Sunday, February 23, 2014

Richard Hamilton: Duke Players Can't Even Look Me in the Face

Khalid El-Amin and the 1999 UConn national championship team each were inducted into the Huskies of Honor at halftime Sunday. Richard Hamilton, who hasn't come back to UConn a whole lot over the last 15 years, was in the house, along with the other four starters on the title team (El-Amin, Kevin Freeman, Jake Voskuhl and Ricky Moore) as well as Souleymane Wane, Beau Archibald, coaches Karl Hobbs, Tom Moore and, of course, Jim Calhoun.

Here's what Hamilton had to say:

 “The biggest thing I remember from that game is coach’s attitude at the beginning of the game. Usually, he was always on pins and needles. That was the first game he came in and told us, just relax and play. I think that really, really was the big thing for us, beacuse we really believed we could win the game. We thought we were the best team in the country. We thought Duke was getting all the praise, but we didn’t mind that. It was something exciting for us. I think when Khalid had the ball, running, and they were playing that ‘One Shining Moment’ song, and he was running with the ball, with his hands up, I think that’s the memory that sticks in my head.”

(on seeing Duke players over the years)

“They can’t even look me in my face. That’s how I like it ... to beat them – especially now, playing in the NBA and they've got so many great players in the NBA – you played against them and competed. I’m always hard on them, like, ‘Hey, you never beat (us), regardless of all the praise y’all got, whether you got the Wooden Award or not. We got the ring at the end.'”

“We were undefeated until the game that I sat out. I got hurt, Jake got hurt, and it was good that we actually lost that game, because it kind of gave us motivation to come out and play even harder. We came out and lost on Senior Night – I think it was Miami, here in Gampel. Coach came in and said, ‘Don’t think you’re as good as you are.’ We really had to go out and finish the work and we did.”

(on possibly still hooking up with an NBA team)

“I just want to go to the right team. I want to be on a team that has an opportunity to win. I don’t just want to be out there, going through the motions or anyting like that. I want to be in a situation where I can get an opportunity to get another ring. That’s how you build your legacy.”

(on Calhoun and SMU's Larry Brown both in Gampel on Sunday)

“Isn’t that crazy? You’ve got my two favorite coaches of all time in the same building. Both guys that I got an opportunity to win a championship with. That’s crazy. It’s one of those magic moments, something that couldn’t be planned or anything like that. It’s exciting for me.”

(on why he decided to return to UConn after '98 season)

“You know what it was? I put all my eggs in coach’s basket. I had one foot on the university campus and one foot out the door, and I put all my trust into coach Calhoun. Everything he told me in his office … after that 3-4 hour conversation that day, came true. When you’re 20 years old, sometimes you think people are just talking to be talking. But everything he told me came true.”

(on this year's UConn team)

“I think that KO’s done an excellent job. It’s hard to follow coach Calhoun. That’s huge pressure. But I thought that he came in and really put his spin on things. The guys respond to him very well. You can look at his record for the last two years. One thing I can look at with UConn, we always have great guard play. The guards have been doing great, doing a tremendous job of leading the team.”

Jim Calhoun:

“Of all the things I've done in my coaching career, I’ll never forget walking into this building in 1999 – the trip over, I still describe as probably the most remarkable trip, I have no idea how many people were on 84, they stopped cars, they were on buildings. Coming up here on 195 was absolutely incredible. But still, walking into this building, after the disappointment of nine years before, and this time having the hardware in my hands, is still the highest moment of my coaching career.”

“I always thought we were better when we had to dig our way back. But I always thought we had more experience, we were tougher. (Duke) could’ve been, if they had stayed together one more year – or if they hadn’t met us – been one of the greatest teams ever.”

“If you ever look back at the teams we played, the teams we beat – pretty special. Without injuries, you could make a case for 36-0. Is it the greatest team? I don’t know. But it was the best ‘team’, in the sense that they all worked with each other. Both point guards could pass, shoot, well, not Khalid, but defend. We had great answers, with Edmund, Souley, Albert Mouring. That was just a terrific basketball team.”

“When we lost to Carolina in Carolina, they went to the Final Four, we didn’t, they stayed together and it was just one of those kind of things. We had, without knowing, our eyes on the prize in ’98 to get to ’99."

“The first one is special. It was special for UConn. I don’t know if, like anything else in life, you can’t duplicate that first time. So, that makes it special. Is it better? No. I love watching Kemba making four foul shots to win, getting 31 last night to beat the Grizzlies. Watching any kind of those great things, that’s all great stuff, too. But, you can’t duplicate walking up here and bringing back that trophy. That’s not gonna be replicated in my lifetime or anybody else’s lifetime.”

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