The Rides of March. … And Beyond
Adrien thrilled for UConn and mentor Kevin Ollie
It is not surprising that the basketball highways of Kevin Ollie and Jeff Adrien have intersected.
Both Ollie and Adrien have been instrumental in building the brand that is UConn basketball.
The common ground that Ollie and Adrien share, however, ranges far beyond Storrs, Connecticut, into places where individuals of similar talent but lesser will have been unwilling to tread.
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The two players completed successful UConn careers 15 years apart, but their first National Basketball Association stints ended abruptly when they were cut by the same team, the Golden State Warriors.
Ollie had to wear the uniform of the Continental Basketball Association’s Connecticut Pride for three years before he played his first National Basketball Association regular-season game.
Adrien played 15 games for Golden State before being waived, and spent most of the 2010-11 season with the National Basketball Development League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Erie BayHawks, averaging a combined 18.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals.
Adrien made the NBDL All-Star Team and was voted the NBDL’s Impact Player of the Year by the league’s coaches after helping the Vipers to 18-4 following his acquisition from the BayHawks. He played a total of 83 NBA games with Golden State, Houston and Charlotte spanning 2010-2013 before being dealt to Milwaukee on Feb. 20, 2014, with Ramon Sessions in exchange for Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour.
The 28-year-old Adrien, through 24 games with the Bucks, was averaging 10.8 points and 7.6 rebounds in 23.9 minutes per game, more than tripling his career scoring average and more than doubling his rebounding mark.
Following the Bucks’ 104-102 loss to the Indiana Pacers on April 9, no one was taking the defeat harder than Adrien, who scored 13 points and ripped down a career-high 17 rebounds.
When Pacers Coach Frank Vogel decided to give his entire starting five the night off, Adrien took it – and the ensuing loss -- personally.
"Somebody's kind of smacking our face, sitting down their startinq five,” he said. “I was watching them before and they said they were going to rest some guys, but I didn't think they were going to rest their starting five.
“We've just got to learn from these games -- everyone, including myself.”
Adrien plays with a great deal of passion and pride, and he was feeling a lot of both for his alma mater after the UConn won their fourth national championship April 7, one night before the UConn women’s team claimed its ninth.
"My UConn pride has been supporting my guys. ... and my girls,” Adrien said. “I'm very proud of them. For both programs to do it again is big-time. That means a lot to me because I'm part of the UConn family."
Adrien became the first UConn player to amass over 1,600 points and 1,100 rebounds in a career. He ranks third in Huskies history in rebounds (1,126), sixth in games played (133), eighth in field goals (602) and 14th in scoring (1,603 points).
He considers the years he spent in Storrs - 2005 through 2009 - to be among the most vital ones in his life.
"They were very important,” Adrien said. “During those years of your life, you're making the transition in life from a boy to a young adult. I've had great coaching and great teachers to help me become that and become who I am now. I'm really thankful for that."
He takes great pride in his contributions to the UConn program and where it is today.
“Most of those guys who won that last championship (in 2012), like Kemba (Walker), I took them under my wing in my last year there,” he said. “Even Shabazz (Napier), being from about the same neighborhood I’m from (near Boston, Mass.), for him to go to UConn and become one of the top five players ever, that's unbelievable. I'm really proud of him."
Adrien was thrilled to see Ollie guide the Huskies to their latest national championship conquest in his second season as their head coach.
"K.O. is a great guy,” Adrien said. “He played with us during the offseasons back at UConn and he taught me so much before he went off to play for his teams. He helped teach us the game. He was so competitive.
“A lot of guys can talk it, but they haven't played the game like he has. Everything that his guys did on the court in the tournament mimics what he did as a player."
Adrien wasn’t surprised to see what Ollie has achieved as a coach.
"He's had great coaching, starting off with Coach (Jim) Calhoun and then Larry Brown, along with a lot of other NBA coaches who coached him,” Adrien said. “He played with stars like Ray Allen, A.I. (Allen Iverson), LeBron (James) and Kevin Durant. He's seen it all."
Adrien also realizes the similarities between Ollie’s career and his own, aside from the fact that both have work Bucks uniforms.
"He and I have that similarity that we don't take no for an answer,” Adrien said. “We push ourselves day-in and day-out. Every day, people are going to doubt us or judge K.O. and I, maybe say I'm too small.
“We both have a chip on our shoulders -- me on the court and him now on the sideline. He's proven everyone wrong on the basketball court and in the coaching box."
Adrien, like Ollie, has learned what it means to be relentless, especially in difficult times when quitting would have been an easy option.
"If I ever had that time, it was when I went undrafted,” Adrien said. “I had to step my game up to get to where I wanted to be. I did that.
“After that, it was a learning experience, and I've just kept grinding. And I refuse to take no for an answer."
The other common trait that Ollie and Adrien share is their Christian faith.
“God has blessed both of us,” Adrien said. “He's given us the talent to do what we do, and we're both hard workers.”