UConn's Walker, St. John's Hicks to Reunite at Garden | Zagsblog
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Monday / July 15.
  • UConn’s Walker, St. John’s Hicks to Reunite at Garden

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    Kemba Walker wasn’t sure his old coach would ever leave Rice High School.

    After all, Moe Hicks had been at the Catholic powerhouse in Harlem since 1994 and was one of the most respected and accomplished prep coaches in the tri-state area.

    “It’s about time he jumped into college coaching,” Walker said Wednesday. “I honestly didn’t think he would ever do it, but I’m happy for him. He had so many great accomplishments on the high school level, I think it’s time for him to excel on the college level.”

    After joining Steve Lavin’s staff at St. John’s as the Director of Basketball Operations last spring, Hicks will reunite with his former star when the Johnnies host UConn Thursday night at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m., ESPN).

    “It’ll be a good experience for him and for me, my first time playing against him,” said Walker, a junior guard and leading contender for Big East and National Player of the Year honors.

    “I’m just happy to see him be able to make it on the next level. I’m pretty sure we’ll have a chance to talk before the game.”

    ***

    When Hicks thinks back to Walker’s sophomore year when he first made the varsity at Rice, he recalls  “a scrawny little guy” who played point guard behind Edgar Sosa.

    “But he had a big heart,” Hicks, 46, recalled. “He always had a big heart, always played hard and wanted to be good.

    “He was in the trenches at a young age, playing against quality guys. He had a great tutelage. He was able to play amongst guys like Edgar Sosa at a young age. Those are some experiences that actually helped him to be the player that he is now.

    “To watch him as a sophomore in high school, I would never look at him and say, ‘This guy could be the Naismith Player of the Year.'”

    Hicks won six New York City Catholic High School Athletic Association titles, including one in 2006 when Walker was a sophomore. He won 11 CHSAA divisional championships, capturing titles during Walker’s sophomore, junior and senior seasons.

    From Walker’s perspective, Hicks taught him “the value of hard work.”

    “He made me work really hard,” Walker said. “I played behind Edgar my
    sophomore year and had to work for minutes. Just the way the Rice program was, he kept bringing in real good players, so I had to keep working hard. I never knew if I was going to get the chance to play many minutes. That taught me the value of hard work.”

    “Moe really helped me out defensively. I was always a good defensive player, but he really helped with defensive principles.”

    Walker said those principles, in turn, helped him get court time once he arrived at UConn.

    “Because of that, [Hicks] is the one who helped me stay on the court as a freshman here because he emphasized defense so much,” he said. “I took pride in it. That’s what made me be able to stay on the court for Coach [Jim] Calhoun.”

    ***

    After Lavin took the St. John’s job last spring, one of the first things he did was take Hicks out for dinner at Giovanni’s near the Gauchos Gym in The Bronx.

    “He told me that he would love to hire me as director of basketball with the promise that eventually I will be a coach on his staff,” Hicks recalled.

    “He told me what his plan was over the next five, six years, to turn St. John’s into a powerhouse and he wanted me to be a part of that.”

    Lavin’s timing could not have been better. Hicks was ready to make the jump from high school to college.

    He was also tight with fellow New Yorker Tony Chiles, whom Lavin had hired as an assistant.

    “Tony Chiles and I have been childhood friends and he was on board,” Hicks said. “Tony really helped me with the decision-making process and told me that it was going to be a good situation on top of the discussions that Lav and I had.

    “The opportunity to turn a New York team into a powerhouse somewhere I was born and raised is something that was hard to turn down, it really was.”

    ***

    Hicks’ hiring at St. John’s came with a price, though.

    Because of a new NCAA rule, St. John’s cannot recruit anyone from Rice High School or the Gauchos AAU program, where Hicks also coached, until the 2012-13 season.

    The rule was instituted to prevent schools from hiring personnel simply for the benefit of bringing talented players along for the ride. The rule only applies to support staff, not coaches, meaning if Hicks had been named an assistant coach, the restrictions would not apply.

    For his part, Hicks thinks the rule is unfair.

    “To me, it doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

    “It takes away an opportunity from a coach that’s probably deserving of a job.”

    Former Rutgers standout Marquis Webb, for example, couldn’t get hired at Rutgers in part because he played for Paterson Catholic and with the Playaz AAU program and the school wanted to continue to recruit those outfits.

    Hicks said his ultimate goal remains to become a head coach. In the meantime, he’s learning the ropes under Lavin by handling scheduling and other duties.

    Next year St. John’s will host UCLA, visit Duke and play in the Coaches vs. Cancer event at the Garden.

    ***

    Now Hicks will be reunited with the once scrawny kid who’s averaging 23.2 points and 5.3 rebounds and is a likely NBA lottery pick after this season.

    “That’s my guy, man,” Hicks said of Walker. “Those relationship are forever, regardless of if I’m with St. John’s in my heart. He will always be my guy. Those guys will always hold a special place in my heart, and vice versa.

    “So that’s a bond that will always be there regardless.”‘

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    **Big East has contingency plans if UConn faces postseason ban

    **St. John’s to play in Coaches vs. Cancer

    **Winning is on Walker’s mind

    (Phil Chardis contributed reporting)

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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.

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