Christian Vital didn’t deserve to have his UConn career come to an end the way that it did.
Like every other college senior in the United States, Vital’s college days came to an abrupt and untimely end. When the American Athletic Conference made the decision to cancel the conference tournament, Vital and the Huskies were already in Fort Worth, Texas, hours away from their opening round matchup against Tulane.
While the Huskies weren’t necessarily the favorite, they were arguably the hottest team in the conference, winning nine of their final 12 games — including an impressive 77-71 win over No. 21 Houston on Senior Night at Gampel.
During the final stretch, Dan Hurley and the Huskies had numerous players step up to help UConn find a new level of play. But no one stepped up more than Vital, who scored 20-plus points in six of the final seven games of the season and averaged 27 points a game over the final three. Vital wasn’t just scoring more — he was efficient and remained tenacious on the boards and on defense, doing everything in his power to try to will himself and the Huskies to his first NCAA Tournament appearance.
On March 12, it all came crashing down. Within a matter of minutes, Vital’s college career was over and the New York native wouldn’t get the chance to vie for an AAC title or an NCAA Tournament berth.
“To be honest with you, it was just crazy. Like in the first first couple of weeks, I was pissed off. I won’t even lie. I was like, I didn’t believe it,” Vital said.
Since then, Vital has cooled off, but is still thinking about what could have been.
“It was just crazy that our season ended. We put so much into it, obviously and again, this has affected a lot of people. Many people haven’t been able to adjust or was able to get away from the virus and things like that,” Vital said. “And right as you think that we’re about to make a run for the first time in like 3-4 years and then just to have not and not even lose. Like if you lose, that’s one thing. I won’t disrespect anybody, I don’t think we were gonna lose to them to be honest with you but like if you lose to any of those teams, you say, ‘Okay. we lost to another team’ but then to have your season shut because you know, it’s something literally out of your control — you realize you’re only human and it’s unfortunate.”
With his time at UConn now in the rearview mirror and his focused shifted to playing professionally, Vital did take some time to look back at what he accomplished during his senior season.
“I looked up to guys like Ray Allen, Caron [Butler], Rip [Hamilton], Shabazz [Napier], Taliek Brown... Kemba obviously. Everyone knows the guards tradition at UConn. And you know that in my senior year, you also compare myself to those guys at all. But I think that I was going to be able to put myself in a situation and a place, you know, to kind of be at the table, you know, if we did go on to win a championship,” Vital said. “We did go on a crazy run in the long run, obviously, me being the senior, a leader and the leading guard at the time... I would have got a lot of credit for that, you know, would have been named would have been with those guys. So and now I’ll be honest with you, that’s something that motivated me throughout my whole career, but especially my senior year...this was my last shot.”
With his hometown of New York an epicenter for the virus, Vital left the northeast to go to Louisville, where he has been working out with former Kentucky guard Derek Anderson to help him try and land a job at the next level.
“He’s an NBA champion, he’s been a good mentor to me,” Vital said of Anderson. “He believes in my abilities.”
Vital isn’t projected to be taken in either round of the 2020 NBA Draft, but showed enough improvement over the course of his senior season to try and fight for a spot in the G-League. Of course, Vital is used to being doubted — he was the last and least-heralded member of the Huskies’ “Top Five” recruiting class, but ended up becoming one of the program’s most prolific 3-point shooters and ranked top-10 nationally in steals.
While it won’t be an easy road to play professionally, Vital believes he has the drive to stick around at the next level and earn his place there just like he did in Storrs.
“I don’t play this game just to get a bunch of checks or just sneakers and stuff,” Vital said. “I want to compete and be the I want to be the best player on the court anytime up there.”