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Sunday, June 17, 2018

UConn’s Kemba Walker Emerging as One of the Nation’s Top Players

You know how people tend to remember where they are when important events happen — presidential elections, natural disasters, and so on?  Call me crazy, but I remember where I was the day I found out Kemba Walker committed to the University of Connecticut.  Am I saying a recruit signing a letter of intent compares to the magnitude of the aforementioned events?  Not quite.  But I was a sophomore at UConn at the time and like most of the other bonehead sports fans who go to a Division 1 school, I wanted to see a national championship before my four years were up more than I wanted a degree.

The degree came.  The championship never did.  Yes, I know that little piece of stamped, signed, and sealed paper will carry me further in life than witnessing the Huskies cut down the nets would have, but I digress.  I had done enough research about UConn’s recruiting class to know Walker could be something special.  Maybe not a one-and-done guy, but my friends and I were sure he’d show enough in two years to jet for the NBA.

Three years later, Kemba is still a Husky.  With A.J. Price in the fold his freshman year, there wasn’t much opportunity for playing time.  When the opportunities presented themselves, Walker chipped in.  His play off the bench in the 2009 NCAA Tournament had as much to do with UConn’s run to the Final Four as Hasheem Thabeet’s low-post presence on defense.

The following season, the Huskies were not the Huskies.  They failed to qualify for The Dance for the second time in my four-year undergraduate career.  Go figure.  A team that missed the NCAA Tournament twice in 13 seasons before 2007 dropped the ball twice in my fours years of college — years I can never get back.  Again, I digress.

This year, UConn is young and inexperienced.  They lost the likes of Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson, and Gavin Edwards.  The Huskies have four freshmen and two sophomores getting regular minutes in their rotation.  No experts have mentioned them in the top-25 discussion and they’re no lock for The Dance.  If they do end up making it into the field of 68, it will be Kemba Walker that takes them there.

Though the season is extremely young, Walker looks like he could be the best point guard in the country.  He’s the definition of a game-changer.  In their final tune-up before heading off to the Maui Invitational on Wednesday, UConn scored 89 points against Vermont.  Walker had 42 of them — shattering his previous high of 29 and tying Cliff Robinson’s school record for points in a single game.  Considering the players that have come out of Storrs over the past 20 years — Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton, Emeka Okafor, and Ben Gordon are a few that come to mind — holding any record for the Huskies is no mindless feat.

Monday afternoon, UConn took on Wichita State in the first round of the Maui Invitational.  Walker scored only two points in the first half before getting himself into foul trouble and having to watch most of the half from the bench.  Somehow, he finished the game with 31 points.  Actually, I know how.  He completely took over.

Wichita State led by as many as nine before Walker put the Huskies on his back.  With his team trailing 73-70 with just over 4:00 remaining, Kemba scored UConn’s next 12 points and led them to an 83-79 victory.  Had he played even just an above-average second half, the Huskies would already be slated for a consolation game.

That’s back-to-back performances of 30-plus points for the preseason all-Big East guard.  If you get a chance, tune into the UConn-Michigan State game tonight on ESPN.  There’s a good chance you’ll understand why I was so excited three years ago when the news came through Charter Oak Suites that Kemba Walker had committed to UConn.

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