A look back at the ’98-’99 National Champion UConn Huskies.
Hamilton, ’98′s Big East Player of the Year, crossed the 1,000-point barrier last February, making him the quickest Husky to reach four figures. The inevitable Ray Allen comparisons ensued, since it was the Milwaukee Buck guard/thespian’s mark Hamilton shattered. But Hamilton is much different from Allen. He doesn’t have the same strength that Allen does and doesn’t yet shoot as well as his predecessor. Of course, anybody who saw Hamilton nail a fadeaway J at the buzzer to beat Washington in the third round of last year’s NCAA tourney might dispute that. “You can’t imagine how great it is until you’re put in the position to make a shot like that.”
With the Connecticut halfcourt attack so geared toward getting Hamilton open–he must run of about 25 screens each possession–Hamilton will make serious runs at All-America and national Player-of-the-Year honors in ’98-99. Sounds like a worthwhile tradeoff: he may not have NBA millions right now, but he should be one of the biggest things in college basketball come November.
“It was a very difficult decision to stay,” Hamilton says. “I had to weigh my options. You can’t just look at the mony. I think I made the best decision by staying in school. I’ll have more time to grow as a person and a basketball player. I’m not rushing myself. I just want to have fun. This way, I’m not in the business world yet.”
No other UConn player had to make a similar decision during the spring (although El-Amin no doubt considers himself NBAmaterial), but that doesn’t mean the Huskies aren’t packed with plenty of talent. The backcourt alone shows that. Before El-Amin hit the scene, senior Ricky Moore was considered one of the nation’s most promising point men. He’s still there, even if they hype has passed him by. A lethal defender who had a sterling 2.5:1 assist:turnover ratio last year, Moore need only improve his three-point accuracy to attract some pro attention next summer. And lest anyone think there isn’t room for him and El-Amin on the same team, consider that each averaged about 30 minutes a game last year and spent considerable time on the floor together, with Hamilton sliding into a wing role. “At first, the rumor was that I took his job, but we squashed that,” El-Amin says. “We wanted to play together. We get along and hang out off the court. Senior Rashamel Jones, a productive slasher, and sophomore shooter Albert Mouring round out what is easily the nation’s best backcourt.
IN addition, Connecticut may have its deepest, most talented frontcourt ever this year, thanks to the continued maturation of Freeman, Voskuhl and 6-11 Souleymane Wane as well as the debuts of 6-8 Edmund Saunders [Editor's note: finally] and 7-0 Aussie import Justin Brown. Freeman, who did consider transferring (UMass was the early leader), learned that there will be opportunities for him to step away from the basket at times this year, particularly if Wane, Saunders and Brown emerge as factors. That should make the 6-7 Freeman, who averaged 10.3 ppg and 6.6 rpg even more productive. Of course, he’ll still be responsible for teaming with Voskuhl and the other big guys to set head-hunting picks to free Hamilton. “If you’re guarding Rip, you’re in for a long night, because Kevin and I will be trying to level people,” Voskuhl says.
Calhoun can’t say enough about Wane, who spent the summer with the Senegalese junior national team, no doubt haunting opponents with his 7-7 reach. Like many African players, the game is still new to him, but he should bea defensive force this season.