Big East Notebook: Ollie Says Extension Helps Recruiting; Pitino Endorses Ollie; Rutgers Aiming for 3-1 Start

Here’s a few quick notes and quotes off today’s initial Big East conference call.

**UConn coach Kevin Ollie, who has recently been spotted watching some extremely big fish, like 2014 big man Jahlil Okafor of Chicago, says his five-year extension helps him in recruiting.

“It’s helping out,” he said. “Of course it takes a question off the table that a lot of parents and a lot of players and whoever’s involved in the recruitment is going to have, is the coach going to be there?

“And now I can say without a shadow of a doubt I will be here until they tell me I have to go. It’s a five-year contract. Warde Manual, our AD, stepped up and he gave me an opportunity and I thank God for it and our great President Susan Herbst gave me a great opportunity to be the coach here and I got a great program that’s behind me…We got to keep working and I think the recruits are going to buy into it and I’m looking forward to getting out on the road, bringing in some great talent and infusing it with our talent that we do have in Storrs already, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Meantime, Louisville coach Rick Pitino – whose club visits UConn Monday –endorsed the Ollie hire and extension, saying it was a strong move by UConn.

“I knew this was going to happen with Kevin Ollie,” he said in a response to a question by David Borges of the New Haven Register.

“He tried out with us (the Celtics). Kevin Ollie is about as perfect a choice for head coach as any school could have. He’s the perfect match: extremely bright, the players are going to love playing for him, a fierce competitor. It’s a tremendous marriage.”

**After Wednesday’s 58-56 win over St. John’s at MSG, Rutgers is 2-1 in the Big East for the first time in seven years.

Next up is a big showdown with No. 21 Cincinnati Saturday night at the RAC. The Bearcats have lost two straight and will be hungry for a win. Cincinnati also features numerous players with New York/New Jersey ties — Sean Kilpatrick, Jermaine Sanders, Shaq Thomas — who will look to impress the local fans.

“Looking at tape on them, a really tremendously talented team that as all teams will in a long season, hit a speed bump, but I’m sure they’ve had some days to prepare for us, but we’re very excited to get back to the RAC and trying to figure out how to grind this one out,” Rutgers coach Mike Rice said.

Rice said he usually has to talk his team up, but he may have to bring them down to reality before this one.

“Again, people are shaking their heads around the Big East that you’re just 2-1,” he said. “Well this team hasn’t been 2-1 a whole lot and having two of our next games at home, how hard are you going to work to get better and improve, because everybody knows that the team that improves and gets better from day to day from the first day of Big East to the last day usually wins this league.

“So really going to talk and have conversations individually with each and every guy and keep them embrace coaching, embrace getting better and keep doing the same things we’ve been doing in practice. They’ve had a pretty good focus and do those type of things.”

**For more on Rice’s “Why not us? theme, read Matt Sugam’s story here.

Photo: ESPN

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