"Shocking the World"- 10 Years Later
Well it's almost time for March Madness and it is the 10 year anniversary of one of the best teams in Connecticut history. Of course I am talking about the 1999 team that won the first NCAA Championship in school history.
Although the Huskies had been one of the premiere teams in the country for the past decade, they had never won a title, or even made a Final Four until 1999. They had been to the Elite Eight three times in the 1990s, but couldn't get over the hump. In 1990, they lost a heartbreaker to Duke in OT. In 1995, the eventual champs UCLA beat the Huskies and in 1998, they lost to a UNC team that was one of the favorites all season.
Finally, in 1999 everything fell into place. Richard Hamilton, the reigning Big East Player of the Year was returning for his junior season after averaging 21.5 ppg in 1998. Khalid El-Amin, Big East Rookie of the Year, was also back. The Huskies had two stars, but the thing that helped put this team over the top was the other key players that stepped up big when they needed. Kevin Freeman was a solid guy who never really got the respect he deserved, but did win the Gavitt Award in the 1999 conference tourny. Jake Voskuhl, decent big man that was a vocal leader. Ricky Moore, a 3-year starter who had one of the best games of his career in the Championship game. All of these guys helped bring Uconn over the edge to cut down the nets.
Duke and Uconn were ranked 1-2 at the beginning of the season and neither of them dropped below 4 the entire year. Coming into the tournament Duke was favored to win. Future No. 1 pick, Elton Brand was coming off a season in which he was named National Player of the Year. The Blue Devils lineup also included 3-point specialist Trajan Langdon, William Avery, Corey Maggette, and Shane Battier. They were a powerhouse and nobody thought they could be beaten. They breezed into the Final Four, winning every game by double digits. Uconn had done the same thing, until the Cinderella story, Gonzaga, gave them some trouble in the Elite Eight, but they overcame the Zags by a score of 67-62 to make it to St. Petersburg.
In the Final Four, Duke defeated Michigan St. and Uconn beat Ohio St. which set up the match-up of the top two teams coming into the tournament. It was going to be a great game. It went back and forth all night long. I was on the edge of my seat, growing up in Connecticut and being a huge Uconn fan my entire life, I had never experienced anything like this. My hometown team had a chance to win a title.
Late in the game with Uconn up 75-74, Duke's best shooter, Langdon had the ball and every Husky fan was holding their breath. As he got to the three point line you knew he was going to be the one to take the last shot, but as he was trying to get past El-Amin, he lost the ball, El-Amin grabbed it and got fouled. WE DID IT!!! I couldn't believe it, an amazing ending to a tremendous season.
Most of the guys on that team aren't playing basketball anymore, guys like the local guy, Edmund Saunders and Albert Mourning, the deadly shooter. Some of them are NBA Champs or Turkish All-Stars, but at one point they were all a part of one of the most memorable seasons in Uconn Basketball history. The first Championship, a stamp on the Huskies place in NCAA history and on the Hall of Fame coaching career of Jim Calhoun. Hopefully, 10 years later it happens again.