By MIKE ANTHONY
The Hartford Courant
NEWARK, N.J. -- The tears rolling down Kemba Walker's cheeks spoke to his appreciation for the journey behind and the opportunity ahead. He sacrificed - years of sweat. He'll now reap the rewards - tears of joy.
Walker, the unflappable star who led UConn's inspiring run to the national championship, was overcome with emotion Thursday night at the Prudential Center when the Charlotte Bobcats selected him with the ninth pick in the NBA draft.
When his name was called, Walker hugged family members and sobbed on shoulders. He was still trying to compose himself while walking across the stage for a handshake with commissioner David Stern. As was done for the 10 UConn lottery picks before him, a snapshot of that moment will be framed on a wall outside the basketball offices at Gampel Pavilion. He is the 16th Husky to be drafted in the first round.
"I told my family I was going to hold it in, but I couldn't," Walker said. "I'm a very emotional guy and when great things happen to me, I let it show. ... I'm extremely happy to be going to Charlotte. I'm happy to be a New York City kid being able to live this dream."
UConn coach Jim Calhoun often cited Walker's unbridled joy when describing his best attributes. It was on full display Thursday, a thankful and humble Walker taking the first step in a career he began working toward as a kid in the Bronx and made a reality as a young man in Storrs.
Walker, 21, is thrilled to be playing for a team owned by Michael Jordan and coached by former Celtics great Paul Silas, who utilizes an uptempo style. He is ecstatic that, coincidentally, he already has a sister and grandmother living in Charlotte. He can't wait to hand his first paycheck to his parents, "because they really deserve it," and then pay for them to move to Charlotte, too.
Coming in, Walker, who will make slightly more than $2 million as a rookie, had no idea what to expect. Some mock drafts projected him higher, some lower. Brandon Knight, the freshman from Kentucky, was taken a pick before Walker by Detroit. After the selection, Knight, projected to go higher, said, "From now, it's just about making people pay that passed up on you. That's what it's about."
Moments after Knight effectively vowed to exact revenge on 20 percent of the league - all of six teams passed on him - Walker was pure joy.
"I wanted to go to a team where I feel like I am going to fit in," Walker said. "That's definitely what the feeling is with the Charlotte Bobcats. Of course I wish I could have went higher, but who cares? I want Michael Jordan ... I'm happy that he's giving me this opportunity. This whole week, I've been hearing a lot of things about myself, but he's giving me a chance and I really appreciate it."
Walker, all his college accolades now essentially irrelevant, will compete for playing time with fourth-year guard D.J. Augustin, who averaged 14.4 points and 6.1 assists last season as the Bobcats went 34-48, missing the playoffs. Stephen Jackson led the team in scoring at 18.5 points.
"As far as sharing the ball with D.J., I have no problem," Walker said. "As long as we are playing well and we are winning, if I can do anything possible to help that team, I'm willing. I'm definitely more comfortable playing on the ball, but last year, having to score so much, I learned how to be off the ball."
Walker averaged 23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.9 steals in his third and final season at UConn. He won the Bob Cousy Award as the nation's top point guard, surpassed 30 points a school-record 11 times and was the most outstanding player of the NCAA West Regional and Final Four.
Walker had no communication Thursday with the Bobcats, one of five teams he worked out for, before meeting the media. He thanked all the little people, youth and high school coaches, and the big people, Calhoun and Jordan, before saying, "I've always had the talents, but hard work just took my talent to another level. I guess I deserve this. I deserve it and I'm extremely happy to have this opportunity."
Duke's Kyrie Irving was the No. 1 overall selection to the Cavaliers, and Knight was the second point guard selected. Walker briefly touched on UConn's championship run and all he accomplished, again referring to it "like a movie," but mostly he talked about writing the next script.
"I'm going in with an open mind and just willing to learn," he said.
MAJOK TO LAKERS
A player who briefly wore the UConn uniform, 2009-10 reserve center Ater Majok, was taken in the second round with the 58th pick by the Lakers. Majok, a native of Sudan who attended high school in Australia, averaged 2.3 points and 1.6 blocks in 26 games for the Huskies, but withdrew from school over the summer.