March 26, 2011
ANAHEIM, Calif. — If the NCAA tournament needs a new star now that Jimmer mania has finally subsided, consider Saturday's West Regional title game in Anaheim an audition for the role.
You know all about Williams' rise from an under-the-radar prospect and Walker's penchant for late-game heroics. Click here for five little-known facts or colorful anecdotes about Williams that you may not have heard before and read on for five about Walker:
1. "He was next-to-horrible"
The first time Jamal Coombs-McDaniel played against Walker in an AAU game in Tennessee, he wasn't all that impressed with his future Connecticut teammate.
"He was next-to-horrible, to be honest," Coombs-McDaniel said straight-faced. "He couldn't shoot. He was too fast for himself. Every time I tell him that, he says, 'We won, though. We won.' They beat us by one point. It's definitely fun looking back on that. I tease him about that a lot."
How does Coombs-McDaniel explain Walker's development into a first-team All-American? A combination of Walker learning to harness his speed and spending time in the gym honing his jump shot.
2. Walker's signature moment? Dropping Gary McGhee.
Ask any Connecticut player his favorite Kemba Walker moment this season, and they'll all say the same one.
Naturally, it's Walker's signature moment from the Big East tournament when he sent lumbering Pittsburgh center Gary McGhee tumbling to the ground with a pair of jab steps, then buried a go-ahead step-back 18-footer at the buzzer.
That shot carries a little extra significance for freshman Roscoe Smith because he'd received eight stitches below his right eye as a result of a McGhee elbow earlier in the game.
"The exact words from Kemba were, 'Don't worry about it. I got you,'" Smith said. "After he made the move on McGhee and made him fall, he pointed at me like, 'I told you. I got you.' That was a big moment."
3. Is there a secret to stopping Walker?
Even though Arizona point guard MoMo Jones is his former high school teammate and assistant coach Emanuel "Book" Richardson is his former longtime AAU coach, Walker doesn't think the Wildcats know the secret to containing him.
In fact, he won't even concede they have an advantage.
"Everyone who knows me thinks they know the way to stop me, but I can do a lot of things," Walker said. "I'm not worried about that."
Walker and Jones remain friends, but the bond between he and Richardson is even tighter, like that of an older brother. They call or text as many as a few times a week.
4. Walker suffers from selective amnesia.
At one point Thursday against San Diego State, Walker sank a crucial basket, made eye contact with Richardson and hollered, "They can't guard me!" By Friday afternoon, he was insisting with a Cheshire grin on his face that he'd forgotten what he said.
Asked why he was looking for Richardson, Walker smiled again and said, "I felt him looking at me. I just turned and he was right there."
5. Sticking up for his hometown
It bothers Walker when people say that New York-area basketball is down because he doesn't believe it's true.
"A lot of people say it," Walker said. "Reporters are always writing about it, always asking me. I hear it all the time."
Walker, a Bronx native, points to the presence of himself, Jones and Arizona guard Kevin Parrom in Saturday's game as proof of his argument.
"You've got three New York guys in the Elite Eight playing against each other," he said. "It's going to be fun."