Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Kemba Walker will be wearing a UConn jersey when the Huskies face Cincinnati Saturday night in a third-round West Regional game here.
But had things gone differently, he might have ended up in a Bearcats shirt.
“If UConn didn’t come in it would’ve most likely have been Cincinnati,” Walker said Friday. “It was pretty close.
“Me and Coach [Mick] Cronin had a great relationship. He did a great job recruiting me. He had a great relationship with my parents.”
Soon after taking the Cincinnati job in March 2006, Cronin went to then-Rice High School coach Moe Hicks and said he needed a player to help resurrect the Bearcats in the post-Bob Huggins Era.
“Kemba Walker,” Hicks, now on the St. John’s staff, told Cronin. “He was the kind of guy that’s being under-recruited and nobody wants. I tried to tell people about him. He’s been a backup; other people have been higher.’
To hear UConn coach Jim Calhoun tell it, the Huskies knew UConn was Walker’s “dream school,” but only went after him once it became clear that Brandon Jennings wasn’t coming to Storrs.
“Brandon Jennings was visiting us,” Calhoun said. “Brandon, like he did with the other three schools, committed on the visit. He had done that at the previous two schools, so I didn’t know if that was firm or a commitment.
“When the visit got to a conclusion and we made a phone call to Brandon, he said ‘I still want to visit a couple other schools but I still want to come to UConn.’”
Jennings reportedly had been seen around California wearing UConn gear.
But in November 2007, he committed to Southern Cal. He later decommitted from USC in favor of Arizona, only to wind up spending a year in Europe before getting drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Upon realizing that Jennings was out, Calhoun turned to assistant Andre LaFleur and said, “Let’s go after Kemba Walker full blown.”
“The rest I guess is history in some ways,” Calhoun said.
Said Walker: “It was close but I really wanted to come to UConn my entire life. I was waiting for the opportunity and it came.”
Walker’s decision still has fallout now.
When Calhoun learned that at least one Big East coach hadn’t voted for Walker for first-team All-Big East honors, he publicly implied that it was Cronin because the coach had missed out on Walker.
Cronin said at the Big East tournament that he did vote for Walker, and the two men spoke earlier this week when Calhoun called Cronin to straighten things out.
“I’m the one who said something initially,” Calhoun said. “I just wanted to get it squared away. I initiated the phone call. We had a good conversation.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.