It happened in 2011. It has happened again in 2014. UConn won its second National Championship in four years on Monday night, defeating Kentucky 60-54.
First, allow me to share some thoughts about Shabazz Napier. On Monday night, Napier was heady, calm, collected and displayed leadership skills that only a four-year senior could have. He wanted the ball the entire game. He wanted to take the big shots, and every time he did, he made them. He scored 22 points to secure bookend national titles and should go down as one of the greatest players in Connecticut history. He said how hungry he and his teammates were after the game, and it really showed. I’m going to miss watching him play college basketball and can’t wait to see him make an impact at the next level.
Second, I’d like to talk about Kevin Ollie. Back in my junior year of high school, I sat and watched my brother’s JV basketball team take on a high school team that was clearly stronger. My brother’s team had no business winning that game, but they did. And, they won because their coach simply willed them to victory. He orchestrated every moment of the game and refused to let my brother’s team lose.
That’s what I thought about watching Ollie coach the Huskies last night. In his first trip to the tournament as a coach, he led the Huskies to the Final Four and a terrific championship win. He was loud and energetic on UConn’s sideline. He willed his team to work for every 50-50 ball, and you could see his intensity fueling Napier, Ryan Boatright and the entire UConn team. He ensured the athleticism of his team outlasted the strength and size of Kentucky. It is one thing to get your team hyped to play, but harnessing that intensity and controlling it for 40 minutes is another thing entirely.
“Somebody told me we were Cinderellas,” Ollie said at the postgame press conference. “I said no. We UConn. This is what we do.”
Ollie led UConn past a very good Kentucky team. That Kentucky team definitely had a great deal of strength, but it also clearly lacked experience. The Wildcats missed 11 free throws. That’s the difference in the game right there. No team with five freshman starters has ever won an NCAA title. The youth of the Wildcats betrayed them.
I would be remiss if I did not talk about the wondrous spectacle that was this year’s NCAA tournament. It was filled with upsets and intense games that made it one of the best tournaments in recent memory. UConn defeated an eight seed in the Wildcats and became the first seven seed to win the big dance. It was a truly remarkable tournament worthy of nice viewership. The discussion over paying student-athletes may soon overtake the actual athletic accomplishments of those students and ruin the chances of getting another great tournament like this one.
Kentucky’s head coach, John Calipari is centrally involved in that discussion. His ability to recruit an entire new team every year, while it might go against everything college basketball is supposed to be about, is truly amazing. He somehow managed to get his team to play together at just the right time. We’ve known that he’s a great recruiter, but now he must also be called a truly great coach. You can say he’s undercutting the system, but you can’t say he hasn’t done a terrific job.
Finally, I’d like to talk about Derek the RA. In case you haven’t heard, Derek is an RA at UConn who sent out an email to his residents on Monday afternoon, warning them not to party too hard watching their school play for the National Championship.
“Get excited if you want, but it’s not worth getting in trouble for,” he told his residents. “While you might get caught up in tonight, please remember that the night will eventually end. And no matter what the basketball team does, I’m still going to be your RA for another month.”
There aren’t enough words to describe how much of a loser Derek the RA is. I simply cannot fathom a complete lack of school spirit like that.
I hope the kids at UConn went crazy. After the school’s second title in four years, they definitely deserve it.