Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Hungry Huskies" Lap Up Another Championship"

Last night the University of Connecticut Men's Basketball team (UCONN  HUSKIES) defeated the the Kentucky University (Wildcats) in North Dallas to win the 2014 championship. This is the fourth championship for UCONN in the last 15 years with other national titles occurring in 1999, 2004, and 2011. Last season, UCONN was banned from post season play due to a low APR (Academic Progress Report) by the NCAA for low academic scores and graduation rates for previous players who transferred or went to the NBA early; all of which had nothing to do with the current UCONN team. This NCAA action of punishing a team for previous years players academic short comings was to me unfair as it denied this team a chance to compete during 2013 in post season play at the Big East final tournament in New York City as well as a chance to be selected to compete in last years NCAA College Basketball tournament.

Shabazz Napier, point guard for UCONN said on the podium last night something to the effect of " Listen Up Everybody! Can I have your Attention just for a minute. We've been waiting two years for this an what you see before you is a bunch of HUNGRY HUSKIES who were denied a chance to compete."

This UCONN team demonstrated the power of focus, belief in themselves and their teammates, towards a goal of winning a national championship. Coach Kevin Ollie, who succeeded the legendary coach Jim Calhoun, in just his second season has won a national championship in his first NCAA tournament as a head coach. Coach Ollie, a former UCONN  point guard and 13 year NBA veteran, brought the Huskies to this very stadium earlier in the season during a Texas 2 game road trip and losses to Houston and SMU (Southern Methodist University) and told his team that they should focus on coming back to this stadium in April. Coach Ollie also told the UCONN crowd during the regular season that he hoped to bring back some hardware and raise another banner to the Gampel Pavillion rafters. I recall after the St. Joes win in the first round of the tournament they showed the UCONN locker room and former coach Jim Calhoun saying "One down five to go". This Husky team was not satisfied just to be in the tournament but truly expected and believed their championship goal was obtainable.

Most the the basketball "pundits" had UCONN losing each step of the way during each of the 6 games UCONN won to clinch this championship. First St. Joes, then Villanova, then Iowa State, then Michigan State, then Florida, then Kentucky.  Michigan State was a fashionable pick for the pundits as was number 1 overall seed Florida and finally the 7 freshman talented Kentucky squad. The pundits focused on the greater size of these teams and the defense abilities of Michigan State and Florida in particular. What the pundits didn't factor into their prognostications was the size of the "HUSKY HEART' , determination, and quickness of the Connecticut squad.as well as the "in your face" UCONN defensive  ball pressure and intensity of effort displayed by guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright along with the steady play and 3 point shooting of Niels Giffey and the talented inside outside play of the "X" factor Deandre Daniels. The Connecticut squad improved their rebounding proficiency throughout this season with the help as well from centers Amida  Brimah and Philip Nolan and the guard play of Terrence Samuel. Yes, the Kentucky guards were taller than UCONN guards but for example I am willing to wager the Ryan Boatright at about 6 feet tall can jump as high if not higher than the Kentucky Harrison twins.

Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey, and Tyler Olander, were all members of the 2011 national Championship year as freshmen when Kemba Walker led UCONN through a Big East Tournament championship winning 5 games in 5 nights followed by the win over Butler University for the national title. These three become the first UCONN players to win more than 1 championship during the college career with "Bookend Champioships" their freshman and senior years. When you think of it, maybe there should be an "asterisk" placed next to Louisville's 2013 championship crown as UCONN  was not eligible to compete that year. Louisville "had UCONN's number" this year beating the Huskies 3 times during the regular season and AAC conference tournament but UCONN did beat Florida twice this year the consensus number 1 ranked team for this tournament.

Congratulations to the "Hungry Huskies" players and coaches for sticking with the goals and dreams of championship glory and lapping up another championship. Your belief in yourselves and your teammates was rewarded as you silenced the critics who doubted the "Hearts of a Champion".