First title team is honored

Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun, left, stands with his starting five from the NCAA men's basketball championship team of 1999 Sunday at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. Next to Calhoun, from left, are Kevin Freeman, Richard Hamilton, Khalid El-Amin, Ricky Moore and Jake Voskuhl. The team was honored at halftime of the game against SMU.

Storrs — Every time Richard Hamilton sees a former Duke basketball player, he receives the same reaction.

"They can't even look me in my face," Hamilton said. "That's how I like it."

Fifteen years after UConn shocked Duke, 77-74, to win the program's first national championship, Hamilton still has bragging rights.

UConn inducted the 1999 national championship team and its point guard Khalid El-Amin into the Huskies of Honor Sunday afternoon during halftime of UConn's game against Southern Methodist University.

The entire championship game starting five - Hamilton, El-Amin, Ricky Moore, Kevin Freeman and Jake Voskuhl - attended the ceremony. Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, his former assistants Tom Moore and Karl Hobbs, and reserves Souleymane Wane, Beau Archibald and Richard Moore also were on hand.

"I'm just happy that I got to share so many special moments with a great group of guys," said Hamilton, who was the most outstanding player of the 1999 Final Four.

Calhoun still gets a warm and fuzzy feeling when thinking about the program's historic national championship run. He fondly remembers the celebration at Gampel Pavilion after the Huskies returned from St. Petersburg, Fla.

"Of all the things in my coaching career, I'll never forget walking into this building in 1999," Calhoun said. "The trip (to campus) I still describe as probably the most remarkable trip. I have no idea how many people, but at the time they were on 84 and they stopped their cars. They were on buildings. Coming up on 195 was absolutely incredible.

"Walking into this building after the disappointment in 1990, nine years before, this time having hardware in our hands, is still the highest moment in my coaching career. … It certainly was incredible."

UConn had a magical season from start to finish, going 34-2 overall. But Duke was heavily favored heading into the national championship game.

When asked what he remembers the most about that game, Hamilton talked about Calhoun's pre-game attitude.

"Usually he's on pins and needles," Hamilton said. "That was the first game he told us just relax and play. I think that really was the big thing for us because 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."

Hamilton, who's spent 14 seasons in the NBA, is waiting to hook on with another team right now. He's been back on campus only a few times since turning pro in 1999 and watched his first game at Gampel on Sunday.

UConn just happened to be playing against SMU and coach Larry Brown on Sunday. Hamilton won a NBA championship playing for Brown in Detroit.

"You've got my two favorite coaches of all-time - Calhoun and Larry Brown, both guys I got an opportunity to win a championship with," Hamilton said. "That's crazy. It's one of those magic moments, something that couldn't be planned."


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