As a member of the Connecticut media, you hear things all the time. Off the record, on the record, jokes, comments, and everything in between by players, coaches, staff and parents. Some things are fit to print and others you just collect and leave by the wayside. There was nothing as much as a whisper as to any discontent among the Huskies. So when I say that Samarie Walker’s departure surprised me and other members of the media would be an understatement. The truth was it surprised everyone including her coach and her own parents.
If we are going to be completely honest there was nothing that was ever said by anyone associated with the program that something was wrong with Walker or that she was having a tough time outside of typical freshman growing pains.
The UConn players are well trained on media interactions. They know what to say, when to say it and how not to get trapped in the media’s prodding in a constant need to know manner. But there are times when they let their guard down and they are just kids and let you in. So when I say, if they knew something was terminally wrong with Walker’s relationship with her experience at UConn then an Oscar belongs in Storrs.
Geno known for his incredible candor and frankness was also incredibly quiet about any malaise with one of his freshman stars.
Talking to Walker, herself, was the standard answers that she was happy to be here, knew what she was getting in to and it was everything that she imagined. She gave every indication that she loved her team, her contributions and her role. So when left behind when UConn traveled to North Carolina it raised an eyebrow but not any red flags. Fast forward to Thursday when it was announced she was leaving the program it was a shock. Friday’s finding, through sources, that she was headed to Kentucky was pure bewilderment.
Samarie Walker’s top 5, according to ESPN, were always listed as UConn, Rutgers, Duke, Georgia, and Maryland. A transfer to Kentucky was just odd. What was even odder was how she got there...
Sources have said that Walker approached UConn coach, Geno Auriemma, shortly after his return from the World Championships in October saying she was unhappy with basketball and wanted a change. It was said that it had nothing to do with UConn but everything to do with not liking the sport since her sophomore year in high school at Chaminade-Julienne. She accepted her scholarship to UConn because, ‘it was what she was suppose to do’. Her idol was former UConn player Tamika Williams and she should follow in her footsteps to make her parents proud.
She showed up at UConn overweight and out of shape. She wasn’t interested in playing pickup with her teammates or working on her game during individuals. In that meeting it comes out that she wanted to leave UConn to study fashion in Chicago. She stated her parents did not know how she felt and she just wanted to make them happy. The coaches decided that they will try to work with her to resolve the situation because they thought she hadn’t thought it through enough.
UConn starts the season and Walker is a solid contributor for them and the coaches genuinely believe that she has taken a turn for the better even though there is some disconnect in some of her practice efforts. That apparently all changed after they returned from Christmas break. At this point it was like pulling teeth to get anything accomplished with her.
According to the source, it was during the Louisville game that everything boiled over. Disenchanted with Walker’s performance, Auriemma asked 'if she wanted to play.' Walker reportedly just stared at him. She was then benched for the remainder of the game. It was at that time that the decision was made to leave her home from the road trip to North Carolina, for some "self discovery." She reportedly tells her mother that she has injured her hamstring again and was left home because of that.
Once the team returns from North Carolina, it is assumed by many involved with the program that Walker would have a renewed focus and be ready to contribute again. Walker meets with Maya Moore on the team's return and its reported that she was unfazed about being left home and had no desire to be a part of their program.
The coaches apparently meet with Samarie again on Thursday. Samarie informs them that she does not want to play basketball at UConn. This is apparently different from her thoughts in the Fall that she just didn't like basketball, now it was that she didn't want to play at Connecticut because of the pressure and scrutiny.
It is at this time that coach Auriemma makes Samarie call her mother and inform her of her intentions so they can begin the paperwork to get her released. Samarie Walker’s mother was apparently confused as she thought Walker was going to do anything to remain at UConn and proceeds to beg her to stay. Not wanting to upset her mother Samarie states she will stay until the end of the season but the source says the UConn coaches aren’t interested in the idea after the 4 months that she had just put them through.
When asked what she wanted to do, Kentucky was on top of a couple of schools she mentioned. It seemed to surprise UConn how quickly everything developed because as of Thursday she was still enrolled in and attending classes at UConn.
Geno Auriemma was informed when returning from an event in New York on Friday that she was going to play basketball at Kentucky. Apparently in 2 days she rediscovered her love and passion for the game, after not being able to do that for the last 4 months at UConn and decided that Kentucky was the place to continue her career.
Auriemma did not have much to say about the situation and had one brief statement about the situation. "I had no idea she was considering Kentucky,’’ Auriemma said. "All I can tell you is what she told me and what she told the other coaches and what she told the other players that she had lost in her interest in playing basketball. It had nothing to do with playing time, what position she was playing, anything of that nature. Academics. It all had to do with, `Coach, I just don’t want to play basketball anymore.’ So when I came back from New York and someone told me that she’s enrolling at Kentucky on Monday that was as big a shock to me as anything that I’ve heard. And I wish her the best of luck.’’
Maya Moore after UConn’s 66-46 victory over Pittsburgh on Saturday night wanted nothing to do with the conversation. "We’re done with that," she said. "That’s an old subject. We are moving on from that."
Moving on, they are but who says that there are no surprises left in life?