Kemba Walker should be focusing on the Final Four and a tough matchup against a physical, athletic Kentucky team which plays tougher defense than almost any other squad. Instead, he and the player he spent most of his time facing off against in the Elite Eight are both concerned about their high school alma mater, which is fighting to remain open amidst a brutal financial crush.
According to the New York Daily News, Walker and Arizona point guard Lamont Jones both spoke before their Elite Eight matchup about the latest troubling news out of New York, where Rice (N.Y.) High is rumored to be on the verge of closure amidst brutal budget shortfalls.
The private school, which is a longtime Manhattan boys basketball power, is facing the real threat of closure due to lack of funding, in large part because of its limited tuition costs. Rice charges it's limited all-boys population just $5,750 per year to attend, with many of its low-income students also receiving need-based scholarships.
Rice is trying to find a new, more cost-effective location, but it has already told students, faculty and, yes, even famous alumni, that if it can't find a cheaper site, it will close permanently.
"That would be sad [if Rice closed], to tell you the truth," Walker told the Daily News. "The school has great traditions. That really would be sad.
"It's an all-boys school and a lot of people think that going to an all-boys school could be a problem, but I think it was the best thing for me. It turned me into a man. It shaped me in every aspect of who I am, from becoming a better basketball player to becoming a better person. I love that school."
So do plenty of Rice's other alumni, including Jones and NBA star Felipe Lopez. While the school's limited current population of just 218 students is an even smaller grouping than previous years, some near the school insist that they won't believe Rice will be shuttered until the doors are actually closed for good. That core group of believers includes the school's basketball coach, Dwayne Mitchell.
"You always hear rumors that Rice is in trouble," Mitchell told the Daily News. "You always hear that it might close down. I'm used to it now."
Meanwhile, Rice's chairman insisted the threat in 2010 is much more real than it has been in previous years.
"Rice has been struggling over the past decade, but every year we seem to pull through," said Stephen Fitzgerald, Rice's chairman and a graduate of the school. "But this year feels a little different."
If Fitzgerald proves prophetic, Walker and company will prove to be more than a part of Rice's basketball legacy, they'll be among the last, most visible remnants of a proud tradition that will suddenly disappear off the map.