Tonight, Kemba Walker officially becomes the latest UConn alumnus to end up playing professional basketball for a large sum of money.
Personally, I was entranced by Kemba from the first time I saw him play, in an exhibition game just prior to the 2008-09 season. Maybe he had that certain je ne sais quoi Justin referenced in his True Hoop article; or maybe it's just impossible not to notice the little guy with the Road Runner speed and the knack for blowing by defenders. Whatever it was, I was on the Kemba bandwagon way back when. Obviously, I have the greatest eye for talent ever.
Walker went on to make a difference as a freshman; in the 2009 Elite Eight game against Missouri, he came off the bench for a 23-5-5 game (don't even have to look that up, it's still so vivid), sending UConn back to the Final Four and washing clean three years of cursed futility dating back to G*orge M*son.
After a lost sophomore season - blame Dyson! - Kemba put UConn on the map instantly last November by tearing apart the Maui Invitational. He seemed to hit a game-winning shot every week. He broke the hearts of Wichita State, Michigan State, Texas, Villanova and Pittsburgh by doing his last-minute thing. When UConn seemed to be on the verge of another middling end to their season, he went into hyperdrive, merely masterminding the greatest run in college basketball history.
He made UConn a champion once again. He had some help, obviously, but this is no time to let that get in the way of a good narrative. (We can talk more when Tyler Olander graduates as a four-time national champion.)
Kemba's long-term NBA future is uncertain, as Justin pointed out. With his size and lack of jump shot, he's certainly no lock to be an All-Star caliber player in the league.
This is of course because projecting a player's future is a much different exercise from celebrating his past. The kind of moments that make a player legendary (ahem) are just that - moments. Missing that single shot over Gary McGhee's legs wouldn't make Kemba a less-talented player, though it would probably have altered his legacy in some way.
But whether Kemba Walker becomes an NBA All-Star will depend on whether he can deliver consistent performances for all 48 minutes, not just the last one. I don't doubt his ability to do so, and I certainly hope he Gary McGhees LeBron James 150 million times, but as a fan, it doesn't really matter to me: nothing that happens in the NBA will ever remove him from Mount Calhounmore, where he will always have a reserved spot next to Ray, Rip, 'Yell, Emeka and the other legends. (I say Kemba's the greatst UConn player ever, but that's worthy of a deeper examination at a later time.)
So thanks, Kemba Walker, for bringing the awesome back to Storrs, and thanks for leaving us with moments that will last a lifetime. We had you, and they didn't.
Feel free to use this post to discuss tonight's NBA Draft. Proceedings begin at 7:30, and Kemba figures to be taken within the first 30-45 minutes. Below the jump, a selection of Klassic Kemba moments.
(No sports clip has ever made me smile as much as the above one. I dare you to watch it without grinning like an idiot.)