Sweet Sixteen: #2 Chris Smith vs. #3 Khalid El-Amin

Chris Smith vs. Khalid El-Amin

#2 Chris Smith – (1988-1992)
by Peter Bard

In Rd 2, Smith defeated #7 Jerome Dyson, 152-29

In Rd 1, Smith defeated #15 Jack Rose, 135-1

Chris Smith made UConn a part of the national conversation in college basketball. Not by himself, but Smith remains the most important recruit in UConn history. By choosing UConn, Smith showed that the school was a desirable destination for elite New England hoop dreamers, and then set about making it a desirable destination. With Smith filling up the stat sheet every night, UConn went from a team ecstatic to perform well in the NIT to a team that expected to make the NCAA Tournament every year.

So there’s that. Sure, Khalid was the point guard for UConn’s first championship, but he was along for the ride with Richard Hamilton. Beyond that, but with Chris Smith, UConn probably lacks the clout to bring in recruits like Hamilton and El-Amin.

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Then there’s the on-court production. Smith led the Huskies in scoring for three straight years, culminating in 21.2ppg average as a senior in 1991-92. Smith remains the Huskies’ all-time leading scorer with an astonishing 2,145 points scored in his career.

I can certainly understand the affection for Khalid, the pudgy, excitable point guard who jumped on scorer’s tables and surprised no one by being a pothead. He’s an everyman. He’s us, as a UConn player. But Chris Smith is better than the one we are. He’s the one we should be.

Career Points: 2145

Career Rebounds: 362

Career Assists: 436

Career Steals: 193

Career Blocks: 43

#3 Khalid El-Amin – (1997-2000)
by Meghan Bard

In Rd 2, El-Amin defeated #11 Taliek Brown, 173-52

In Rd 1, El-Amin defeated #13 Jim Abromaitis, 143-2

Khalid El-Amin always looked like he was having the best time when he played basketball. Like there was nothing in the world he wanted to do more than be on that court. And the attitude was infectious, for his teammates and the fans. He had a showman’s flair when he played, making heart-stopping plays with relative ease. Remember that crazy behind-the-back pass he made to Kevin Freeman in 1999 National Championship game? So amazing.

As much as my brother hates the concept of “clutch” players, El-Amin was one. He hit huge shots at the end of games when UConn really needed him to (see: Pittsburgh). He never looked like he was fazed by big moments. He iced two free throws when UConn was up by one point against Duke in the 1999 National Championship when the game was on the line. (And he’s still doing it. Last month he did this. Seriously, guys. Clutch.)

El-Amin played with so much fire and spirit, and he always wanted the ball in his hands when it counted. That’s the measure of a great player. He didn’t have the look of an elite athlete; he’s charitably listed at 5’10”, and, well, he wasn’t known for his svelte figure. But that never mattered when the game was on the line.

El-Amin was a phenomenally successful high school athlete, and when he came to college he seemed to take an almost childlike delight in riling up, well, everyone. Coach Calhoun, the fans, and definitely the other team, though in different ways.

He’s the guy who jumped up on scorers’ tables and announced: “We shocked the world!” There was never a surfeit of passion in his play. When El-Amin came to UConn he brought a little bit of the Minneapolis playground with him. And we love him for it.

Career Points: 1650

Career Rebounds: 319

Career Assists: 479

Career Steals: 186

Career Blocks: 10

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