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    UConn Men's Basketball
    Friday, April 19, 2024

    El-Amin on UConn's first national title team: "We wanted to be a team that was never forgotten"

    Former UConn coach Jim Calhoun presents Khalid El-Amin with a plaque during a special halftime ceremony honoring the 1999 national championship team during Sunday's game between UConn and Cincinnati at the XL Center in Hartford. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

    Hartford — Kevin Freeman already knows what he'll be doing on March 29.

    The date is exactly 20 years from UConn's stunning upset of Duke in the program's first national championship victory in St. Petersburg, Fla.

    "I'm going to actually watch the championship game on the championship day," said Freeman, now an assistant at Penn State. "I haven't watched the entire game. I promised myself that I need to do that to reflect a little."

    Freeman was one of several members of the 1999 NCAA championship team attending the 20th anniversary celebration at Sunday's game against Cincinnati at the XL Center.

    Fellow starters Khalid El-Amin, Rip Hamilton and Jake Voskuhl also were on hand along with Rashamel Jones, Souleymane Wane, Edmund Saunders, Beau Archibald, E.J. Harrison, Richard Moore, coach Jim Calhoun and assistant Tom Moore, who's on current coach Dan Hurley's staff.

    "It's been a remarkable 20 years," said El-Amin, the charismatic point guard and leader. "Being part of history, it never gets old. I'm happy that were able to shock the world and become the first team for UConn to get to the Final Four and win a national championship.

    "... We wanted to be a team that was never forgotten, to be remembered. We did it for the fans, we did for UConn. We weren't doing it for personal reasons. We did it because we understood the history of Connecticut. We understood the tough Final Eight losses they had. All those great teams who didn't have the opportunity to get to the Final Four, we were doing it for them."

    They received a loud, prolonged ovation when introduced and brought out onto the court at halftime.

    Calhoun, who says he still gets goosebumps when thinking about the amazing celebration back in Connecticut, briefly addressed the crowd.

    "We're Huskies forever," he told the fans.

    Hamilton, the 1999 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, carried around the national championship trophy. He strongly considered leaving for the NBA following his sophomore season but decided to return after talking to Calhoun.

    "He just told me all the stuff that could happen if I came back for my junior season and one of the things that he promised me, which is crazy and I didn't believe it myself, was that we'd win a national championship," Hamilton said. "And we did."

    Many of the returning players stayed up long into the night on Saturday reminiscing about their shocking upset of Duke. They told some tall tales about Calhoun, according to Freeman.

    They never tire of talking about the magical run.

    "The 20-year reunion makes you feel old," said Voskuhl with a laugh. "It's good to get back and see everybody and hang out. We don't all talk on a regular basis. But when you get back together, you take up right where you left off. It's good to see everybody and see how everybody is doing and re-connect. It's a lot of fun."

    Everything and nothing has changed.

    "The same personalities," Freeman said. "Khalid is still boisterous. Rip is still laid back. And Jake kind of takes the room. So it's the same group of characters."

    They'll all admit that Duke was a more talented team that season, but they firmly believed the Huskies were a better team and a tougher team as well.

    The result showed: UConn 77, Duke 74.

    El-Amin said that he didn't plan on yelling, 'We shocked the world," when the final buzzer sounded. It just came out.

    "It was just the adrenaline rush," he said. "No, I didn't think about that, but it just happened to go like that. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to share that with my teammates."

    g.keefe@theday.com

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