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. — A few ice baths, a little treatment and Kemba Walker says he’s as spry as any 20-year-old expects to be.
“Yes, the feeling has returned to my legs,” Walker said Wednesday as No. 3 UConn (26-9) prepared to meet No. 14 Bucknell (25-8) in a second-round West Regional game here Thursday.
After playing an unprecedented five games in five days and winning the Big East tournament title over Louisville Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, the Huskies returned to campus Sunday morning and then watched Selection Sunday.
They were back practicing a day later and on Wednesday held practice at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., the school featured in the 2000 film “Remember the Titans” starring Denzel Washington.
“We’re going to treat [the NCAA Tournament] like it’s the Big East tournament again,” UConn big man Alex Oriakhi said.
Of course, to win the school’s — and the Big East’s — first national title since 2004, the Huskies need only win six games over a three-week span.
“We’re not worried about them being tired or anything like that, because, we’re like 20 years old,” Bucknell senior guard G.W. Boon said. “They will be ready play by Thursday.”
Oriakhi said playing five games in five days was no big deal because all of the players are used to the summer AAU circuit, with its multiple games in a single day.
“When you play three AAU games in a day, fatigue is not going to be a factor,” Oriakhi said.
Still, UConn coach Jim Calhoun quipped, “I’ve seen a lot of AAU games. Those weren’t AAU games.”
During their historic five-game run at the Garden, the Huskies knocked off No. 16-seeded DePaul, No. 9 Georgetown, No. 1 Pittsburgh, No. 4 Syracuse (in OT) and No. 3 Louisville.
“Except for the two national championships, it’s certainly one of the highlights of my coaching career,” Calhoun said.
Entering the Big Dance, Calhoun said his primary concern was his team’s “psychological makeup,” not its physical one.
“Is it fresh?” he asked.
He admitted to using whatever tricks and tactics necessary to keep that makeup fresh and to make sure his players are motivated.
“We were picked 10th in our league,” Calhoun said. “Sports Illustrated had 68 teams in the NCAA Tournament [before the season]. We weren’t one of them.”
Said Walker: “From the beginning of the season, people doubted us.”
Whether or not UConn actually has many doubters entering the NCAA Tournament, Calhoun and his players thrive on creating the perception that they do.
“People still feel we’re just lucky,” Walker said, “which is not the case.”
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.