By Jimmy Onofrio, Campus Correspondent
Since Kemba Walker took over the Maui Invitational in November, a number of other Huskies have begun to step up and really contribute for coach Calhoun. A lot of the national attention has been focused on freshman Jeremy Lamb, who has scored in double figures consistently during Big East play. A versatile athlete with great length, Lamb is a good ball-handler and a good shooter. He was not a fixture on the national recruiting stage until his senior year of high school, and just one year later, he commands 40 percent of the fan vote for Big East Rookie of the Year on the Big East Conference website.
Other freshmen have also contributed to the Huskies’ surprise season. Coach Jim Calhoun often starts three freshmen: Lamb, Tyler Olander, and Roscoe Smith. While Olander typically only plays the first few minutes and is lucky to see any more time afterward (especially in conference play) Smith and Shabazz Napier are both consistently on the floor for 20 minutes or more.
While Smith may be more famous nationally for his full-court shot at Texas with 11 seconds remaining, he is averaging eight points for the Huskies and has helped them become the No. 7 rebounding team in the nation.
Napier has also been a solid member of this freshman class. Calhoun often will have him run the point, shifting Kemba to the 2-guard. Sometimes he shows signs of youth, passing over a teammate’s head or mismanaging a possession. Napier knows this is still the Kemba Show, however. In the closing seconds of the Villanova game, he handed the ball to Walker and allowed him to do what he does, creating a 61-59 lead with two seconds on the clock. While this may not say much about Napier’s basketball skill, it shows that he recognizes his position, and won’t let his own ego affect his team. He’s still got a few years to prove himself, after all.
So where does this leave the Huskies? UConn will have a very young team entering the NCAA tournament, but they will have a team battle-weathered from one of the toughest conferences in recent memory. Whether this translates into March success is yet to be seen, because tournament experience in invaluable, March Madness is always full of surprises. What can be said is this: This group of freshmen has matured greatly over the course of this season, and while Calhoun may lose his star player, Kemba Walker, to the money and glory of the NBA, he will not be short on athleticism and talent. Having at least four seasoned players back next year will be a valuable asset in an always-challenging Big East Conference.