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And the Volvo Off-the-Court Excellence Award goes to..... Kemba Walker

This basketball season, we've teamed up with the fine folks over at Volvo to help promote their new Volvo S60. A few weeks back they were kind enough to send me to Big East media day, and in January, they'll be sending me back to Connecticut for UConn's matchup with Tennessee. 

As part of the campaign, Volvo has tapped 16 writers -- one from each Big East school -- to talk about why they are the biggest fan of the Big East. In March, they'll select the Big East's biggest fan. That person's school will get a $10,000 scholarship donation, and the biggest fan will receive a new Volvo S60, which is nice. 

There are a couple of ways you can help me out here. First, join the discussion, these posts are designed to talk about the experience surrounding UConn basketball, so we want to hear from you, so comment -- commenting is key. Second, like this on Facebook or retweet it on Twitter (not on Twitter yet? What are you waiting for? Get on it, and retweet this ASAP). The more exposure this gets, the better UConn, and I, do. 

Third, and finally, go to and vote for me. There's a pretty picture of me and I show up in the big video as well, but voting is key.

Before we get to the Volvo Off-the-Court Excellence Award, I want to take a minute to talk about the voting over at When I first introduced the contest two weeks ago, I wrote this:

As of this writing I have 13 votes and the Louisville writer is pushing 5,000, so we have a bit of work to do. I have faith in you all though.

So yeah, we were lagging pretty bad. But then, something amazing happened: my faith paid off and you guys turned out, in force. I've exploded out of nowhere to go from 13 votes and 0 percent of the total to more than 7,000 votes and a hefty 30 percent. I'd like give credit for the resurgence to my pretty face, but I have a feeling it has a lot more to do with the Facebook Page reader lookitsnikole started that has been sent out to about 2,000 people. Two things about that: first, it shows me we have the best readers around and second, please go to the facebook page, join up and invite as many people on Facebook as you can. There is some real power behind the UConn fanbase, let's show it off.

Now, for this week's writing challenge, Volvo has tasked me with handing out an Off-the-Court Excellence Award to a member of the basketball team has shown they're great at more than just basketball. To me, there was only one choice: Kemba Walker.

Now, obviously Walker is incredible on the basketball court. He's the team's leader and best player, and right now he's the favorite to be the National Player of the Year. However, as spectacular as Walker has been on the court this year, his most impressive performance has been off of it.

The general consensus is that Walker, who is a junior, will leave UConn to head to the NBA after this season. That's pretty standard for college stars, but here's what makes Walker special: he's on track to leave early with his degree. 

Like Emeka Okafor before him, Walker is a star both on the court and in the classroom. Walker, who reportedly struggled a bit academically when he first got to UConn has really turned it on. He took 18 credits this summer, which is quite a load. When I was in Storrs, I had a few semesters with 18 credits. It's a good-sized load, and when I did it, it was without the added burden of playing on the USA select team, trying to bring together a gaggle of freshmen teammates and transforming myself into the best basketball player in the country.

He has a great attitude about it all too. Here's a money quote he gave to Gavin Keefe of The Day:

"A lot of people get hurt and stuff like that and don't know what to do with themselves after basketball," Walker said. "I don't want to be in that position. I want to be able to do something other than basketball when I finish."

And here's Jim Calhoun speaking about Walker in the same article:

"Unbelievable," coach Jim Calhoun said. "Kemba is not one who's going to really brag about an awful lot of things that he does. Clearly, when he makes up his mind and has a goal, whether it be a difficult or less difficult one, he's going to chase it pretty good. ... He's made great strides every place."

So yeah, Walker has earned a little off-the-court recognition, and he's the type of player that makes you proud to be a UConn fan.