Kemba Walker knew it would happen. He knew he would be called upon to run the Connecticut souped-up, go-go offense.
He’s just amazed at how fast it came.
A few months short of two years ago, the high-motor guard from Rice High School (Harlem, N.Y.) was on his visit to UConn.
It was November. The Huskies had just eked out a win against Morgan State and were in the midst of a blowout of Buffalo.
Walker was treated to cheers and student-made banners designed to lure the 6-foot waterbug guard in.
It was treatment and fanfare that Walker, who earned the nickname “EZ Pass” while carving up cats on Gotham’s streetball circuit, did not receive elsewhere.
Now, Kemba is sitting in study hall, fresh from the workaday pickup game, discussing his jump from cast member to show operator.
“Basically, my role is to run the team, to do my best to get my teammates involved. Obviously I’m going to have to become more of a scorer, as we have to make up for some of the scorers we lost.”
Amongst those scorers was playmaking guard AJ Price, who was selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2009 NBA draft.
While Walker’s blink-quick style was tailor-made for the Huskies’ system, Price helped nurture Walker for the role.
“He (Price) was a great leader,” said Walker. He always told me when I was doing something wrong and helped me out. When I did things right, he let me know about it.
Now it’s Walkers turn to steer the ship. It’s early, but EZPASS says the bar is set high.
“I think a main goal would really be to get as far as we did last year again,” said Walker, who played a significant role in the Huskies’ run to the Final Four.
“It was just such a good feeling to do that last year. We just have to work hard. With coach Calhoun, working hard has always been a must.”
While managing eight or nine different personalities and holding down the one-spot in the talented guard-laced Big East is a new challenge for Walker, he’s familiar with the chore.
“It’s really similar to my senior year (of high school),” said Walker, who spearheaded a traditional basketball hotbed alongside Miami guard Durand Scott.
“Being a leader, I learned from some good leaders,” says Walker, who mentioned former high school teammate and current Louisville senior Edgar Sosa.
With a new squad that lost Price, Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, and Craig Austrie–a bulk of the scoring–Walker sees this team as more on the uptempo side.
“We’re definitely a faster team this year,” he said.
With freakish athlete Stanley “Sticks” Robinson and the acrobatic Jerome Dyson returning, Walker’s not wrong.
“So far, everybody is looking impressive. Jerome is looking better than ever. He’s been working a lot on his jumper. It’s going to be an uptempo system.”