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Jim Calhoun loves Kemba Walker

NEW YORK -- Past UConn teams have been built around a group of star players. Even last year's disappointing team featured the big three of Kemba Walker, Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson.

This year, however, Jim Calhoun and the Huskies don't have the luxury of multiple big-time weapons to rely on. Instead they just have one go-to star, Walker.

Walker, a member of the All-Big East preseason first team, scored 14.6 points per game last year and added 5.1 assists. He's the team's clear leader and is projected by many to be picked in next year's NBA draft if he decides to go pro.

Calhoun loves to compare current players to his former stars and it didn't take long after Walker's name came up for the coach to mention Emeka Okafor and Ray Allen.

"He's an extraordinary kid," Calhoun said. "Obviously Ekema was an extraordinary kid. Obviously Ray Allen is special, special special special in every aspect of the word. Kemba Walker, I don't know if I've enjoyed watching the growth of a student and as a person and as a player more than I've enjoyed watching Kemba Walker."

Calhoun praised Walker's leadership -- he was calling the incoming freshman in May to make sure they were getting up to school to start work -- and his academic ability. Along with playing for the U.S. Select team this summer, Walker also took 18 credits and has a chance to graduate in May, Calhoun said.

Speaking of the select team, Walker said the experience, which included playing against team USA, was a big boost.

"[It helped] me figure out where I was at as far as my skills," Walker said. "I think I did well. ... My confidence is high because of the kind of summer I had."

Calhoun praised Walker's growth since coming into the program, both physically and in his play.

"He's a 181 pounds right now, just to give you a reference point, he came in at 165," Calhoun said. While gaining that size, Walker has also been able to control his speed better. He's one of the quickest players in the country, and the coaches have worked with him to help him focus being able to change pace and direction to make that speed even more deadly. Plus, he's improved his shooting.

"Kemba has developed into, as this point, at least a good 3-point shooter ... you saw it at times last year," Calhoun said.

One area Walker is still working on is passing the ball ahead of his teammates, so they can catch the ball in better position, according to Calhoun.

"Kemba's going to be, when he throws it to someone this year, they'll be able to make a good, solid basketball play," Calhoun said.

Because of all their youth, a lot of UConn's success this season is going to depend on the play of Walker, now that he's the team's main leader. UConn is hoping he's up to the task.

"We asked him to do a lot last year, we'll ask him to do a ton this year," Calhoun said.

Note: Our coverage of Big East media day was made possible by a sponsorship from Volvo.