UConn men's basketball coach Ollie distances program from ongoing national corruption probe

Published on Friday, 29 September 2017 23:11
Written by Neill Ostrout and Kyle Maher

Journal Inquirer

STORRS - UConn men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie called the arrest of 10 people, including four coaches, on bribery and corruption charges “a dark day in our great game.”

But the coach, speaking after the team’s annual preseason run around campus, insists his program complies with all NCAA rules, not to mention federal laws.

“It’s a responsibility of mine,” Ollie said. “Every day we have a meeting and I make sure we understand the rules and are abiding by the rules.”

Ollie was asked if he was ever upset over losing a recruit and suspecting that money had changed hands to impact the result.

“No, I’ll take the 2014 championship over any recruit I lost,” Ollie said, evading the question only slightly. “I’ll take the 2011 championship that I was able to be part of. I want guys that want to be here at UConn and not guys that maybe got bought or whatever. I want guys that want to be here for the tradition that we bring, for the relationship that I have with our players.”

He also refused to admit being angry that some coaches may have gotten away with cheating.

“No, it don’t make me angry at all. I just go about, do what I do,” Ollie said.

UConn athletic director David Benedict believes the NCAA has quite a burden now that is faced with a financial scandal unlike it has perhaps seen before.

“They have to send a message,” Benedict said.

And Benedict says the coaches at his school know such things

“They know I’m committed to have a culture of compliance here and living up to our expectations from that standpoint,” Benedict said. “People that knowingly violate those rules won’t be here very long. But you can’t be with everybody 24 hours a day, so people are going to be faced with making decisions and you hope that people make the right decisions.”

Benedict came to UConn in 2016 from Auburn. One of the four assistant coaches arrested and charged with corruption was Auburn’s Chuck Person, a former Tigers star.

Benedict was the Auburn athletic department’s chief operating officer from 2014-16 and worked closely with the men’s basketball program and head coach Bruce Pearl, who was hired two months after Benedict in March 2014. Benedict admits it was tough to hear of the charges against Person and the program.

“Yes, of course. You have relationships with people and you hate to see people impacted in this kind of way. I can’t speak to any of the details of what is going on there,” Benedict said. “This is my profession. This is my career. This isn’t good for anybody, regardless if you’re at one of the institutions that has been caught up in this right now.”

Though he has not been charged with a crime nor apparently the focus of an FBI investigation, Pearl has a history of NCAA violations that were known to Auburn when he was hired.

Pearl was given a three-year show-cause penalty by the NCAA in 2011 after lying to investigators about recruit Aaron Craft attending a barbecue at his home while he was Tennessee’s coach.

In reaction to Person’s issues, Auburn is offering men’s basketball fans season ticket refunds. Benedict’s former boss, Auburn AD Jay Jacobs, was already under pressure because of multiple sexual abuse allegations against the school’s former softball coach.

As it happens, Benedict’s annual staff meeting coincided with the news filtering out about the federal investigation.

“We just had an all-staff meeting and subject in that meeting was several forms that everybody in the department has to sign. And it covers a lot of these things that are coming up right now,” Benedict said.

Benedict wouldn’t speak to any specific situation but reiterated what Ollie and others know well. The head coach should bear some responsibility.

“Saying that ‘I don’t know’ is not necessarily an answer you want to hear. And when you’re a head coach it’s your responsibility to know what’s going on in your program,” Benedict said.

Calhoun decries scandal

WEST HARTFORD - Jim Calhoun spent nearly a half-century patrolling the sidelines as a college basketball coach, beginning his career at Northeastern before taking the job at UConn and leading the Huskies to three national championships.

As someone who has devoted much of his adult life to the sport, the Hall of Fame coach was devastated to learn of the latest scandal to grip the basketball landscape, the arrest of 10 people-including four coaches-on bribery and corruption charges earlier this week.

“It casts aspersions on all of us in the game,” Calhoun said. “It’s not a great thing. It’s a negative thing for all of us. … It’s a black eye on our sport.”

Posted in New Britain Herald, General Sports, UConn on Friday, 29 September 2017 23:11. Updated: Friday, 29 September 2017 23:14.