A year ago, the Huskies were 11-2 at this point in the season. They began their year unranked only to reel off 10 straight wins and crack the top 10, and then stumbled through the first few months of 2011 before everything came together in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. By the time it was over, Jim Calhoun had his third national title and Kemba Walker had emerged as one of the country's best players.
Calhoun's back in Storrs but Walker has taken his game to the NBA. In June, he was the first-round pick of the Charlotte Bobcats and after a lockout that delayed the start of the season, he's finally earning a paycheck to play basketball. On Wednesday night, the Bobcats were in Madison Square Garden to face the Knicks. It's a building with which Walker is intimately familiar. He played there countless times during his college career, including the Huskies' five-game winning streak in the conference tournament last March. Nine months later and a lot has changed.
"It's completely different," Walker told the Hartford Courant's Jeff Jacobs prior to the Bobcats beating the Knicks. "When I was walking back here [near the locker rooms], I had no idea where I was going."
Also different: not everybody in the Garden was a Walker fan.
“In the past I had more fans cheering for me. I am used to hearing my name in the Garden, and there were some, but tonight they were Knicks fans,” he said via the New York Daily News. “Tonight, they were against me, and I don’t blame them. I was a Knicks fan too, but, we won.”
Like most professional basketball players not named Maya Moore, the transition from college takes time. Walker went from playing every game -- and virtually every minute -- for UConn to biding his time as a backup in Charlotte.
He averaged 23.5 points and 37.6 minutes a game as a junior in 2010-11; for the Bobcats, Walker's numbers are more modest: 18.3 minutes a game, 9.2 points, and 3.2 assists.
Against the Knicks, Kemba played for 15:36, scored seven points and dished out five assists.
"Kemba knows how to win," Charlotte coach Paul Silas said. "He knows what to do. It's just learning our system now and learning our league. His outside shooting has to be consistent, because penetration to the hoop at his size [6-1] right now, it's tough for him."
Walker didn't have many complaints about his performance Wednesday, however.
“I played really well. I didn’t make as many shots as I would like. I thought I had a huge impact on the game,” he said. “That’s all that really matters. The numbers probably aren’t going to look so good, but I had a big impact, so I am fine with that.”
Not only that, he got to do it in his hometown.
“It was exciting. Being from New York and playing against the Knicks and Carmelo (Anthony), he was my favorite player growing up, it was a humbling experience,” Walker said. “Beating them here just made it even better.”
Like every rookie, Walker has a long way to go. He's knows this and so does his coach.
"It's there, he has everything there is to be a heck of a player in the NBA. The maturity just isn't there yet, but he's learning."
As Calhoun can attest, these are good problems to have.