Kemba Walker recovers and can play again

PHOENIX – Legendary former UConn coach Jim Calhoun knows one thing about his former point guard: Kemba Walker. He will play again.

Struggling with a bulky left knee, Walker, 31, opted for it closed for the season during the All-Star hiatus, but the Knicks have provided little information on his future. Walker has one year and $9 million left on his two-year contract.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said he didn’t show up at Tarrytown.

“He wants to get stronger,” Calhoun told the Post in a phone interview. “He wants to keep playing. He has to be 100 percent who he is. I’m sure and positive about one thing – he will do everything humanly possible to play again.”

Calhoun says he has no idea if it will be with the Knicks who will likely try to trade his expiring contract this summer. Knicks president Leon Rose was thrilled to sign the Bronx native to free agency, but hasn’t commented on its closure — nor on any issue since before training camp.

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker

Thibodeau snapped Walker out of the rotation in late November and he didn’t see the bottom for nine straight games. In desperation, Thibodeau played Walker in Boston on Dec. 18 as the Knicks were swept by COVID-19.

“He’ll be fine,” Calhoun said. “There are people who really, really want him there [in New York]. It’s that simple. I’m not saying Tom doesn’t, but he got him out early. That was her choice. Not mine. I am in love [Walker] for many things he does beyond jump shots and defensive play. He’s great for a team.”

Walker played three illustrious seasons in Storrs, Connecticut.

“I’m not questioning anyone, but I think he creates chemistry with every team he plays on,” added Calhoun, in his heavy New English accent. “Any AAU team, the summer league or our championship team. He brought us to [NCAA] National Championship [in 2011]. He’s a special guy. They knew who they were signing. I would have liked to see him play until the end of the season.”

After returning to the lineup, Walker still had knee problems and took a break after tweaking it during the New Year’s Eve warm-up in Oklahoma City. He also stopped playing back-to-back games.

“He came back, played well and still wasn’t 100 percent in the sense that he wasn’t able to play every game,” Calhoun said. “The decision was made by him, and the Knicks agreed. One thing I know is that Kemba doesn’t like playing two games and then having to sit a game down. That’s not much fun. He wants to get well again so he can be there all the time. He doesn’t want to harm the team. He’s a competitor.

Jim Calhoun and Kemba Walker
Jim Calhoun and Kemba Walker
Paul J. Bereswill; NY Post: Charles Wenzelberg

“I had some great players like Ray Allen and Reggie Lewis [at Northeastern]. Reggie loved being in the gym. It was his cathedral. And Kemba is the same. I can assure you that he will give everything to play basketball again.”

Calhoun, who recently resigned as a coach at the University of St Joseph in West Hartford, admitted he was surprised by Thibodeau’s handling of Walker. For example, Calhoun would notice if Walker didn’t play a good first half and would miss the fourth quarter.

“[Thibodeau] is a very good coach,” said Calhoun. “But like many of us, he can be dogmatic at times. He likes big guards who play great defense. And maybe he didn’t want a small guard. All I know is that the guy he signed in August was 5ft 11.6ft. That was him when he started training camp. That’s what he was when he was a four-time All-Star. My point is they knew what they were getting. I just think Thibodeau wasn’t that excited about playing him.”

The Hall of Fame coach knows Walker isn’t the same Jitterbug he used to be.

“He’s not always that fast,” Calhoun said. “He’s still quick, but not always. His speed made him a four-time All-Star and National Championship MVP. He was super fast, solid, a great competitor, a great teammate. The knee bothered him. I don’t want to get into medical stuff. It’s not my job. In the first five games he had a lot of good games and I thought he had other good games. I thought he would try to play it. But that’s not how it worked out.” Kemba Walker recovers and can play again


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