Ray, Rip and Kemba part of UConn basketball family reunion at Final Four
Houston – Any UConn trip to the Final Four turns into a basketball program family reunion.
A number of ex-Huskies flocked to NRG Stadium Saturday to support their former college team in the national semifinals against Miami.
National championship winners Rip Hamilton (1999), Jake Voskuhl (1999), Marcus Williams (2004), Emeka Okafor (2004), Rashad Anderson (2004), Charlie Villanueva (2004) and Kemba Walker (2011) were expected to be in attendance.
Ray Allen, perhaps the greatest player ever to wear a UConn men’s basketball uniform, showed up, as did A.J. Price.
Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, who guided the Huskies to three of the program’s four nationals titles (1999, 2004, 2011) has made the trip to every site during the NCAA tournament run.
Rudy Gay, Caron Butler and Chris Smith couldn’t make it Saturday but planned to be there for the national championship game on Monday, if UConn reaches that stage.
“It’s neat,” assistant coach Tom Moore said of the turnout. “They all have a lot of pride. They watched us from afar during the season. But when this comes, it galvanizes everybody and they all want a piece of it. We love having them, too.”
This is Moore’s third Final Four trip.
Moore was on Calhoun’s staff in 1999 and 2004. Now he’s back at the Final Four with coach Dan Hurley, who has returned the program to an elite level since being hired in 2018.
“It’s been great,” Moore said. “I thank Dan for giving me the opportunity to just try to be a small part of this when we came back (to UConn). That first spring when we got back here, you know what goals are of UConn basketball – win a national championship, Final Fours, lottery picks, that type of thing. Dan references it quite a bit.
“But when you’re living in that moment, you’re a ways away. … It’s a mountain. I respect and admire so much the way Dan has chosen to do it – player development, hard work, 11 months a year with these guys, relationship building with these guys.
“People ask us all the time, `Why do they play so hard?’ Because they know Dan is with them. He’s in the gym with them 11 months a year. He’s not absent. … He’s there.”
Hurley values UConn basketball history and brings in former players to visit with and speak to the team.
Hamilton addressed the Huskies after practice Thursday about his Final Four experience.
“Rip’s message to these guys (Thursday) was when we won it in ’99, we were playing for our teammates and ourselves but we were also playing for the guys before us who hadn’t won it,” Moore said. “Ray Allen, Donyell (Marshall), all those guys.
“They hear that message. And then for these guys to see him come back, it validates the message.”
Clingan honors his mother
Donovan Clingan, a freshman from Bristol, isn’t the first member of his family to play in the NCAA tournament.
HIs mother, Stacey Porrini Clingan, went to three NCAA tournaments while playing for the University of Maine. She graduated in 1997 with 1,228 points, 929 rebounds and 220 blocks in her career.
Before Stacey passed away due to breast cancer in March 2018, she told stories to Donovan about March Madness.
“She lost to UConn twice in the first round,” Donovan said. “When she was here, she was always telling me about the memories she had from March Madness and everything that went on. She was always talking about the parades, the (police) escorts, all that type of stuff.
“For me to be here and see what she was saying in person, it’s crazy.”
To honor his mother, Donovan wears the same uniform number, 32. Both mother and son had record-setting high school careers at Bristol Central.
“I play basketball to make her proud,” Donovan said. “I wanted to do something to honor her and I feel like basketball was the best fit for me because I love the sport so much and she did, too.”
The Huskies are a superstitious bunch.
Since their NCAA tournament run began, they’ve stuck to their routines.
Hurley keeps wearing the same pair of underwear. Yes, he washes them every day.
Redshirt freshman Alex Karaban will not shave off his beard until the season is over.
Clingan regularly wears his lucky March Madness bucket hat.
Karaban is sick of his roommate's bucket hat.
“I tell him every day to take it off…,” Karaban said. “I guess it’s his good luck charm, so we’ll let it slide for now. After Tuesday, I don’t want to see it again. He thinks it’s good style.”
Starting point guard Tristen Newton and back-up Hassan Diarra have Texas ties.
Newton is from El Paso, an over 10-hour drive to Houston.
“It’s the closest I’m going to get to my family so I’m very grateful to be here and I’m cherishing the opportunity,” Newton said.
Diarra, who’s from Queens, N.Y, played two seasons at Texas A&M in College Station before transferring to UConn last year