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UConn Men's Basketball

Kemba Walker discusses his decision to retire & next steps

July 9, 2024

Kemba Walker joined Carmelo Anthony and Mero on their show 7 pm in Brooklyn to announce his retirement. Across the 1-hour, 20-minute conversation, the three discussed Walker’s journey through the league, the decision to stop playing, life in the NBA, and his next steps. The UConn legend has accepted a coaching position with the Charlotte Hornets, the franchise he played with for the first eight years of his career after UConn.

“It was a hell of a run. It was a run that I still can't fathom today. I still can't believe the things that I've done in my basketball career, especially with all the doubt that I got coming in, to all levels. It was always doubt. But I always grinded through it.”

Walker was quick to thank his parents, who he said made sure he had everything he needed growing up and kept him on the right path. “They're the reason I am who I am today.”

He went on to thank his coaches, starting with Carl Nickerson, who guided a young Kemba to take the game seriously. 

“One of the first guys who ever even believed in me, his name is Carl Nickerson, at IS-174. That's where it all kind of started for me,” Walker shared. He was a backup to future Villanova star Corey Fisher but his coach still saw the potential in the seventh grader. 

“Coach Nickerson, he was seeing something in me, I don't know, but he was on me, making sure I worked, making sure I missed no practices…big shout out to him for the belief.”

He then credited his high school coach, Moe Hicks, for teaching him the finer points of the game. 

“He made my transitions so easy on every level. Like when I went from high school to college, the reason I could play right away was because of Moe Hicks…I went into college knowing everything, like closeouts, no middle, taking charges and doing all these small things, sacrificing for my teammates.”

The Bronx native then emphasized his love for Rice HS, “that school turned me into a man.” 

Walker of course had gratitude for his college coach and his UConn experience. “I gotta give love to Coach Calhoun. That was my dream school. To get the opportunity to go there and play and flourish and for him to believe in me…it's like a dream still.”

Michael Perez/Associated Press

He later shared how his love for UConn started with Ben Gordon, whose lead he would end up following in Storrs. He said some of his other favorite Huskies were Rudy Gay, Ray Allen, Marcus Williams, and their Nike and Air Jordan sneakers. “Swag was crazy…I had to get there.”

After a hearty discussion about growing up in the Bronx, childhood fun, and hooping as a kid, Mero asked Kemba how he was feeling the day of the Big East Tournament game against Pittsburgh where he hit the legendary buzzer-eater in the 2011 quarterfinal.

“Locked in…I was ready to kill,” he said, adding that he actually didn’t even see Pitt defender Gary Mcghee fall on his buzzer-beating stepback winner.

The 2011 regular season was not going great for the Huskies towards the end. After a loss to Notre Dame in the final regular-season game, Walker shared that Calhoun held a “crazy practice, like a Day 1 practice,” and eventually something clicked. 

Those Huskies would go on to win five games in five days to claim a historic tournament crown. Walker shared that while the Pitt game lives forever in memories because of the way it ended, he had a sweeter overall feeling after the Huskies defeated Syracuse in the semifinal. 

“Everybody thinks about that Pitt game, the Cuse game, that was one of the most special games,” he explained, adding that he had trouble beating Syracuse during his time there. That squad of course went on to win the 2011 national championship as well.

While they were speaking, news of Jason Tatum’s $300 million contract extension with the Boston Celtics broke. Walker shared that he and Tatum have developed a good friendship during his time with the Celtics, calling the extension “well deserved.”

On the topic of the NBA, Walker also discussed his experience with Michael Jordan, who traded up to draft him with the ninth overall pick with the Charlotte Bobcats in 2011. He also shared that Jordan brought him into his office one day early in his career to set him straight.

“He called me into his office… he closed the door … he looked me in my face. He said, ‘I didn't bring you here to defer. I ain't draft you, man, I drafted you myself. I didn't draft you to defer…I want you to be aggressive. I want you to play like how you played at UConn.” 

“I'm like, bet, say less, he gave me the keys. That was it. He gave me the keys right there. I'm like, that's what I need to hear, especially from you… In my head I’m like, I ain't letting this man down...He picked me himself, he traded up in the draft to get me, and he gave me that pep talk...this man must really believe in me.”

Even though his playing days are over, Walker is staying in the game, and excited to be returning to the NBA. He’s joining the Hornets coaching staff in a player enhancement role.

“I’m just gonna be on the back of the bench, with the guys, working out, getting work in…I just wanna pass the game down. I really love this game. For me to have this kind of full circle moment with the team who drafted me, it’s fire, it’s unbelievable.” He mentioned particular excitement for working with LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller, “I’m excited about the young core they got.”

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