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.
Big Nights for Big East’s Walker & Fisher; Brownlee Drops 20 as Johnnies Win in OT
NEW YORK — Jay Wright is in a unique position to comment on the two New York guards and former middle school backcourt mates, Kemba Walker and Corey Fisher.
He coached Walker this summer with the USA Select Team against Team USA and he’s been with Fisher for four years at Villanova.
On the same night Walker dropped 29 points in an 84-67 rout of No. 8 Kentucky to win the Maui Invitational, Fisher scored a career-high 26 points in No. 7 Villanova’s 82-70 win over UCLA in the semis of the NIT Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden.
The Wildcats meets No. 24 Tennessee in Friday’s championship.
Asked which player was better right now, Wright answered: “Great question. We got to coach Kemba in the summer. They are similar. They have similar personalities too. I was surprised coaching Kem; he reminded me of Corey. Great kid. Real nice kid. You think tough Bronx kid, hard-headed. He’s not. They’re very close. Great kids.”
While UConn imploded last season because of a lack of leadership, there is no question this year who their leader is. After spending the summer training with and against players like Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook. Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul, Walker’s skills and leadership abilities have grown by leaps and bounds.
What he’s accomplished in the last week is nothing short of remarkable. He put up 42, 31, 30 and 29 points in four games — 120 total — and carried the unranked Huskies to back-to-back wins over No. 2 Michigan State and No. 8 Kentucky.
To the surprise of no one, he was named tournament MVP.
“I was having a lot of fun,” Walker told reporters.
UConn picked 10th in the 16-team Big East, probably wants to petition to play all their games in Maui, but short of that they served notice that they could be a serious force in the Big East.
“This is a great step for us,” Huskies coach Jim Calhoun said. “It’s letting people know that we are Connecticut, have been Connecticut for the past 20-something years and we think we’re a pretty good basketball team.”
At the Garden, where Fisher, Corey Stokes (Bayonne, N.J.) and Antonio Pena (Brooklyn) always enjoy a homecoming, Wright said he was concerned that the New York guys might be too amped up.
“I know for me one of our biggest concerns every time we play here is it’s the opponent and then it’s our New York guys being in the Garden,” Wright said. “Because they’re overexcited. They want to do well. It’s home for them. It’s the Mecca.”
But Fisher, Stokes and Maalik Wayns shook off whatever nerves they had and showed a national audience just how devastating Villanova can be when all three play well.
They combined for 61 of Nova’s 82 points, with Wayns going for 19 and Stokes 16.
“They were the way they were supposed to be,” UCLA guard Lazeric Jones said, referring to Fisher and Wayns. “They were really good guards, some of the two best guards in the country.”
Having Wayns and Fisher together on the floor effectively gives Villanova two elite-level ball-handlers capable of breaking down a defense and finding the open man.
“Me and Maalik are going to be aggressive at all times,” Fisher said. “And if we don’t got a shot, we’re going to see the next guys. We have guys like stokes, [Dominic] Cheek and guys that can knock down shots. That’s something we came out with. We knew they were going to be aggressive in the second half. We got in the lane and we just took what the defense gave us.”
On one second-half sequence that should send shivers throughout the Big East, Villanova swung the ball from one side of the court to the other through Wayns, Fisher and Stokes before Stokes found a wide-open Mouph Yarou, who threw down a dunk.
Yarou, who missed much of last year with Hepatitis-B, looked highly impressive in finishing with 13 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks.
“I feel great, actually,” he said. “I just want to play hard. So I’m looking forward to play against great players and a great team.”
Said Wright of Yarou: “That’s what we expect from him. He can be a force inside. We never have a big guy that when he gets four fouls, we’re trying to get him back in the game. We have a bunch of little guys, just keep rotating in. It’s nice to have a big guy, you want to get him back in there. He was a great presence in the paint.”
While Villanova has many pieces, there’s no doubt it’s Fisher’s team. After scoring 105 points in a summer league tilt, he was featured on the cover of SI, along with Jimmer Fredette of BYU and Jacob Pullen of Kansas State.
“Obviously, Fisher is fantastic,” UCLA coach Ben Howland said. “Even with an off-shooting night, 6 for 19, he still manufactures 26 points, because he gets to the line 15 times. You can tell he really has a good feel how to shot fake, get us up in the air and draw the foul.”
Between them, Walker and Fisher should inspire fear in Big East defenses as the season progresses.
BROWNLEE DROPS 20 AS JOHNNIES WIN IN OT
Big win for the Johnnies in a 2 a.m. game at the Great Alaska Shootout. Read Mark Fratto’s gripping epic here.
New York native Vincent Council scored a career-high 29 points as Providence beat Wyoming, 84-77, to finish third in the Cancun Challenge...Yancy Gates put up 12 points to lead Cincinnati (4-0) over Savannah State, 54-41…Seton Hall freshman Aaron Geramipoor is back home in England dealing with a case of mono and could redshirt this season…St. Benedict’s will scrimmage DeMatha Catholic Saturday at 3 p.m. at Villanova.
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.