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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gagne: UConn Basketball NOW! (a walk-on's dream)

When Lunn first approached me about doing this blog, I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical and ambivalent. First of all, "fat" and "white" are two words that are rarely associated with the basketball world now that Ed Nelson has graduated. Secondly, nobody (myself included) appreciates a practically unknown figure attempting to hang on to fleeting success through the blog-o-sphere. I've never been a huge fan of blogging, but if Kanye does it, it can't be all bad. Anything to help me sleep at night.

Lastly, I questioned whether I could relate my experiences on the team, which concluded two years ago, to the current state of the team in national championship contention. But this is the beauty of UConn basketball: the faces change, the opponents vary, and the assistant coaches come and go. There's even a new equipment guy this year (he's replacing Pat Abbott, a local icon). But through it all, the passion is constant. It's shown by the fans, the players, and the ultra-competitive nature of the legendary head coach. Hopefully this passion will allow me to draw a connection between my experiences and the season that is currently taking place.

With that said, I had the opportunity to attend the UConn vs. Michigan game on Saturday. I went with two former walk-ons, Osazee Omokaro and Nicholas Forostoski. Osazee's younger brother, Emmanuel, is currently a safety on the football team. Emmanuel prides himself on his weight-room performances; and therefore, needs an occasional reminder that he is far from reaching his brother's stature.

Nevertheless, we arrived at the game at the same time as Ray Allen. To avoid a mob-like rush of fans, Jesus Shuttlesworth was given a backstage escort to his seat behind the UConn bench, only seats away. Ray Allen sets the precedent for achieving "big time" status at the University of Connecticut. I can't recall any other superstar, aside from T-Pain during the Spring Weekend concert, to receive a personal escort through Gampel. Obviously, the staff wasn't alerted that former walk-ons were attending the game.

Michigan's head coach, John Beilein, brought his patented 1-3-1 defense with him from West Virginia. This annoying zone gave teams in the Big East fits for years. Thankfully, this irritation now belongs to the Big Ten Conference. Simulating the 1-3-1 in practice was extraordinarily brutal, predominantly because Beilein positions a guard in the backline of the zone. This guard is assigned the task of running from sideline to sideline every time the ball is reversed. Those practices were longer than Hasheem's biceps.

Changing topics, Charles Okwandu became academically ineligible for the second semester. It should be noted that the basketball program does everything possible to offer the best support to any player who is struggling academically. They offer excellent guidance and resources, and the academic advisor is one of the best in the country. If a player fails to accept this support, there must be some sort of personal accountability. While I can't speak to this exact situation, I can only hope that Charles put forth his best effort in the classroom.

Moreover, this development may be a blessing in disguise. Because Charles Okwandu will not travel for road games, a seat is made available on the UConn bench for a walk-on who previously did not dress. In my experiences, when circumstances developed in favor of walk-ons, the overall outcome of the team was usually enhanced. We used to call it "walk-on karma". When Marcus Williams became academically ineligible in 2004, it allow me to take a seat on the Final Four plane. We returned home with one less seat available on the return flight; this seat was occupied by a bronze beauty known as the national championship trophy. Walk-on karma is very real, and it is a force to be reckoned with.

Marty Gagne graduated from the University of Connectcicut in 2007, after playing four seasons on the
Men's Hoops Team.
He hails from Vernon, CT.


MG213 said...

Marty (aka Skinny White Guy.. that can freestyle) how does this years team compare with the dominant 2004 team.. as well as the mini pro 2006 team that didn't quite have what it took to win it all? With all the talent on this team, how to they achieve the 2004 results and avoid the 2006 results.

Anonymous said...

Hey Marty, I still remember watching your three pointer go in at Gampel. One the best moments I have ever had at Gampel. I have a bit of a blog myself on UConn basketball in case you want to post sometime. Just let me know.