Emanuel “Book” Richardson’s phone wouldn’t stop ringing.
Why would you let Kemba Walker go to UConn? He’s too small. He’s never going to play.
Richardson, Walker’s former AAU coach with the New York Gauchos, had similar reservations. When he first heard Walker wanted to be a Husky, he laughed. UConn hadn’t even shown any interest and Walker was projected to be a mid-major player.
“I don’t think you’re good enough to play there yet,” Richardson told the Rice High School point guard, prodding him to think more realistically about his future. “There’s not a lot of late bloomers that are six foot.”
But reality wasn’t a message the kid with sky-high dreams wanted to hear, even if scouting reports sent him back down to earth. He could make shots when needed — but could he become a consistent shooter? He could dazzle — but could he defend? His crossovers could leave defenders’ legs twisted in ways they shouldn’t — but could he command a team?
Walker heard all of the questions. He longed for a chance to give answers.
“He took everything personal,” said Richardson, now an assistant coach at Arizona. “Religiously, he was always in the Gauchos gym. He never allowed himself to be complacent with just being good. He always wanted to be great.”
It’s a hot morning in Los Angeles in early November, almost reaching the 80s before noon. The Hornets are shooting around in STAPLES Center, preparing for the Lakers later that night.
Walker is in a light mood, knocking down shots, inching closer, stepping back, finding his rhythm.
In a larger sense, the fourth-year pro is trying to find his stride in a league saturated with point guards. He’s years removed from his prep days, let alone leading UConn to a national championship in 2011. Yet those same questions about his outside shooting and defense still remain.
This is a pivotal season for Walker, whose four-year, $48 million contract extension secured him as a key piece in the franchise’s future. Will he grow into an elite point guard or will he not rise to the occasion? This is a critical year for the Hornets, too. Last season’s first-round playoff appearance set the bar high for this season. Will they take the next step in winning a series or crack amid the hype?
Charlotte’s success is tied to Walker’s and Walker’s to Charlotte’s. Both have potential. Both have something to prove. And both know their fates are intertwined.
“I just want to win,” Walker said while sitting courtside after shootaround. “Of course I can say, ‘Oh, I want to be an All-Star’ and things like that. But in order to do all those things, you have to win.” (READ MORE.)