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Kevin Ollie Building A Winner

Ian Bethune

STORRS, Conn. – When Kevin Ollie watches his basketball team practice he doesn’t just see talented players on the court, but endless lineup possibilities.

One of the things the fifth-year UConn head coach looks for when recruiting players is versatility and this year’s roster appears to be brimming with it, particularly in the freshmen class.

“That’s what I have been wanting to build,” Ollie said. “This is a good class to build.”

The Huskies slam dunked their Class of 2016 – which ranks ninth overall - with five players ranked in the top 150, led by point guard Alterique Gilbert (34th), forward Juwan Durham (47th), forward Vance Jackson (80th), power forward Mamadou Diarra (133rd) and late-addition guard Christian Vital (145th).

Since Ollie took over as head coach, the Huskies have gotten it done in the classroom and on the court. They had to take some chances by bringing in new, but experienced, players, restocking the roster with transfers, which mostly have been ready-to-play fifth-year seniors.

The Huskies have brought in quality freshmen, but in relatively small numbers, with Daniel Hamilton, who left after two years and was drafted by Oklahoma City in June, and current sophomore point guard Jalen Adams atop the list.

Now they've started winning on the recruiting front in numbers as well.

“Of course we had a decline in recruiting when we went through the ban and different things like that,” Ollie said. “That kind of threw us off on recruiting just a little bit and everybody knew that. But to get in and really do our job recruiting I want to really thank my coaching staff for going out there and spending tireless days on the road. There’s a lot of things they have to go through to get recruits and the first thing is being accessible, being there through all the ups and downs, the phone calls.

“I think I have the best coaching staff in America to allow this group of recruits to come in.”

Associate head coach Glen Miller and assistants Ricky Moore and Karl Hobbs, now the associate head coach at Rutgers, helped reel in the latest class.

Hobbs' departure led to the hiring of former Temple assistant Dwayne Killings prior to the summer recruiting periods. The Huskies are already on firm ground for the Class of 2017, with Killings already making an impact.

UConn currently ranks eighth overall for next year’s class with point guard Makai Ashton-Langford (40th), combo forward Tyler Polley (83rd) and forward/center Josh Carlton all committing within the last month.

“If you have two top-10, top-5 classes, it really gives you a nice push recruiting,” said Ollie, who is not yet permitted to comment on the 2017 recruits due to NCAA rules. “And a nice stable base going forward and that’s kind of really what we put our heads down to. We weren’t going to be satisfied with two top-10 classes and not back that up.”

Since the Huskies have a solid 2017 foundation coming in, it also allows the coaching staff to do some big-game hunting with some of the top recruits. The two players who top UConn’s wish list are 6-foot-11 forward Mohamed Bamba (fourth) and shooting guard Hamidou Diallo (10th), who played high school ball at Putnam Science Academy with Diarra.

While both players have been rumored to be “one-and-done” players that hasn’t curbed the Huskies interested in either one.

Ollie has yet to have a freshman come in for only one season and leave for the NBA. The only Husky to do it was Andre Drummond, who stayed for the 2011-12 campaign under Jim Calhoun.

“I’d love it,” Ollie said, with a chuckle about landing one of those type players. “Whatever I have I’m going to make adjustments. If that’s a lot of four-year guy, we’re going to play with those guys. If it’s a one and done guy, we are going to make adjustments to that. I think our university and the resources that we have around our players will lend us to do that. So if that’s coming in and playing one year, they are going to establish some things that they can take with them so they can be successful basketball players, and most importantly, successful people. That’s what we try to hang our hat on.”

NOTES: Senior Amida Brimah won the Husky Run (3.1-mile race) on Wednesday in a time of 21:59. Freshman Vance Jackson, Ollie, senior Kentan Facey, sophomore Steven Enoch rounded out the top five. Adams sat out the run with a sore hip. … UConn holds its first practice on Saturday. … Ollie said Durham (two ACL injuries) is cleared to go as the team heads into its daily practices. Gilbert (shoulder) is also able to practice without limitations.