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Student-athletes say ‘Thanks’

On the field or off, leadership from coaches helps mold lives

Head coach Kevin Ollie led UConn to its fourth national championship in men’s basketball this year.  But when he talks about pushing the program to another level, he isn’t referring to just winning a title.

“It’s about creating great young men so they can go out there in their community after they leave the Storrs campus and be ambassadors of their family, of their name and also this great university,” Ollie said prior to the team’s semifinal against top-ranked Florida.

For college coaches, leading a team isn’t just about X’s and O’s. It’s about going above and beyond to help student-athletes achieve their academic, athletic and personal goals.

Every senior on Wisconsin’s men’s hoops team the past two seasons graduated, and the Badgers are on track to reach that goal again this year. Coach Bo Ryan is just as proud of that achievement as he is of his team advancing to the Final Four.

“I get so excited about seeing the student get an A on the test as much as the same as seeing a player get better and perform well,” he said.

This type of balanced outlook does not go unnoticed by student-athletes. Our #ThanksCoach coverage begins with some thoughts on the subject, collected from locker rooms at this year’s men’s and women’s Final Four:

“I don’t think I would be this person without him – on the court, off the court. He always tries to prepare each one of his players for life after basketball. He’s done an unbelievable job with that.”

– Florida senior Casey Prather on men’s basketball coach Billy Donovan

“I’m going to graduate a year early, and so she has helped me with my classes that if I needed to take classes, she’ll work practice around me, so I can take those classes.”

–Maryland sophomore Malina Howard on women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese

“He teaches you more about life than anything about just basketball.”

– Kentucky freshman James Young on men’s basketball coach John Calipari

“Since I’m a senior, she just wants to make sure that once my time on the team is finished, I’m able to come out and be successful with my degree.”

– Notre Dame senior Ariel Braker on women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw

“Just overall the process of playing for Coach Ryan for four years and you get better as a player and through that, you get better as a person.”

–Wisconsin senior Ben Brust on men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan

“Getting direct information really helps my teammates and I process what we are doing and how to effectively make adjustments.”

– Stanford junior Taylor Greenfield on women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer

“So Coach Ollie said, ‘Open your heart and open your ears so you can get better,’ and I just started doing that.”

-UConn junior Ryan Boatright on men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie

“He’s an awesome guy. Lots of people see him from the outside and see him sometimes yelling and as someone who is just hard on us the whole time, and he is hard on us, but he wants the best for us and we know that he is always going to be our No. 1 supporter at the same time.”

–UConn junior Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis on women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma