Walker is quickly turning UConn around
UConn has finally found itself a leader.
Jerome Dyson was the senior, expected to be the one to get the others to follow in this, his final go-around in Storrs.
But just as it wasn’t necessarily in Jeff Adrien’s nature a few years back, Dyson isn’t a natural born leader.
He’s one of those quiet, lead-by-example guys. The kind of guy that just lets his actions do his talking.
Kemba Walker didn’t want to overstep his bounds. He’s a typical chatty New York City point guard, although he’s just a sophomore on a team with three seniors: Dyson, Stanley Robinson and Gavin Edwards.
But it was time.
“I’ve seen it with Kemba lately,” Edwards said after UConn’s 73-62 victory against West Virginia on Monday night.
“He’s more vocal. He’s become a better leader in the last couple weeks.”
And Dyson is fine with it.
“Jerome is buying in now,” added Huskies coach Jim Calhoun. “He’s allowing Kemba to take over.”
“Kemba’s great at it,” Dyson said. “He’s always energized.”
Take the final minute of the game when West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was tossed from the game for picking up two quick technical fouls.
Normally, it would be Dyson who would go to the line in that situation.
Instead, Dyson agreed with Calhoun that Walker should take the free throws.
“I had 17 points and probably would have wanted to get 20 earlier in the year,” Dyson admitted. “But this isn’t about me. It’s about the team, and Kemba was making his free throws.”
It’s also about winning — something this Huskies team has finally begun to do.
“We’re a tough team to figure out, but we’re taking advantage of our opportunities,” Calhoun said.
Just nine days ago, UConn came out with virtually no intensity even as its Hall of Fame coach returned from a 23-day medical leave of absence.
It was difficult to explain because if there was ever a time to lay an egg, that wasn’t it — and Calhoun was embarrassed by the team’s lack of effort.
The Huskies appeared headed down an ugly road that would bring them to the NIT or even the CBI. They were 14-11 overall and 4-8 in the Big East after that Saturday afternoon loss to Cincinnati.
Now, the Huskies are back in the NCAA tournament equation after two wins against top 10 teams — the most recent coming Monday night at home against West Virginia.
“I think so,” Dyson said when asked if he thought the Huskies were an NCAA tournament club following a three-game winning streak that also included a victory at Villanova. “I feel that we are.”
“I think we’re getting close,” added Robinson.
This UConn team showed intensity Monday night from the get-go, a passion and toughness that may have been inspired by their head coach.
Calhoun picked up a technical just 47 seconds into the game.
“I wanted them to know I was ready for this game,” Calhoun said.
The trio of Walker, Dyson and Robinson came to play as well, combining for 53 of the team’s 73 points.
However, it’s been Walker who has been sensational over the last few games.
“Our leadership wasn’t good earlier in the year,” Walker admitted. “I knew I had to do something.”
Walker has averaged 22 points in the last three games — all wins for the Huskies.
“He’s one of the best point guards in the country,” Calhoun said. “I don’t have any question.”
What the Huskies did differently, according to Huggins, was make shots.
UConn shot 42 percent from the field.
“They weren’t making shots before,” Huggins said. “Dyson and Walker were making shots tonight, and we didn’t make shots.”
UConn is now 17-11 and has climbed to 7-8 in Big East play with three games remaining.
It starts with Louisville at home Sunday, and then the Huskies finish with two road games at Notre Dame and South Florida.
“I have no idea if we are in the tournament or not,” Walker said. “I’m not sure what to think, but I know we’ll have a good chance if we keep winning.”
Spoken like a true leader.