Kemba Walker’s motivation for joining the Boston Celtics is simple: He wants to win a championship — again.
While Walker has yet to taste championship glory at the NBA level, the point guard authored one of the greatest stories in college basketball history back in 2011 when he took a UConn team that was unranked to begin the season and helped turn them into national champions.
Most notably, Walker’s 11-game run from Tuesday at the Big East tournament all the way through the Huskies’ national championship win over Butler is the stuff legends are made of. Walker amazed the basketball world with a legendary run that included buzzer beaters and clutch performances on the way to cutting down the nets.
That showing officially put Walker on the map, but those closest to him knew Walker was capable of taking his game to the next level. Walker’s physical talents were on full display, but the intangibles he brought to the table were just as important.
“Obviously, his physical abilities on the court, but I think his incredible passion for us to be successful off the court,” UConn head coach Jim Calhoun said at a press conference prior to the 2011 national championship. “I think to transmit that to the other group of guys is an unusual gift that Kemba has.
“It’s funny,” Calhoun continued, “he walked out of the breakfast room yesterday morning. We just finished our meal. There was Kemba and about six guys following him. It just so happened it ended up that way. It was just the way they were leaving. But I thought to myself as I saw that, that’s kind of who we are and what we are in many, many ways.”
Kind of sounds like the exact opposite of the 2018-19 Celtics, doesn’t it?
In the same press conference, Calhoun talked about Walker’s emergence and how he was able to not only make himself better but also his ability to improve those around him.
“He seeks out and wants to learn so much,” Calhoun said, explaining how Walker stayed on camps following his sophomore season. ” … We gave him a roadmap, and he drove it tremendously. He’ll tell you the number of hours. I look at Alex (Oriakhi). Alex didn’t look like he does now last year. He’s strong, physical. He’s going to give us an awful lot more work. That’s what you need. That’s what Kemba gave us. A lot of kids say they’re going to. But maybe that third day, ‘Maybe I’ll go somewhere else.’ That was not Kemba. He stayed with it. We are, he is, all of us are reaping the benefits of all our hard work.”
Quite frankly, that’s exactly what this Celtics team needs right now. The Celtics endured a season from hell, despite having one of the most talented rosters in the NBA. Something wasn’t right with the way the pieces fit or the chemistry in the Boston locker room. A lot of the blame for that has and will fall on the shoulders of Kyrie Irving, who couldn’t get out of town fast enough, deciding to leave Boston for the Brooklyn Nets. For as much talent as Irving possesses, it was fairly clear he didn’t make the players around him better. There’s an argument to be made for him doing the opposite.
Whatever the case, it just didn’t work. The Celtics, though, are hoping Walker’s off-court impact is just as strong as what he can do on the parquet to get Boston back on the winning track.