UConn’s focused on the Big East title, not the NCAA tournament


NEW YORK – Kemba Walker didn’t want Friday night’s Big East semifinal against Syracuse, which UConn won 76-71, to go into overtime.

Can you blame him?

Ignoring the fact that UConn blew a six point lead in the last 40 seconds of regulation, the kid has played 157 minutes of basketball in the last four days, including 85 in the past two games.

“Of course I didn’t want to go into another sixth overtime,” Walker said with a laugh after the game. “I was mad when it went into the first overtime. But I thought about the six-overtime game and I wanted to get the win in that first OT. I didn’t want to go into another one.”

Eventually, you would think he would get tired, right?

Because these aren’t easy minutes Kemba is playing. Every shot he takes he has to work for, whether its coming off of a screen or putting the ball on the floor. Nothing comes easy for him on the offensive end, not when he’s spent the majority of the season with the team resting squarely in the center of his diminutive shoulders. When he’s not scoring, he’s forced to defend one of an opponent’s best back court players. Hell, he even led the team in rebounding tonight.

“Tell me the other guys who were getting 12 rebounds, six steals and assists,” UConn head coach Jim Calhoun said after the game, ignoring the 33 points Kemba had on 9-18 shooting. “One of the greatest performances of any player of mine. I’ve never see a guard dominate a game inside and out.”

What Walker has done in this tournament is nothing short of spectacular. He’s already set the record for points scored in the Big East tourney with 111, breaking the old mark of 84 that Eric Devendorf set in 2009. When he scores his sixth point tomorrow night, he will break the all-time conference tournament record of 116 points held by Armon Johnson, who did it for Ohio last year in the MAC.

Regardless of what happens in Saturday’s final, Kemba has cemented his spot in Big East Tournament history.

The question that UConn must answer is whether, after becoming the first team in conference tournament history to play five games in five days, their team, and Kemba in particular, will have the energy to compete tomorrow night.

Alex Oriakhi, for one, isn’t worried about Walker.

“When we play pick up in the summer and we’re all tired, he’s still running around,” the Huskies center said after going for 15 points and 11 boards, including six huge offensive rebounds. “He’s like a little kid with tireless energy. Kemba, he’s just never tired.”

“He can’t get tired tomorrow. Its the championship.”

Tonight, however, you could see Kemba’s legs start to go late. Where he was able to get by his man early in the game, the Husky point guard didn’t have that extra burst down the stretch. The step back jumpers he was hitting all tournament? Those were coming up short in the second half.

“The only thing that surprised me is when he went to the interview he looked tired,” Calhoun said. “Not so tired at the start of the game but at the end of the game.”

When Kemba got tired in the second half, his teammates were there to pick him up. After being relatively non-existent for much of the game, freshman Jeremy Lamb made arguably the two biggest baskets of the game in overtime, knocking down a couple of floaters against the Syracuse zone that allowed UConn to hold on to their lead.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow, the talking point for the next week regarding the Huskies is going to be whether playing five games in the Big East Tournament is worth it. The amount of effort that the Huskies have expended this week has to have some effect on how they play during the NCAA Tournament.

For now, however, that isn’t what the Huskies are focused on. They are focused on winning in the here and now.

“To say you are the best team in the best conference, that speaks for itself,” Oriakhi said.

Walker agreed.

“Its the best collegiate tournament in the world,” Walker said. “Its big time. It would definitely help us out for seeding in the NCAA Tournament.”

“We want to win. We’re not going to play no games to lose. We want to go out and win.”

And if Kemba continues to play the way he has, there’s a good chance that happens. There is no half-ass in these Huskies. This is a group that has gelled as the season as gone along. This is a team that believes that they can beat anyone in the country. And they understand that in order to do that, they have to play with a reckless abandon. They have to outwork their opponents. They have to make the blue-collar plays. They have to win the 50-50 balls.

Not to be cliche, but they have to leave everything they have on the floor every night.

And their star is the guy that leads the charge, that sets the tone for the rest of the team.

“I think [Kemba]’s the M.V.P. on any college basketball team in America,” Calhoun said. “And I’m going to keep saying that because you’ve got a chance to witness what we have witnessed over the past 30-somewhat games.”

Did I mention he got 12 rebounds?

How did a point guard that is 6’0″ of a good day manage that?

“He got a lot of long rebounds,” Oriakhi said with a laugh. “He wasn’t battling like I was.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

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MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.