Wednesday afternoon, the UConn men’s basketball team took part in the annual Husky Run outside of the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion. On this cool fall day, the atmosphere was light and relaxed. They were signing autographs, coaches and players were joking around, and former UConn stars Kemba Walker and Hasheem Thabeet were reliving their days in Storrs.
The season officially begins tonight, and the laid-back autumn days are coming to an end for the defending national champions.
At this time last year UConn was overlooked; written off by many due to its youth and inexperience. But the Huskies, led by Walker, went on to have a memorable season ending with Jim Calhoun cutting down the nets of his third NCAA National Championship.
The tone is different this time around. Walker has since left for the NBA, and his supporting cast of sophomores Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier, as well as junior Alex Oriakhi, are the main attractions. No longer is UConn flying under the radar, but rather it is the team everyone is gunning for.
“It’s two different starting points, but we’re going to try and do the same thing,” said Lamb.
UConn will look to its backcourt combination of Napier and Lamb to fill the void left by Walker. In their freshman campaigns, both Napier and Lamb were significant in the Huskies’ title run.
This season looks to be promising for the Huskies’ backcourt, especially Lamb. After a freshman season where he became a consistent second option on offense, Lamb is being projected as an All-American, as well as a top-10 pick in next Junes’ NBA Draft.
Lamb has the ability to be a star this winter, but knows it will be more difficult without Walker.
“I know I have to work harder to get my shot,” said the 6-5 guard/forward. “I have to try and do the little stuff, like set my man up before coming off the screen, different stuff like that.”
While Lamb is making up for Walker’s scoring production from a season ago, Napier has taken over Walker’s leadership role.
“Shabazz is a good leader,” said Walker. “And they all do a great job listening to him.”
“They don’t have to listen to me, they don’t have to follow my lead, but they’re willing to give me a chance and allow me to be that guy they want to go to,” added Napier.
Napier can also be seen as a non-vocal leader as well. On the court he is a gritty defender and a steady point guard who can run the offense. During the title run, Napier would often come in at point, moving Walker to the two-guard spot.