napier, Daniels and Boatright all stay, with recruits Amida Brimah, Kentan Facey and Terrence Samuel coming in, UConn will certainly be ranked at the start. UConn will be expected to contend for the championship in the new league, and with Louisville staying one more year, and Memphis and Temple coming in, it will be a competitive conference. There will be Final Four dreaming in Connecticut all over again. Even if one, two or all three players leave, the Huskies will be playing for a postseason berth and expected to attain it.
This team played loose and free, with nothing to lose. That mind-set will not be as easy to maintain when there are postseason seedings and goals at stake, and opponents will be circling UConn as a team to beat.
But the day after, Year One of the Kevin Ollie era can be savored as an unqualified success. The Huskies of 2012-13 did all that anyone could ask of them, and because they did, much more will be asked in the future.
"I just can't wait," Ollie said. "It's going to be a great ride."