Being a college basketball coach is not the easiest job these days. Yes, many coaches make a lot of money, but the demands of the job can be a bit unforgiving at times. There is much more to it than simply running practice, drawing up a game plan and then coaching the game. While we have seen numerous instances of this over the years, and they always give us a reason to pause for perspective, Friday provided us with three more of them all at once.
A couple of them have been developing stories, thus they didn’t come out of left field. The third did, though, and it is one that really shouldn’t be part of the news cycle, but gets out there in the open and thus gets discussed.
On Friday, Cincinnati announced that Mick Cronin will advise the team the rest of the season, almost like a general manager instead of a coach, while he deals with arterial dissection, a non-life threatening vascular condition. Cronin hasn’t coached since the Bearcats’ overtime win over San Diego State on December 17, and the 43-year-old coach will not attend practices or games the rest of the season, though he can recruit. Associate head coach Larry Davis will be the acting head coach until Cronin is medically cleared to resume normal activity.
Also on Friday, Butler took the interim tag off Chris Holtmann and signed him to a multiyear deal as their head coach, as the federally mandated leave period for prior head coach Brandon Miller expired. That makes Holtmann the permanent head coach and means Miller won’t be coming back in the position, at least not unless Holtmann leaves. The 35-year-old Miller had taken a leave due to medical reasons on Oct. 2, and ESPN reported that Miller “has had minimal contact with the coaching staff and players since the summer.”
The last story is one that is very personal for the people involved, yet it makes its way into our news cycle nonetheless. Stephanie Ollie, the wife of Connecticut head coach Kevin Ollie, has filed for divorce after 16 years of marriage. Both declined comment, and I don’t blame them; this is really none of our business. It will surely hover over the coach and the program for at least a brief time now that this is out in the open, however, and that’s unfortunate.
Certainly, nothing in life happens in a vacuum, and while we all try to perform our jobs to the best of our ability regardless of our circumstances outside the workplace, there are times when performing at a high level is easier said than done. Athletes and coaches, as much as anyone, often adopt a “no excuses” stance toward things, but it’s understandable that if a player or coach is having a tough time while there’s something happening away from the job, those circumstances may play a role. Think about it: if a family member was in a serious accident or had another instance of severe adversity, or if you had something non-trivial happen in your life away from the job, are you always at your best on the job when there’s something else on your mind? What if you lost a close family member?
The news isn’t the place to talk in detail about the impending divorce that Kevin and Stephanie Ollie are going through. I have no idea if the stress of coaching or the demands of the job played a role in Stephanie Ollie’s decision to file for divorce, and won’t speculate. I know that Kevin Ollie is a good man, as I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him outside the setting of a college basketball game. The University of Connecticut has a wonderful representative of the school as their head basketball coach. And now, he’s going to have this to deal with in addition to his job – and there will be some attention on it, especially since the defending national champions are 6-5 entering Saturday’s game at Florida. That’s unfortunate given the personal nature of it and the fact that they have two teenage children, as well as the fact that the Huskies’ record is easily explained by many factors other than the “what if” of how Ollie’s personal situation may be affecting him.
Friday was a reminder that while college coaching can be rewarding and enjoyable, it can also be very demanding and taxing, and it doesn’t exempt anyone from adversity. We all have adversity in life, but in some cases, it becomes public knowledge. My thoughts are with Mick Cronin, Brandon Miller and Kevin Ollie as they deal with adversity and work to set an example for the young men they lead/have led, so that some of the young men of today have a first-hand example of what it means to successfully overcome adversity.
One coach who is on the verge of big things is LSU head coach Johnny Jones, whose program got a big boost on Friday when Antonio Blakeney committed to the school. Blakeney at one time had committed to Louisville, and is a likely McDonald’s All-American. He was also a teammate of LSU signee Ben Simmons on the travel circuit, which probably helped them land him. The talent base is improving rapidly in Baton Rouge, meaning the Tigers aren’t far away from contending in the SEC.
Players are going through some adversity as well, and in the case of St. John’s point guard Rysheed Jordan, it’s not the first time. He will be taking an indefinite leave of absence because of what the school termed “personal and family matters.” Jordan also missed games last season due to either a death or illness in his family. The sophomore has at times looked like an All-Big East player, though more recently he has come off the bench.
Stanford will be without forward Reid Travis for an undetermined amount of time due to a stress fracture. The 6’8″ freshman leads the team in rebounding, so this is not a small loss for the Cardinal, who opened Pac-12 play with a 71-56 win over Washington State on Friday night.
North Carolina may be down two players for Saturday’s ACC opener at Clemson due to a stomach bug. Stillman White, a reserve point guard, did not travel with the team, while it is not known if Meeks will be limited or even available. While White has barely played, Meeks is second on the team in scoring and leads the team in rebounding. The Tar Heels have a quick turnaround as well, as they host Notre Dame on Monday night.
Virginia Tech suspended forward Joey van Zegeren indefinitely because of recent conduct. In a statement, head coach Buzz Williams said that the junior “demonstrated a lack of discipline and self-control at practice.” Van Zegeren is the Hokies’ leading rebounder and third-leading scorer.
There is some good news in all of this, as a couple of schools are about to get players back from injury. Florida guard Eli Carter has been cleared to play starting on Saturday, when the Gators host Connecticut. The junior guard practiced fully on Thursday after missing practice Wednesday due to re-injuring his left foot during Tuesday’s loss to Florida State. He sat out four games due to that injury earlier in the season. Meanwhile, Texas will get point guard Isaiah Taylor back after missing over a month due to a broken left wrist, which he suffered in a win over Iowa at Madison Square Garden in the 2K Classic. Texas hosts Texas Tech on Saturday.
On the court, the Pac-12 got going with four contests, including the aforementioned Stanford win over Washington State. The most notable result was California knocking off Washington 81-75 behind 31 points from Jordan Mathews, offsetting a nice 19-point, nine assist evening from Nigel Williams-Goss. California out-scored Washington 54-43 in the second half. Home teams ruled on the night besides those two games, as Colorado beat UCLA 62-56 and Utah blew out USC 79-66 in Salt Lake City.
The first Saturday of mostly conference play is ahead. Here’s a look at what stands out:
- The SEC parts company with others as they have non-conference matchups, with Connecticut visiting Florida and South Carolina taking on Iowa State in Brooklyn in the most notable games.
- In the ACC, Pittsburgh visits NC State in a battle of two teams trying to better define how good they may be, while Miami hosts Virginia in what might be the best game on the slate.
- In the American Athletic Conference, we get an early showdown of two likely contenders as SMU visits Cincinnati.
- An Atlantic 10 game of note on its opening day is Richmond visiting Davidson in the Wildcats’ first Atlantic 10 game.
- Big 12 play is highlighted by Baylor at Oklahoma and Kansas State at Oklahoma State, while we’ll get an idea just how good undefeated TCU is as they welcome West Virginia.
- The Big East’s best games are Providence at Marquette, then Butler at St. John’s later on.
- In the Big Ten, Illinois visits Ohio State in the best of a limited slate on the day, with Michigan at Purdue potentially the next best game.
- The Mountain West’s slate is highlighted by Colorado State at New Mexico and San Diego State at Fresno State.
- Gonzaga travels to Portland to take on the improving Pilots.