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.
NEW YORK — Jim Calhoun — or whoever the UConn coach is next season — will have a hard enough time replacing the loss of Kemba Walker.
Imagine how difficult the coach’s job would be if Jeremy Lamb had departed for the NBA, too.
The 6-foot-5 freshman considered testing the NBA waters before opting to remain in school for his sophomore season.
“He would’ve gone in the first round this year, that much I can guarantee you,” Calhoun said of Lamb on Wednesday at the New York Athletic Club. “I got enough phone calls [from NBA executives]. They’re calling about Kemba and they’re calling about him.”
Lamb averaged just 9.6 points during the regular season, but his stock exploded as UConn won 11 straight postseason games — five in five days to capture the Big East Tournament and six more to win UConn’s third NCAA championship since 1999.
Lamb averaged 16.2 points during the NCAA Tournament, hitting for a career-high tying 24 against San Diego State, 19 versus Arizona in the West Regional final and 12 in the national semifinals against Kentucky.
With UConn trailing Butler 22-19 at halftime in the national championship game, Lamb scored all 12 of his points in the second half to key a 53-41 rout.
“Oh, I think it helped [his stock] tremendously because when you put up numbers like that on that stage in the NCAA Tournament, I think it always increases your stock,” his father, Rolando Lamb, told SNY.tv last month.
Calhoun said when he was at the White House with his team on Monday a UConn booster approached him and asked, “What are you going to to do now? Kemba’s good because he has the ball. What are you going to do get Jeremy the ball?”
“Ray Allen got the ball,” Calhoun told the booster, “Rip Hamilton got the ball. We got the ball to those guys pretty good. So we’ll get him the ball.”
Calhoun added: “We expect him to be a 20-point scorer next year and do some things for him.”
Lamb will train with the U19 World Championship Team June 17-24 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and will also attend several high-profile camps.
The Huskies lose Walker — who is projected as a Top 5 pick in the NBA Draft — but return Lamb and point guard Shabazz Napier to the backcourt. Calhoun is also high on incoming combo guard Ryan Boatright.
“The one game I saw him play since the summer, he had 63 [points], nine 3-pointers, four dunks,” Calhoun said of Boatright. “He’s a great player. He’s the Player of the Year in the state of Illinois…He’s as incredible an athlete as you’re going to see. He’s a freaky athlete.”
Calhoun said he plans to play Napier, Lamb and Boatright together sometimes in a three-guard rotation.
“The league doesn’t have a lot of big guys,” Calhoun said of the Big East. “They’re dominated, quite frankly, by the three-guard look. We’ve had a three-guard look for years. When Kemba was a freshman, we had A.J. [Price], Craig Austrie and those guys and we went to a Final Four. It’s a hard matchup, If you have a four-man that’s mobile, it can really, really cause you some problems.”
Calhoun is also hoping for more from 6-9 freshman forward Tyler Olander, whom he said will trip in August to Italy with Napier on a traveling team.
“Tyler’s probably one of the best shooters we have on the team,” Calhoun said. “He’s much more explosive than he showed….He’s got to have a big summer for us. We think he’s important.”
Freshman forward Niels Giffey was invited and promised a spot on the German National team, Calhoun said.
“So he’ll have a great summer,” the coach said. “I think he could come back as a surprise guy for us. In Maui, he was a brute.”
And redshirt freshman Michael Bradley will also “give us some help,” Calhoun said.
With the transfer of guard Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, UConn has nine scholarship players with Boatright and Calhoun plans to add a 10th. They missed out on shooting guard Trevor Lacey, who committed Thursday to Alabama, and on point guard Sterling Gibbs, who opted for Texas after getting released from Maryland.
“We gave up two [scholarships] for the APR already,” Calhoun said. “We had two kids leave the program last year, so we’re operating right now on 10 scholarships. We can add one more and we plan to.”
Calhoun said the staff is weighing whether to add a guard or a big man as the 10th player.
“To get quality people at this point in time, two ways you can go,” he said. “A kid who can return to prep school but is eligible, and then there’s the decommitments. When coaches leave, we’ve got phone calls from three or four different kids.
“And we’re trying to figure out now where we feel the most comfortable. What happens if Shabazz from Day One has an ankle sprain and can’t play the first four games?”
While the 10th player remains to be named, at least Calhoun can count on Lamb’s return.
**Calhoun still undecided about future
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.