And so it ends. At 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Kemba Walker is expected to announce that he will forgo his senior season at UConn to turn pro. When a college player leaves school early for the promise of stardom and millions, it's often a tenuous departure.
Either the player isn't yet ready for the bright lights and big stage of professional life but has been talked into it despite his coach's protestations. Or maybe he is ready, but only spent a year in college, the team underachieved, and by leaving he appears more like a mercenary than a wide-eyed teenager just happy to be on campus.
But these are different times. Plus, neither description fits Walker, who accomplished more in three years -- including earning his diploma -- than most student-athletes ever accomplish. The 2010-2011 short list: Maui Invitational MVP, Big East conference first-team, Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player, NCAA Final Four MOP, first-team All-American, Cousy Award winner as the nation's best point guard, and oh, yeah: NCAA Champs. Not a bad haul for a guy who wasn't heavily recruited coming out of New York, or for a team with few expectations coming into the season.
In the truest sense of the sentiment, there really is nothing left for Walker in college. The only reason he would stay is if, like Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, he loved the campus experience and was in no rush to get on with the rest of his life. Walker's nothing if not active. Waiting around for next year isn't in his makeup, even if an NBA labor dispute is on the horizon.
As for what his immediate future holds, Walker has until May 8 to withdraw from the NBA Draft, assuming he doesn't hire an agent. That's not happening, which means that he will get his degree early next month and begin the process of working out for NBA teams in advance of the draft in late June.
As for where Walker stands now, some 10 weeks from the draft, ESPN.com's Chad Ford has him as the ninth-best player on his big board, and the second-best point guard after Kyrie Irving. Here's what Ford wrote on April 5, the day after the Huskies' improbable run to the championship:
Walker was rarely spectacular in the Final Four. He shot 11-for-34 from the field and 1-for-9 from 3-point range and had just one assist more than he had turnovers -- not the stuff we normally think about when describing a potential lottery pick. But … through it all, Walker did the heavy lifting. He carried his team on his back all year. He hit baskets when his team needed it. Even when his shot wasn't falling, he showed toughness and heart. NBA GMs like winners, and Walker has proven he's one.
Ford also notes that there will be concerns because Walker is undersized, his jump shot needs work, and some NBA teams wonder if he has the court vision to be a point guard. Still, Ford thinks that Walker will be taken somewhere between pick No. 5 and No. 13.
If nothing else, Kemba has made a career out of proving people wrong. I don't see how his next challenge will be any different.