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Okafor, Gordon cap careers with dominance

SAN ANTONIO -- Before Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor arrived in Storrs in the summer of 2001, Gordon called up his new center and asked who should bring the television.

Okafor was stunned.

"Television?" he asked. "Aren't we going to be too busy to watch TV?"

Let's hope that after three seasons, 83 wins and one national title, Okafor and Gordon can find a TV. After all, they should really catch this year's One Shining Moment, because tonight at the Alamodome, the two juniors earned starring roles.

They capped their college careers by dominating the national championship game from wire-to-wire on Monday night in Connecticut's
82-73 win over Georgia Tech.

"It was our time," Gordon said. "We're both juniors, and we both worked so hard. We did it in great fashion tonight."

Okafor played with his typical aplomb, controlling the game on the defensive end and earning Most Outstanding Player honors for the Final Four. Okafor finished with 24 points and 15 rebounds.

Gordon energized UConn by hitting three of his first five 3-point attempts. He finished with 21 points in 30 minutes and made the All-Tournament team.

"It's a great way for them to go out," UConn freshman Josh Boone said. "You couldn't have scripted it any better."

As Gordon climbed the ladder to clip his piece of the net, Connecticut fans chanted, "One more year! One more year!" Gordon made a slashing motion with his hand over his throat. He showed the world what everyone in the program already knew.

He and Okafor are gone. Long gone. They're both lottery locks. Okafor will be competing with high school prodigy Dwight Howard for the top pick in the draft. Gordon likely won't last past pick No. 10.

Some NBA franchise will plop Okafor in the low post for the next decade. Same for Gordon at point guard.

The UConn staff knows it, has admitted it since last summer and recruited accordingly.

"They're going to go down as two of the greatest players in the history of Connecticut basketball," UConn Coach Jim Calhoun said.

In the game's defining run, Okafor and Gordon scored eight of UConn's 10 points, flashing the dominance they've shown the last three years.

Okafor started it with a short jumper over Tech center Luke Schenscher. Gordon rattled off six points, three coming when Tech's big Australian fouled him behind the arc.

Connecticut had rattled off 10 points in less than three minutes, putting a vice grip on the game and not letting go.

"Gordon, in particular, I thought he took advantage of some breakdowns," Tech Coach Paul Hewitt said. "You give a great player like that room and he's just too good."

Then the two friends sat on the NCAA champions podium, strips of net hanging from under their hats, marking the completion of a journey.

They came to campus together as wide-eyed freshmen in the summer of 2001. Okafor was the studious one, waking up at 1 a.m. to study until 4 a.m. before falling back to sleep. His early morning study binges even inspired Gordon to hit the books.

But Gordon was the gym rat. He spent night after night in solitude at Gampel Pavilion, shooting endless jump shots. Gordon's on-court work ethic forced Okafor into the gym more, making him realize that numbing repetition is required to become a superstar.

"Those two are so close," Calhoun said, "they're like brothers."

They were, always, each other's inspiration. They'd talk smack in th weight room to see who could lift more or jump higher.

And each's work was viewed through a prism of the other. Gordon's grades (2.8) compared to Okafor's (3.8). Okafor's game compared to Gordon's.

And on Monday night, in front of 44,468 at the Alamodome, all that work came to a seismic crescendo.

"This is definitely a by-product of how hard we worked and just pushing each other," Gordon said. "We've been trying this whole time to achieve the same goal."

As Okafor and Gordon soaked it all in after the game, they were mobbed by legends of Connecticut's past: Scott Burrell, Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton and Donyell Marshall joined them in celebration.

There they were, in a conga line of Husky greats, dancing their way to immortality. And, as always, they were together.