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The idea for this book came 35,000 feet in the air, and it came out of necessity: I was bored out of my freakin’ mind.
It was the day after the Final Four, and I was still riding high after watching the UConn Huskies- my alma mater and school I grew up rooting for- take home the 2011 college basketball National Championship. I was too excited to sleep, too nauseous to eat and too anxious to do anything other than stare at the seat right in front of me.
Alone with my thoughts, I couldn’t help but continue to think one thing: Somebody needs to write a book about this team.
Somebody needed to capture the essence of the UConn Huskies, in what was undoubtedly one of the most surprising and unexpected runs to a championship not just in college basketball history, but in sports history too. Somebody needed to capture it all from the beginning, needed to capture the 18-16 2010 season, and capture a 2011 preseason with such low expectations that the team didn’t receive a single vote in either major poll. Let me repeat: They did not…receive…one…single…vote.
Beyond that, somebody had to capture the rest. They had to capture the Huskies rise from the bottom, the epic Maui Invitational Tournament win, their five wins in five days at the Big East Tournament, and six more victories to take home the title after that. Somebody had to capture Kemba Walker; his skill and his smile, and what it meant to a team, a state, and college basketball as a whole.
Most importantly, somebody had to capture the nuance behind it. How, for the first time in seemingly forever, UConn wasn’t the big bad bully, but instead the feel-good story, the plucky underdog overcoming adversity. Somebody had to capture the way the Huskies crossed the bound of age and sex, and even geographical location. How you didn’t need to be a UConn fan or even a fan of college basketball to fully appreciate their story, and how fans of other schools- people from Kentucky and Syracuse and Pittsburgh- repeatedly told me all March long, “Now that my team is out, I’m pulling for your guys.”
And really, above all, that’s what needed to be captured: The story behind it all. Understand that there have been a lot of great teams in the history of sports. But what made this particular UConn team so special was their story.
More than the wins and losses, it was their story that I couldn’t shake on the flight from Houston that day. It stayed with me, gnawed at me, ate away at me, until one day I decided to write. Some six months later, that story- the story of the 2011 UConn Huskies- is eventually became “The Unlikeliest Champion,” the only book of its kind to fully capture the essence of everything that was the 2011 UConn Huskies.
What’s most incredible though is that as much as I thought I knew about the 2011 UConn Huskies, within minutes of beginning to research this book, I learned that the story was so much more complex than I could’ve ever imagined. Beyond all the stuff you already know; the epic win at the Maui Invitational, the five wins in five days, beating Butler in Houston, there are so many smaller stories that contributed to the bigger story of the Huskies run to the title.
For example, did you know:
· That early on in the recruiting process, star point guard Kemba Walker’s high school coaches had to practically beg UConn’s staff to look at him?
· That eventual star Jeremy Lamb wasn’t even a starter during his junior year of high school, but that within one four-day AAU tournament, he went from having one concrete scholarship offer to being able to pick just any school in the country he wanted to attend?
· That key reserve Shabazz Napier wasn’t supposed to graduate high school until the spring of 2011, and only moved up his enrollment when UConn was in desperate need of an additional guard?
· That back-up center Charles Okwandu had never played basketball until he was 16-years-old, and that it took him nearly five years from the time of his first official scholarship offer, just to get out of his native Nigeria and to the United States to play basketball?
I could go on and on, but just know that virtually everyone had a similarly improbable story, not only in how they found basketball success, but just in how they ended up in Storrs in the first place. Nothing came easy for this particular group of guys, not on the court and most definitely not off of it either.
Using some of my own previously published articles, as well as new information you can’t find anywhere else, the “Unlikeliest Champion,” gives you the story behind the season of a college basketball team, a season which ended with one of the wildest runs to a title any team has ever experienced.
The story itself though really isn’t about the championship, but everything that led up to it. From the wacky recruiting stories, struggles of 2010, straight through to the five wins in Madison Square Garden and the six more wins in the NCAA’s, you don’t need to be a fan of UConn, or even a fan of college basketball to appreciate the story of the 2011 UConn Huskies.
They’re a team you’ll never want to forget.
And you’ll never have to, thanks to “The Unlikeliest Champion.”