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El-Amin proud of today's UConn honor

Storrs — From his recruiting visit during which he barked out instructions in a pick-up game with his future teammates to leading UConn to its first national championship, Khalid El-Amin took charge with his own unique style.

El-Amin is remembered as much for his colorful and confident personality as his leadership and inspired play.

UConn will honor El-Amin and the 1999 national championship team by inducting both into the Huskies of Honor during halftime of this afternoon's men's basketball game against SMU at Gampel Pavilion.

"It's fantastic," said El-Amin, who stopped by practice Saturday. "To be back here with all my friends and coaches that I came up with, it's special. I have butterflies right now. I'm kind of nervous, but it feels great.

"… For us to win the first national championship for UConn was a big deal. I'm happy for that. It's been two more since we won. But the first one was the best and most special. It's just good to be back and good to be honored."

The addition of El-Amin, a point guard from Minneapolis, helped the Huskies finally achieve their ultimate goal. Already loaded with talent, a fearless floor leader was the only missing piece of the championship puzzle.

If UConn named an All-Swagger Team, El-Amin would be the captain.

"I would like to think I was what UConn needed at the time," El-Amin said. "I was able to give that type of spirit and character to the team and make the team better."

El-Amin was often a lightning rod on the road. Opposing crowds often rode him for his stocky frame but he fed off that negative energy. During the 1998-99 season, El-Amin jumped on the scorer's table to celebrate his game-winning basket against Pittsburgh at Fitzgerald Field House.

Before helping UConn upset heavily-favored Duke, 77-74, in the national championship game in St. Petersburg, Fla., the then sophomore told his teammates that the Blue Devils had to beat them, not the other way around. El-Amin scored 12 points, including the game's final four.

"I just remember the team camaraderie and the confidence we all had in each other," El-Amin said.

During his UConn glory days, the Huskies posted a 91-17 record, including 34-2 during the championship season, and won two Big East Conference regular season and two conference tournament titles. He's had a long and successful professional career overseas. He's recovering from an injury and still hasn't officially retired. He'd like to get into coaching someday.

Looking fit and trim, El-Amin sat in the Gampel Pavilion stands Saturday chatting with former teammate Kevin Freeman.

Freeman and Ricky Moore, two other starters on the national championship team, are on coach Kevin Ollie's staff. They played valuable supporting roles while El-Amin and Richard Hamilton commanded the spotlight.

"It's amazing," Ollie said. "We've got two guys every day right here. You can go in their office and ask them how it felt or what it means to be a UConn basketball player. That's why I want them on my staff. Then they are the two most unselfish (players) of them all.

"… It's good to have those guys on the staff. But it's also good to have the players come back. It was just a great team. What coach (Jim Calhoun) did with that championship, he made us all a part of it."

Calhoun and Jake Voskuhl also are expected to be on hand today.

Senior Shabazz Napier, who's been compared to El-Amin, had a chance to meet the former UConn standout. His mother is a big fan of El-Amin.

"My mother loves him more than she loves me," Napier said. "Honestly, she loves him. … She always says, `El-Amin, El-Amin.' I told my mom if it was cool for him, my mom would meet him tomorrow because she loves him. … He was definitely a great talent."

g.keefe@theday.com

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