Kemba Walker didn’t win Big East player of the year.
Ben Hansbrough did.
And no matter how clouded your judgement is with UConn bias, arguing against Hansbrough is a tough thing to do. Kemba was sensational earlier in the season, but struggled a bit in Big East play. Hansbrough, on the other hand, carried the Irish from a potential tournament team in the preseason to a potential No. 1 seed in the postseason.
You can argue Kemba was more deserving if you like, but you cannot rightfully say that Hansbrough didn’t deserve this award.
You also cannot rightfully say that Kemba Walker was, at worst, the second best player in the Big East conference, which is why it was shocking to find out that he was not a unanimous pick by the Big East head coaches for first team all-Big East, which, for the record, has six players.
UConn head coach Jim Calhoun, for one, was not pleased when he found out.
“I think someone took a vacation and didn’t tell us and has been gone for five months,” Calhoun told reporters after the game. “If anybody did it because they lost out in him recruiting wise, which we went to one city this year that that was the story in the paper, something from three years ago.”
The article that Calhoun is referring to came from Bill Koch at the Cincinnati Enquirer at the end of February, and it highlights one of the issues with having coaches select the postseason awards in a conference. Kemba committed to UConn, backing off from Cincinnati late in the recruiting process. What if Mick Cronin, voting out of spite for the decision of an 18 year old, cost Kemba the player of the year in the Big East?
I’m not insinuating that Cronin was the coach that didn’t vote Kemba on the first team, but in a business as cutthroat and shady as collegiate coaching, you’re telling me there is no chance that a coach would allow a personal beef over a broken commitment, a hurt feeling, or a backroom deal backed-out on influence his voting?
“I’ve always said the media should vote this because I’ve watched things,” Calhoun said. “Coach of the Year and Player of the Year, and they don’t always come out because there is enough guys who thinks it actually makes a difference.”
“[Kemba]’s as good a player in America and he’ll be a first-team all American. I can’t believe that no one would ever see him play and see the joy in which he plays with the speed he plays with the ability he plays with and the pure love of the game and think he is not as good of a player as he is in the league.”
Kemba was terrific again in this afternoon’s 79-62 win over Georgetown in the Big East Tournament’s, confirming Calhoun’s feelings about him. He finished with 28 points on 10-18 shooting from the field while adding six rebounds, three assists, and two steals. This came a night after he had 26 points, seven boards, and five assists in UConn’s win over DePaul.
But DePaul is DePaul. And Georgetown without Chris Wright has played like DePaul.
Up next for the Huskies will be Pitt, who beat the Huskies by 15 this season despite a 31 point performance from Walker. That game, however, took place back in December, and since then the rest of the UConn roster has come alive.
Jeremy Lamb and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel have both become legitimate double digit scoring threats from the perimeter. Getting the scoring isn’t as important as simply having a presence on the floor that the defense needs to be aware of.
“You don’t need a lot of those shots to go in,” Calhoun said. “You need the threat of a guy who can make those shots go in, that makes a big difference. They changed the defense, he made a difference today he’s going to have to make one tomorrow.”
Lamb and Coombs-McDaniel will help create space for penetrators like Kemba and Shabazz Napier, but the key for the Huskies tomorrow will be in the form of their front court. Pitt is the best offensive rebounding team in the Big East, and while the Huskies have a knack for getting to the offensive back boards, boxing out isn’t necessarily this team’s strong point.
“We need Roscoe and Alex and those guys to be tough for us,” Walker said after the game. “That’s the biggest thing. Pitt is an aggressive team down low and they get rebounds you’ve got to outrebound them and stay tough.”
Yesterday, Alex Oriakhi ended up with 19 rebounds. He only had five in 24 minutes this after noon. Charles Okwandu only had three rebounds, while Lamb and Smith added four each.
Believe it or not, Kemba Walker was the Huskies leading rebounder on Wednesday.
While that supports Calhoun’s argument that leaving Kemba Walker off of the Big East’s first team is ludicrous, its a bad sign for UConn’s team.
If that happens tomorrow, The Huskies can spend Friday and Saturday packing for the NCAA Tournament.