HARTFORD – Recent University of Connecticut graduate Amy Szymkowicz said a trip to Houston for the men’s Final Four and championship games was well worth the money even if now her “bank (account) is kind of hurting.”
“It was one of the top vacations I’ve ever been on,” said Szymkowicz, a 2010 graduate of the UConn School of Nursing.
And at Sunday’s Victory Parade, all that mattered to this fan was her Huskies.
The West Hartford resident was joined by about 40,000 other fans from around the state who gathered for the parade on a sunny, early spring day.
The parade stepped off from the Capitol, circled Bushnell Park and returned to the Capitol steps for a rally.
Parades have become tradition for UConn. The men’s team has now won three NCAA men’s titles and the women Huskies have won seven championships.
The UConn men capped a winning season this year when they beat Butler University 53-41 in the final NCAA Championship game. For the men’s program, this was the first title since 2004. UConn had a double celebration because the women also came out on top that year.
Every celebration is a good one, though, head Coach Jim Calhoun said at the rally. “This is our third trip here and it doesn’t get old,” said the Hall of Famer.
Calhoun was joined on the Capitol steps by local politicians on hand to congratulate the Huskies – including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D- Conn., Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy – as well as UConn Athletic Director Jeff Hathaway.
Joe D’Ambrosio, one of the radio “voices of the Huskies,” pointed out that many female fans on the parade route held up “Marry Me Kemba” signs as the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Kemba Walker and his teammates rode by atop a double-decker bus.
“Kemba said he’ll get back to you,” D’Ambrosio said in jest.
Walker, who will graduate early and leave for the NBA, had his fair share of admirers – male and female – in the crowd. Many said he is their favorite player on the 2011 men’s team.
The All-American will likely be picked high up in the NBA draft June 23.
“Kemba is his hero,” said Roberta Zulpa of Woodbury, referring to her son, 8-year-old Jason.
Danny Shew, who earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UConn two years ago, said it was great to see Kemba “evolve as a player.” He added,”The kid is unstoppable.”
Greg Potrepka, who graduated from UConn in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, said of the Victory Parade, “It was probably the greatest day of my life.” Potrepka returns to UConn this fall to pursue a master’s degree in public administration.
While Huskies fans often travel far and wide to attend games, former Wallingford resident Craig Roberts has them beat.
Roberts, who attended UConn from 2004 to 2006, now lives in Honolulu with his girlfriend, Lisa Kadotani. The couple attended the parade Sunday.
Although Roberts eventually graduated from Suffolk University in Boston, Roberts has remained a loyal UConn Huskies fan.
Roberts said he “brainwashed” Kadotani, who was born in Japan, and she now loves to watch the UConn team’s games.
“I’m so excited to see Kemba,” Kadotani said.
For UConn fans and players, the respect is mutual. During the rally, Walker and Calhoun thanked fans for their support. “Without you guys, we wouldn’t be champions,” Walker said.
Calhoun called UConn fans “the number-one fans in America.”
With the men winning a third title under Calhoun’s reign, many have wondered if he will chose this time to retire. He has won more than 800 games throughout his 39-year career, which includes 25 years at UConn. But when interviewed after the rally, Calhoun would only say, “I haven’t said yet either way.”
UConn fans, however, hope he decides to stay another year.
“Why would he want to retire when he has so many players coming back (next year)?” Potrepka said.
Posted April 18, 2011 – as edited by HTNP.com Editor Brenda Sullivan
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