May 6, 2005
Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun has to be proud of his program.
This week, two of UConn's stars from last year's national championship team were honored by the NBA. Emeka Okafor has won Rookie of the Year honors while Ben Gordon received the Sixth Man Award.
Yes, Okafor and Gordon helped the Huskies cut down the nets in San Antonio as the national champs just over a year ago. These two guys were stars on the college scene, and it was clear they would enjoy bright futures. Okafor and Gordon did things on the collegiate level with such class.
They were always important parts of the team concept and always worked hard to get better and better as individuals. They also understood the importance of being student-athletes.
Now they've lived up to the expectation of players picked in the top three of the draft.
The Charlotte Bobcats made Okafor the No. 2 pick after the Orlando Magic took high school phenom Dwight Howard No. 1 overall and Gordon went at No. 3 to the Chicago Bulls.
Think about what Okafor and Gordon did in their first year in the NBA, baby!
Okafor averaged a double-double (15.1 ppg, 10.9 rpg) in earning Rookie of the Year honors. He was fourth in the league in double-doubles (47) and in rebounding. Okafor led all rookies in rebounding and scoring average (his 15.13 ppg edged Gordon's 15.06 ppg).
Gordon played in all 82 games, and he won the Sixth Man Award because he came off the bench (and excelled) in 79 of those games. After many clutch performances in college, Gordon showed he can be a clutch NBA performer by scoring in double figures in the fourth quarter 21 times.
Okafor's biggest competition for the rookie award came from his UConn buddy, Mr. Gordon, and from Orlando's Howard, who will be a special player.
Some will argue that Ricky Davis of the Boston Celtics might have deserved Sixth Man honors, but Gordon was certainly worthy.
It's good to see classy kids from classy programs rewarded. Calhoun, who represents his university in big-time style, is now a Hall of Famer. He has to be jubilant over the success of his former stars.
Think about where the Connecticut program was before Calhoun arrived in 1986. He has been a Frank Lloyd Wright, an architect who has built UConn into one of the elite programs in America.
It's good to see classy kids from classy programs rewarded.
The beat will go on next season, with a strong returning nucleus that should challenge for the national championship. The Huskies will march on and have success for many more years with Calhoun at the controls.
Okafor and Gordon are two big reasons why Connecticut brought a second gold trophy home to Storrs, Conn. (remember, the Huskies and Calhoun won their first national title in 1999). Both guys certainly earned their accolades as NBA rookies this season. The people at UConn can be proud of their former players and what they've accomplished so early in their pro careers.
This dynamic duo will only get better and better, baby! In my view, Okafor and Gordon will be solid NBA performers for at least a decade.
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.