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As the clock hit zero in Reliant Stadium (Houston, TX) there was Kemba Walker pounding his chest, with his teammates celebrating around him as his school, The University of Connecticut Huskies punched their ticket to the National Championship Game.
The Huskies will take on the Butler Bulldogs who have reached the National Championship for the second straight year, one of few teams to ever do so. Butler who knocked off this year’s Cinderella team, VCU. Led by Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, Butler can play both inside and outside in their half-court system led by head coach Brad Stevens.
While it’s a great story for the Butler Bulldogs, no one should be overlooking the story of UConn and more importantly the story of Kemba Walker. Sure they’re a storied university but not like Duke, North Carolina, or Kentucky (who they beat to reach the National Championship).
Led by head coach Jim Calhoun, who has over 850 wins in his coaching career he might have one of his best team’s ever in this year’s UConn team. The growth of his team has been led by Naismith candidate, Kemba Walker.
Most of us know about what Walker brings as a player, this year. but the numbers were there his last two seasons because unlike most highlighted college players, Walker is an upperclassman. The numbers are there, Walker’s point average (23.7), rebound average(5.4) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.02) have all risen over his past two seasons, but it’s the leadership that matters most.
Any coach whether they have 850 wins or 85 wins, wants a team leader and by all accounts, actions speak louder then words. No actions have been more impressive then Walker’s, the kid from Bronx, NY has not only put up the points but has led by example, it seems as if almost every game, Kemba is not only scoring, but allowing his teammates to take the game over, whether it be freshmen Jeremy Lamb hitting from deep or big man sophomore, Alex Oriakhi grabbing rebounds and defending the paint.
All college basketball fans loved “The Jimmer”, all fans and scouts jumped through their chairs for Derrick Williams of Arizona, and everyone took notice of the skills of Duke’s Kyrie Irving. Yes, all these players were deserving of the attention they received but with Walker, he has a great game but it seems to go under the radar.
This is not saying Walker is underrated because everyone is now paying attention. Keyword is, now. Now that UConn is left out of all the powerhouse colleges, now everyone goes back and looks at what he’s done. Here is exactly what he’s done this year:
Walker has had ten games in which he has scored 30 points or more, he has had one triple-double this season but has nearly had a triple-double in many games. Walker went only two games without having a steal, contributing to his defense, and the most turnovers he’s committed in one game was five which came against Louisville, a game UConn eventually won.
The point trying to be made is that Kemba Walker is the NCAA’s flavor of the year, but that was after Jimmer, after Derrick Williams, after VCU and still doubts are arising. The NBA doubts that is, there is no debate that Walker has great NBA draft stock at this current moment, but whispers of Ben Gordon have come up with his name.
It can’t be true, with all due respect to Ben Gordon, he is nowhere near the talent level of Kemba Walker. Walker takes a game over, he leads by example, and his emotions drive him. He grew up with basketball in his veins as almost all college players have, but as told to ESPN in an interview after the Big East tournament Walker admitted that hitting his game-winning shot against Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden was a “dream come true”.
The spotlight is on, the stage is set, we’ve been blessed to watch plenty of great college talent, and one remains above the rest and will showcase not only himself but his entire team come Monday night against the Butler Bulldogs with the Championship on the line.
Fun fact: UConn is 13-0 in neutral-site games this year (all tournament games) and Kemba Walker has been MVP of both tournaments that UConn has won (Maui Invitational and the Big East Tournament)
Here’s Walker in “Beast Mode”