As a sports fan, to love the game is to love the ride. And the fans of Kemba Walker and the University of Connecticut Huskies just got off the ride of their lives.
When the season kicked off with an unexpected tournament win in Hawaii, fans and media alike were cautiously optimistic for the season ahead, but few adjusted their ultimate expectations for this extremely young team.
The preseason rankings had them expected to finish 10th in the heavyweight Big East division. And while their regular season performances only showed glimmers of the magic that would unfold in the post-season, their real fans knew it would be fun at the very least.
Kemba Walker, who had largely played a supporting role over his first two seasons in Storrs, had proven he was a star in the making. He made it his mission to foster an atmosphere of brotherhood and build chemistry with his young teammates, an element that was visibly lacking in the disappointment of last season.
"Kemba and the Kids," as they would affectionately be dubbed, found themselves with a whole lot of chemistry, and the nine seed entering the Big East Tournament. They had struggled in conference play and would have to accomplish an unprecedented feat in order to win the Big East Tournament.
Five wins in five days.
They said it couldn’t be done.
It had never been seen before, but then again neither had a team like Kemba and the Kids. Not only had they made the effort to form a bond, but they made the efforts to improve their game day in and day out.
As Coach Calhoun has said, this team just loves to play. Win or lose they show up the next day happy…ready to play, to learn, to improve. And as the Big East Tournament kicked off, they had but one thing in mind; winning the Big East and taking that momentum with them to the NCAA Tournament.
And things went exactly as they planned. They stormed through the Big East, kicking butt and taking names. And all along, the only name anyone wanted to talk about was Kemba.
Sure, his supporting cast had stepped up their games, proving they were not a one man show. Jeremy Lamb has even been called the Robin to Kemba’s Batman.
But it was Walker that was always one or two steps quicker, jumping one or two heads higher, taking those last second shots and beating the buzzer. He proved he is both a star and a leader. And how about that smile? No one worked harder for that title, and no one had more fun.
But the ride certainly did not stop when the Huskies cut down the nets in Madison Square Garden. That really was just the beginning.
They had proven that they could do what had never been done, winning five games in five nights, and no one believed they would have anything left in the tank for the games that really mattered.
They received a three seed in the South Regional bracket, a region that had been good to Calhoun and the Huskies in the past. Fans could only hope the same would be true for 2011 Huskies.
Very few people expected them to go far, maybe the second round…maybe the sweet sixteen. Myself and other crazy loyal fans hoped and couldn’t possibly have picked anyone but our boys to win it all bring the title back home to CT.
We were few and far between, but we were the lucky ones!
The kids continued to grow and improve, feeding off the improbable performance of their leader, their captain. Kemba may have come in second for Player of the Year, but when you can win the championship in your last chance, with your brothers, and have the performance and time of your life…Tournament MVP honors will do just fine.
At the beginning of the ’10-’11 season no one would have expected Kemba Walker to have the season and post season that he did. His name was probably brought up only in passing during draft conversations.
Now he is the first player in UConn’s storied history to have their number retired while still in school. Would it be great for UConn fans if he had decided to return for a second NCAA title run? Sure, but his stock will never be higher than it is right now, and this UConn fan wants him to cash in on all his hard work.
Is he on the small side for the NBA? Yes. Will his game translate to the NBA? I am not sure. Would I want him on my team? Hell Yeah!