While Jimmer Fredette was all the rage of the NCAA lighting up scoreboards and putting up ridiculous numbers, Kemba Walker took a backseat.
Walker was the NCAA’s main attraction after an unreal start to the season that saw him put up 30-point games like it wasn’t a problem. He hit clutch shot after clutch shot and took UCONN from preseason unranked to the top 10.
Then he tailed off. Why? Because he knew he couldn’t do it all by himself. Truth be told, Walker and Fredette were walking the same path during this season as the top two players in the nation up for the player of the year. Both were little guards who put up big numbers and only hoped that their teammates got involved.
Yet while Jimmer jacked away to his hearts content, Kemba decided to do what all great players do and that’s make his teammates better.
During UCONN’s lull in the Big East season Walker saw his points per game average drop but had an increase in assists. In wins and in losses Walker was getting guys like Shabazz Napier, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and Jeremy Lamb involved more in the game. He was freeing up and finding Alex Orakhi underneath the rim, he was getting everyone involved and making them better.
The results were mixed at the time, but once the Big East tournament hit, you saw that it was going to payoff in the long haul.
Lamb more than any other player on the roster has emerged as a gigantic threat opposite of walker. Lamb has put on a show scoring 24 versus San Diego State and 19 in the West region final versus Arizona.
Because of Lamb’s success in the last 2 months teams now have another problem to watch be wary of when facing the Huskies.
However, when the chips are down, when you need a bucket, and when you need a big play, that’s when Kemba Walker takes over.
During the Huskies 9 game in 19 day win streak (which has to go down in sports history as one of the most stupefying streaks ever) Walker hasn’t played less than 33 minutes, topping 40 minutes 4 times. He hasn’t shot under 40% in any game, he buried Pittsburgh with a devastating crossover and game-winner over Gary McGhee, he shredded the Aztecs defenders with ease whether it was 6 foot D.J. Gay or 6-8 Billy White.
The nickname Iron Man doesn’t seem sufficient enough to describe Walker and his brilliance; he’s been a superhero and then some for UCONN. He’s led the Huskies far beyond anyone’s expectations since they took the court versus Stone Brook back in September. Now with two games left he has them at the peak of the mountaintop even though he has to be gassed.
When Walker and coach Jim Calhoun bear hugged each other at midcourt after their win over Arizona in the West regional final, you saw how deep a connection Calhoun has with his star pupil. Calhoun’s season has been one to forget off of the court, as he will be suspended for three Big East games next year due to recruiting violations. Through it all Calhoun has held his head above water and having Walker there to lead his team and overshadow that dark period has definitely been a blessing.
Calhoun has been known to be very hard on his players because he demands so much out of them. In Walker he hasn’t to be and their bond is more special than any I’ve seen with Calhoun in his 20+ years at Storrs.
Jimmermania was fun. He was a blast to watch and did some impressive things. But when it comes down to who the player of the year was this year in the NCAA, there’s no question it’s Kemba Walker.
He’s done everything asked of him and more this year. It seems like every time we look up, Walker is at it again and carrying UCONN to another victory. With possibly two games left in college career, who’s to say he wont do it again.