Kemba Walker shoots for a national title tonight as point guard for the University of Connecticut Huskies, but some of his biggest cheers will come from the Bronx.
Walker, a 6-foot-1-inch point guard, has his roots in the Bronx, where his buddies called him "E-Z Pass" because "he was just so quick and fast that no one could stop him."
Kemba grew up with his parents and two older brothers in the Sack-Wern housing projects in the Soundview section of the Bronx. While attending Rice High School in Harlem, Walker also played ball on weekends for the prestigious amateur team, the New York Gauchos.
"I remember Kemba just being a very humble kid, easygoing...but when he got on the court, he turned into a ferocious basketball player," said Rocky Bucano, vice-president of the Teamwork Foundation, which runs the Gauchos.
The Gauchos have played at a gym on Gerard Avenue for 25 years. Among the basketball greats who've also shot hoops there: Stephon Marbury, Mark Jackson, John Salley, Jamal Mashburn, and Chris Mullen, who was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame today.
Bucano says the inner city kids who come from across the tri-state area to play with the Gauchos do so to "get a chance to release their inhibitions, their anxieties."
Kemba is now 20 years old and a junior at UConn. After tonight's NCAA championship game, he's projected to be a top-10 lottery pick in the NBA draft this June.
I "knew he would play at the college level, but what he's doing now is amazing," Mo Hicks, who coached Walker at Rice, told NBC New York.
Walker's basketball jersey hangs in the Gauchos gym, where tonight Bucano will be among those rooting for their hometown hero.
"It's a big moment for us, it's a big moment for Kemba and we're all excited for him," Bucano.