Men's Basketball Notebook: El-Amin, title team inducted to Huskies of Honor
Published: Sunday, February 23, 2014
Updated: Sunday, February 23, 2014 22:02
The last time Richard Hamilton was at Gampel Pavilion for a basketball game was Feb. 20, 1999, when he and then-No. 2 UConn lost a 73-71 decision to No. 15 Miami (FL).
Four weeks later, Hamilton and the Huskies were Big East champions–regular season and tournament–and playing in the first Final Four in program history.
After beating Ohio State in the National Semifinal, the Huskies, with 33 wins and only two defeats, matched up against one of the most talented teams ever in college basketball at the time.
Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils had not lost since November 1998. A team compiled of stars like Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Trajon Langdon, Shane Battier and William Avery, the Blue Devils were supposed to run away with the national championship.
But the Huskies, gritty, resilient and unwavering, defeated Duke 77-74, shocking the world, as point guard Khalid El-Amin put it.
On Sunday afternoon, the UConn men’s basketball program, now with three national championships 15 years later, honored the first championship team at halftime of the present day-Huskies’ 64-55 loss to SMU at Gampel Pavilion.
Ricky Moore and Kevin Freeman, both starters for the Huskies that season and now members of the UConn coaching staff, and Karl Hobbs, an assistant coach on the team then and now, were joined by former head coach Jim Calhoun, former assistant coach Tom Moore and six other players–Hamilton, El-Amin, Jake Voskhul, Souleymane Wane, Beau Archibald and Richard Moore–as the 1998-99 team became the first men’s basketball team inducted into the UConn Huskies of Honor.
“This is definitely a cool day,” El-Amin said. “To come back and be honored…that special team, it means the world. To see the guys, how successful they have become over the years now as men, it means a lot. It’s special, and I’m happy to be here.”
UConn went 34-2 during the 1998-99 season, losing only to No. 16 Syracuse and Miami at home in the process. The Huskies beat 11 ranked opponents by an average of 9.6 points and won the Big East regular season and tournament titles en route to the program’s first Final Four and national championship.
“I’m just happy that I got to share so many special moments with a great group of guys,” said Hamilton, the Big East Player of the Year that season.
UConn was ranked as high as No. 1 and only as low as No. 4 throughout the season, but what ever the Huskies had done right, the Blue Devils had done better. Duke was riding a 35-game winning streak, was 37-1 overall and was favored by 9.5 points. UConn did not look at Duke and cringe. The Huskies were ready for the challenge.
“I think for those guys, they took it personal,” Voskhul said. “When you look at it on paper, they were a more talented team–no one would argue that. But I think that we were a better team.
“We went into the situation and, like the quote that Khalid said, we shocked the world. Well, I think everyone thought we were going to lost that game except for us…We felt that we were a tougher team, collectively, than they were.”
With less than 10 seconds to play in the championship game, the Huskies held a 75-74 lead. Down one with the ball, Duke had a chance to win the game, but Langdon was called for a travel, giving the ball back to UConn.
The Huskies put the ball in El-Amin’s hands, knowing Duke would have to foul. Sure enough, with five seconds left, the short, stocky point guard from Minnesota was on the line.
“I shot a million free throws up to that point,” El-Amin said, “and it would be just like the millionth and one. I was just trying to concentrate and give our team the three-point lead so they would have to hit a three.”
El-Amin knocked down both and Langdon tripped as he went to set up for a 3-pointer. UConn had shocked the world.
“We worked hard, just like Duke did,” El-Amin said while recounting the championship game. “We had a confidence about ourselves that we really didn’t care who did well. We didn’t care who had the best game on that day. We wanted all the players to be successful…We had the that team camaraderie that, you know, we wanted the next guy to do as well as ourselves.”
While the team was inducted as a whole, El-Amin was recognized individually with an induction into the Huskies of Honor. El-Amin, who played three seasons in Storrs, ranks 11th all time with 1,650 points, ninth with 479 assists and seventh with 186 steals.
El-Amin joins Hamilton as one of two members of the championship team to be inducted to the Huskies of Honor and is one of five members of the team to be selected to the UConn All-Century team, joining Hamilton, Voskhul, Freeman and Moore.
“I always believed that Khalid, he’s a special player,” Hamilton said. “I think that he’s probably my top two or three point guards I ever played in my career, and that’s from high school to college and the NBA. What he brings to the game is his leadership, his knack for scoring big buckets at the end of the game. Everything that he gets is well deserved.”
When the Huskies returned to Storrs to celebrate their championship on March 30, 1999, Gampel Pavilion was filled beyond capacity. Nearly 15,000 fans filled the arena to welcome home the champions. Days later, the streets of Hartford were shut down as thousands poured into Connecticut’s capital to honor the Huskies. The players of that team have become heroes in the eyes of UConn fans.
“I think it’s kind of a surreal moment for us,” Voskhul said about the celebrations following the victory. “We don’t really know what to expect. We’re just out there trying to win a basketball game and don’t know how much it means to everyone else. When you’ve never done it before and it’s the first one, I think the first one’s always really special.”