The day before UConn defeated Butler in the national championship game, guard and team leader Kemba Walker was asked about the possibility that he might return to Storrs next season.
"If we win the national championship, I'm thinking back-to-back," Walker said at the time. "We'll have a great team -- we'll have the same team, actually -- yeah, if I get back to this point again, it'll be fun. These guys are like my brothers so, um, yeah."
Nice sentiments, for sure, but I don't think anybody -- Walker included -- believed them. And, really, you can't blame him. He has won virtually every award, every honor and a conference and NCAA title -- there's nothing left for Walker in college. Which is why his comments on Tuesday aren't at all surprising.
When asked what he was going to miss about his Huskies teammates Kemba said, "They're my brothers. They're my life-long brothers. … I'm gonna miss being around these guys."
Kemba: "I'm Going to Miss Being Around These Guys"
So it sounds like that's it, and the timing couldn't be more perfect. In addition to all the basketball accolades, Walker will graduate in May. When students get their college degree, they typically look for a job and that sounds like that's Kemba's plan.
As for the Huskies, the 2011-2012 starting point guard is already on the roster. Freshman Shabazz Napier came off the bench in recent weeks to spark the offense, allowing Walker to move to shooting guard, and forcing defenses to adjust. For 11 games, both in the Big East Tournament and the NCAAs, no team could.
Napier was asked shortly after UConn's championship victory about Walker leaving for the NBA.
"I'm going to miss him a lot just because he's been a big brother to me. … On the court we're going to miss him -- I can't explain it … he's superhuman. I'm just happy right now for him, I hope the best for him and, if this is his last game, he's going to go onto bigger and better things."
In the last six months, Napier has gone from another wide-eyed freshman to an integral part of the team during their stretch run. That was never more evident than during the second half of the Butler game. At the half, UConn trailed 22-19 and coach Jim Calhoun made it clear that the outcome rested on Napier's shoulders.
Napier, appearing on Fox Sports Radio after the game, was asked about Calhoun's halftime speech.
"He just told us defensively we were playing great, but offensively we weren't getting into our stuff. He really got at me because he feels like I’m a spark and I come off the bench now, I’m the sparkplug. He just told me, if we don’t get this going, if I don’t really push them defensively, than we might lose this game. The best thing I could do at this point right now is go hard and sacrifice myself. I felt like that’s what I did. We just picked it up.”
It will be impossible to replace Walker and I'm pretty sure no one would dispute that. But the Huskies are in good hands. Not only with Napier, but also a roster full of other young players, all of whom made huge strides this season.