Going into this season not to many people outside of Storrs, Conn. thought the UConn Huskies were going to be a good basketball team. Frankly, not to many people outside Jim Calhoun, his assistants, and the players, may have thought this team had potential. Oh how things can change in three short days.
Heading out to Maui for the EA Sports Maui Invitational, the Huskies had the opportunity to prove themselves on a national stage against a crop of very good teams; and boy did they ever. Behind an absolute mind-blowing performance from junior guard Kemba Walker, the Fightin’ Jim Calhouns proved to everyone that UConn is still an elite basketball program.
“We wanted to show the world we’re still UConn and that Coach Calhoun can still coach a team,” said Walker, the tournament’s MVP after scoring 90 points in three games.
After a tough opening round game against a pretty good Wichita State team, and a heavyweight fight in the semifinals against second ranked Michigan State, UConn finished up their week in paradise with a shellacking of ninth ranked Kentucky and their head coach John Calipari (Personally, and I feel I speak for most UConn fans when I say, there is no one else in college basketball I love beating more than Calipari).
Calhoun couldn’t have been more proud of his young team: “I fell in love with this team,” Calhoun said. “I know the effort is legitimate and as coaches that’s what you want all the time.”Walker made quite a name for himself as well. He played on an entirely different level than the rest of the field all week. Whenever UConn needed a basket, Kemba was there. UConn knew who was going to take the big shots, the fans knew it, and even the other teams knew it…yet they couldn’t stop him. His performance has bolted him into Player of the Year consideration (granted it’s still November), and has seen his draft stock explode upwards. One NBA scout told ESPN.com, “I’m not sure he’s going to be a star [in the NBA], but I just love how he played here and how hard he’s worked on his game. If he keeps this up all season, he’s a top-10 pick.”
While Walker was the star of the tournament, he did receive help from his supporting cast. Alex Oriakhi seems to finally be living up to his potential as he averaged 15 points and 11.67 rebounds in the tournament’s three games. Other players who seemed to really step up during the tournament, include Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, and Niels Giffey, all of whom are freshman. They played like experienced players, and seemed to make the right decisions in key moments. Their hustle and energy really sparked the Huskies.
UConn will now enjoy a nice flight back to campus, and then it’s time to get back to work as the team takes on New Hampshire next Tuesday night (November 30th).