When the Connecticut Huskies take to the Reliant Stadium hardwood on April 2nd, there will be one interested fan watching from his home in Glasgow.
EJ Harrison was a National champion in 1999 with UConn, and will be hoping the 2011 team can repeat the success that he went through nearly 12 years ago, where a Richard Hamilton-led Huskies defeated Duke 77-74, and Harrison has high hopes for this year’s side.
“Yeah, I’ve been keeping track of the team since I graduated,” Harrison smiled. “Particularly this year, you know, not a rough year, but a pretty good year leading to the Big East tournament, but they then got hot.” Harrison explained.
UConn go into the Final Four, aiming for their third National title having also won it in 2004, and Harrison believes the key to the Huskies’ success lies with their superstar guard Kemba Walker.
“We all saw Kemba (Walker) and the team make that five-game run, which was very exciting,” Harrison said.
“If his (Kemba Walker) name isn’t on the map, nationwide from that (Big East) tournament, then put him on the map now. As a top five player in the nation.
“People in the NBA don’t even do that kind-of schedule – five games in five nights – and everyone was watching prime-time,” Harrison said, praising not just Walker, but the entire Huskie squad.
Harrison is a long way now from the days he used to practice with Richard Hamilton, now of the Detroit Pistons and Khalid El-Amin, who was a former Chicago Bulls, Turk Telekom and Lietuvos Rytas star. But in the opening weeks of 2008, Harrison, then of the Guildford Heat got the chance to square off against El-Amin, then of Turk Telekom in the ULEB Cup (now Eurocup) but, due to the busy schedule of both sides, didn’t get much a chance to catch-up.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t catch-up, but when we played against eachother, we were kind of in-and-out” Harrison explained.
“It was a good experience to play against that level of competition, great crowd there (in Turkey), but he’s (El-Amin) been playing at that level since he graduated and he’s a big-time player,” Harrison went on to say.
Now with the Glasgow Rocks in the British Basketball League, EJ is considered to be one of the premier guards in the league, helping the BBL’s sole Scottish representatives to a playoff spot averaging 14.4 points-per-game, along with four assists. A major contrast to his two years in Connecticut.
EJ played a bit-part role in the Huskies’ success, averaging eight minutes and just under two points-a-game. Despite the numbers, Harrison was still grateful for everything legendary coach Jim Calhoun taught him.
“He (Calhoun) taught me to work hard and tough love,” Harrison remembers. “He (Calhoun) yells at everyone, and you just have to take it like a man, but I definitely learnt a lot from him. About dealing with other players, you know most of the team with him were all-Americans or the best player in the State,” Harrison continued.
“Definitely proud to be an alumni,” The ex-Huskie proudly stated.
Despite the tough end of season run-in that Glasgow and indeed the entire BBL is facing, EJ will no doubt find time to switch on the television and instead of running up-and-down the court in the navy blue of the Rocks, the 6’1 American can relax and watch his Huskies attempt to become National champions for the third time in their history.
John Hobbs for TalkBasket.net