Edgar Sosa and Kemba Walker, a pair of electrifying NYC playground-bred guards, got their baller’s teeth cut while playing for the Gauchos on the AAU circuit.
Gauchos gym is rich basketball real estate (see Strickland, Rod or Marbury, Stephon for more on the program’s OG’s), a bandbox joint with one-side stands in an Ampitheater-type atmosphere.
Sosa and Walker put in countless hours at this very venue during their primary period of youth hoops prosperity, when both emerged as tough-as-nails guards tailor-made for the physical Big East…
Sosa and Walker continued to push each other’s development while at Harlem-based Rice High School, a perennial power. Walker said that as a sophomore, he was tutored by elder statesmen Sosa.
That was during Sosa’s senior year, when the 6-foot-2 sniper operated Mo Hicks’ high-powered offense featuring Curtis Kelly, a towering southpaw who now plays at Kansas State. That Rice squad posted a 25-5 record, en route to an NYC Catholic championship.
And so four years later, the intriguing Kemba v.s. Sosa subplot was thrust to the forefront during Sunday’s UConn v.s. Louisville game. BOUNCE was in the building at Storrs, Conn., to catch the frenetic-paced affair.
Walker’s game is certainly not confusable with Sosa’s. Walker has always been the kid who runs the floor with cheetah-quickness, dishing out flashy passes (his nickname is “E-Z Pass”) and attacking the rim in hellacious style, busting out acrobatic layups.
Sosa, while cut from the same blink-quick, run-and-gun fabric as Walker, has garnered more rep as the three-point marksman who could score the rock in a variety of ways. He embraced the high-volume scorer within him, erupting for 31 points in an NCAA tournament game against Texas A&M his freshman year.
At the beginning of the season, Walker said that filling Amityville, N.Y. native A.J. Price’s shoes (a daunting task considering Price’s leadership and cool, calm, composure for the clutch) at the point wouldn’t be too tall of a task considering he learned how to lead under his Gaucho counterpart.
So, for the second consecutive game, Walker went eyeball-to-eyeball with one of his former running mates. Last week, E-Z Pass got the better of West Virginia guard Truck Bryant, whom he captured back-to-back Nike Peach Jam championships with on the grassroots circuit.
When asked about the tight relationship he maintains with Bryant, E-Z pass responded, “he’s like a brother to me.”
Walker surely dominated the game Sunday against Louisville.
The UConn sophomore dropped a career-high 28 points, buried four treys, and knocked back his freebies at a 10-for-10 clip.
Yet it was Sosa who won it, as the Louisville senior’s game-winning layup with eight ticks remaining propelled the Cardinals to a 78-76 thriller on Senior Day at Gampel Pavilion yesterday.
Walker tried to answer, tearing into the lane and ascending to the cup, only to have his shot swatted by Samardo Samuels as time ran out.
Could UConn, which started the game on an 11-2 run and led by as many as 12 in first half with their laissez-faire, free-wheeling offense, prevented Sosa’s end game heroics?
“Just give him a jump shot,” Huskies’ coach Jim Calhoun said of the most sensible prevention plan.
“You can’t give him a layup.”
Sosa has undergone rollercoaster ride under Rick Pitino, who’s witnessed his Spanish Speedster grow from lackadaisical defender to standout senior.
“He’s going to make the right play,” said Pitino, whose run-ins with Sosa during his freshman and sophomore years raised some questions before Sosa began to apply tighter, clamps-on defense while simultaneously becoming more of an all-around player.
“I believe in him. He goes under-noticed and underappreciated..Kemba Walker as well, he’s hell on wheels.”
One of Walker’s main flaws his been his spotty jumper. E-Z Pass has been pigeonholed as a jay-lacking scorer since his Gauchos days, though Walker has helped shed the jimmy-free image this season. Opening up his jump shot and extending it beyond the arc, Walker shot the rock at a 7-for-16 clip and rained timely three-pointers Sunday.
“Kemba kept us in the game,” said Calhoun. “The control of the basketball was not very good, it ultimately costed us the game… You can’t keep throwing the ball at the other team.”
The Cardinals capitalized on the Huskies’ torrent of turnovers (22 overall, 14 in the second half) yesterday. Louisville outscored UConn, 19-9, on points off turnovers.
After owning the backboards in the first half, outboarding the ‘Ville by a mammoth 28-11 margin, UConn was buried under a three-point barrage in the second.
While the Huskies looked to climb out of the single-digit hole, Louisville was buoyed by the UConn’ paltry ball control and dictated the tempo.
Jared Swopshire, invisible in the first half and a meager 3-for-11 on the night, would spark Louisville’s offensive fireworks in the second.
Swopshire, the wiry 6-foot-8 forward, drained back-to-back three-pointers to culminate an 11-3 spurt to give Louisville a 53-48 advantage with 16:47 remaining.
Sosa scored just six points on 2-of-8 shooting, albeit the Spanish Speedster dished out a game-high six dimes while committing just one turnover.
The grandeur of the three-ball was evident throughout. Kyle Kuric, Swopshire, and freshman Peyton Siva led Louisville’s slew of snipers, who connected on 10-of-24 from the great beyond.
All of Walker’s three-pointers came at crucial junctures, but the Huskies’ interior dominance faded in the second half.
“We weathered a gigantic storm,” explained Pitino.
“We certainly didn’t want to give up 65 points. This is a special victory because it’s not easy winning at Connecticut, at Syracuse, at West Virginia.”
Calhoun, whose Huskies are bent on erasing the season’s low-water mark losing streak by earning a tournament bid, was asked if he could assess the landscape of the Big East.
“The only landscape I know is Gampel Pavilion tomorrow and Notre Dame (March 3).”
Walker won the individual battle, Sosa’s driving layup in the final eight ticks won the war.
Don’t get it twisted, E-Z Pass. Sosa still has two years on you. He’s still the cat that helped groom you and pushed your evolution.