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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Walker feels at home at Kentucky

What a difference a year makes.

                                                                                                             (Associated Press photo)
Former UConn forward Samarie Walker leads her Kentucky team against the Huskies
with a spot in the Final Four on the line tonight at Webster Bank Arena.
When Kentucky landed in the same regional as UConn last year, former UConn forward Samarie Walker was reluctantly thrust into the spotlight and handled the persistent inquiries about her departure from Connecticut midway through her freshman season.

This year, with so much attention paid to Delaware's Elena Delle Donne, a one-time UConn commit, Walker didn't have to deal with as much of a media frenzy and that was just fine with her.

Obviously, the subject of facing her former team did come up a couple of times in yesterday's press conference.

Walker didn't hold back in making it clear that she feels more at ease at Kentucky than she did when she was at UConn.

"I am happier here," Walker said. "I grew up a lot, I was 18 then and am 20 now and a lot of stuff happened between then and now, I have teammates who look out for me and encourage me to do my best and look out for me, other staff members, it is just a great atmosphere here and I am happy to be here."

Walker is a key player for the Wildcats as she is the team's leading rebounder and a top-notch defender. She drew the assignment on Delle Donne on Saturday and I'd be shocked if she wasn't asked to try to slow down UConn's Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis tonight.

Kentucky Matthew Mitchell addressed the impact that Walker has had in the last two seasons.

"(Walker is) more talented than the post players than we had in the program and that is what DeNesha (Stallworth) did as well, we continue try to do is to get more talented players into the program," Mitchell said. "I think that is a vital part of competing at the highest level. She has developed tremendously as a person. I think Samarie wanted to get closer to home was the overriding factor, she is never to me in all the time we have spent together and we have been really close for a while now, I just think it is some point in time, if she had an uber-negative experience at Connecticut that would have come out somewhere and she has never said one bad thing about that experience other than that she made a bad decision as far as going away from home. She was able to get back closer to home and I don't think it is necessarily that she is at Kentucky that she has grown as a person, I think that credit (goes) to Samarie.

"She is a very bright young woman who has a real focus on what she wants her future to look like and she is working towards that as a person. As a player, it is really important that I do a better job with her over this next year that we have to try to help her post player a little bit with her back to the basket standpoint. She made a play (against Delaware) when she kind of rushed and traveled and was off balance. I don't know that was her fault, it was more of mine. She still has a lot of growth as a player that we need to tap into and we need to make sure we get that done because it is just one year left after this season."

One of the more bizarre things that has happened in the years I have covered UConn occurred following UConn's loss in the 2011 Final Four (which was also the season that Walker left UConn). After finishing up my work and heading back to the hotel, I was pretty hungry and about the only option was the Steak & Shake in Indianapolis. As I waited in line for my order, I saw a familiar face. It was Samarie Walker and walking in right behind her was Bria Hartley. Other than a quick hello, I left the two of them alone. However, after that chance meeting I was not surprised to hear Walker saw that Hartley is the one current Husky that she remains in contact with.

"I haven't talked to any of the coaches since I left," Walker said. "The only player I have talked to recently is Bria Hartley. I don't really know the other ones, the younger ones and I haven't talked to Stefanie, Kelly or whoever else is there for a while."

The Bridgeport Regional final tips at 7:35 p.m. and as of yesterday afternoon about 500 tickets remained.

UConn signee Saniya Chong was named to the New York Sportswriters Association Class AA All-State team although it was a surprise that the Gatorade state player of the year and Miss New York Basketball selection was not named the Class AA Player of the Year. That honor when to Bishop Ford junior Aaliyah Jones, who led her team past Chong's Ossining squad in the Federation Class AA title game.

UConn recruiting target Sierra Calhoun was also named to the first team while Ossining coach Dan Ricci was named the Class AA Coach of the Year.

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