Spitting Image

Gordon rejoices from afar as UConn’s Walker hits game-winner

Ben Gordon still displays his Huskies pride.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
Ben Gordon made the short trek from his native New York for college at UConn, made into a national power during the Rip Hamilton era when the Huskies won a national title under Jim Calhoun. In his junior season, he carried the Huskies to the Big East tournament title with a tour de force performance that bumped Allen Iverson from the record book.

So when Kemba Walker, another product of the New York playground incubator and another UConn junior, nailed a dramatic game-winner to upset Pitt in the Big East quarterfinals, Gordon – more than 1,000 miles away in his Oklahoma City hotel room – flashed back seven years to UConn’s 2004 run that culminated not only with a Big East tournament title but the NCAA championship captured in the city where Gordon played only Wednesday night, San Antonio.

“I sent him a text, but I don’t even remember what I said,” Gordon said after Pistons practice later Thursday afternoon. “I’ve got to go and look at my phone. I was so hyped. I sent it right after the game and I think I just said I was proud of him.”

Walker shares more with Gordon than their New York and UConn roots and their propensity to make big shots to win Big East games. NBA scouts see a similarity in their games – fearless scorers with the mentality of a shooting guard in a point guard’s body.

Gordon admits he sees much of himself when he watches Walker.

“Definitely – that move he did today was a move I’ve done in college. Those types of shots, I’ve made. The type of player he is, the way he creates for himself off the dribble, a very good mid-range game. I think he’s a typical New York guard, a guy who can create his own shot, tough. I haven’t been that hyped watching a game in a long time, so I’m really happy for him.”

Walker has a few huge hurdles to clear to draw further parallels to Gordon. The Huskies would have to win their next eight games to match the 2004 UConn team’s double of Big East and NCAA titles. But Walker seems almost a lock to follow Gordon’s career path of leaving UConn after his junior year for the NBA. When UConn held Senior Day last weekend, Walker was included among the honorees.

Walker is projected to go as high as the bottom half of the top 10, but most believe he’s more likely to go somewhere in the late lottery. Gordon thinks the key for Walker’s NBA chances will be finding the right fit.

“The thing I like about him most is he doesn’t back down,” Gordon said. “He has a lot of heart and he competes on the defensive end. With his skill set in the NBA, he’ll be able to play the point. Once he gets to the league, it’s all about the system and how hard you work. But I don’t question his work ethic. It’ll just be the right opportunity for him to fit in somewhere and he’ll have success.”

In fact, Calhoun has said Walker is the hardest worker he’s ever had, and if there’s a common link about the great UConn guards who have preceded Walker to the NBA – Ray Allen and Pistons teammates Gordon and Rip Hamilton – it’s their work ethic.

“He’s not playing well for no reason,” Gordon said. “First of all, Calhoun demands nothing but hard work. That’s a huge compliment, coming from coach Calhoun, for a kid like Kemba. Because Calhoun has had a number of pros and so many guys who have worked really hard. So that’s a wonderful compliment.”

Gordon won’t be able to see UConn’s Friday semifinal game with old rival Syracuse – or Saturday’s Big East title game, should the Huskies advance – as the Pistons have games with Oklahoma City and Denver. But he’ll tape them and watch when the Pistons get back to Detroit and live vicariously through Walker.

“I know how it is to play in the Garden,” he said. “I know how he’s feeling right now. That’s why I think I was so happy. I remember having so many great moments in the Garden and I can just imagine what he’s feeling like right now – in front of all his friends, his family and it being such a big game. I know exactly how he’s feeling. I felt like I shared some of the excitement.”

  • John Kuester also watched Walker’s big moment.

    “Great move the kid Walker made – very impressive,” he said. “Greatest time of the year. These next couple of weeks are the greatest time in basketball.”

    As for Friday’s starting lineup? Kuester said he hasn’t decided who’ll line up against the Thunder for the opening tip. After Tracy McGrady sat out five games, he was back as the starting point guard against San Antonio with Rodney Stuckey coming off the bench. Stuckey is the Piston best equipped to guard athletic Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook.